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Memory #3 - I Become Involved at Practice, by Joe Donahey

posted Jul 22, 2012, 6:51 AM by Largo Gold

After attending my first rehearsal of the Band of Gold and sitting in the stands, listening and watching, I was back at the next evening practice. Only this time I came equipped with a yellow legal pad to make notes on. (That’s what lawyers do, you know.) Again I sat in the stands and watched intently, listened carefully, and made notes. After the rehearsal, the band assembled in the middle of the field. Mr. Cotter went down to the center of the gathering to make some announcements and critique the practice. I could not hear all of his comments up in the stands and wondered what all was being discussed. Again, I observed that everyone was silent and paying rapt attention. “High school kids, imagine that!”

When the meeting in the center of the field ended, everyone headed toward the band room and Mr. Cotter motioned for me to follow. I joined him and we went to the band room and his office. After a brief flurry of activity, the office door was closed and he started asking me questions about what I had seen. I told him that I was impressed with the high foot lift. I told him I realized that most bands would simply not attempt such a task understanding that they could never get it done uniformly, consistently, and well. I told him I admired his willingness to take the risk and exposure to error. He observed that the risk was worth what you gained by doing it right. Ah, there is great risk, but the benefit is well worth it. The impact of the well-executed high foot lift emphasized by the white spats over the black shoes at the bottom of those blue pants is worth every step. I said I agree, but you can do it better. It is not totally consistent throughout and even when the height is the same, there is phasing. He invited me to go on. I told him the marching over all was crisp and clean, but it could be a lot better. There was too much anticipation of starts, stops, and turns. I told him the flash flags, lancers, and rifles were wonderful but could be a lot better. Their phasing, anticipating moves, some equipment positions were not uniform, and much more. We talked for longer than either of us had intended I’m sure, but I think it became apparent to both of us that we were on the same page and were talking the same language. He thanked me and asked if I had anytime to spend with the band and to give him the benefit of my observations. My instant response was that I would make the time. Little did I know what this would entail.

So, back I came and we followed the same routine for a number of practices. I sat in the stands, took notes, and we talked about them in his office after the practice. Then, unexpectedly, one night at the end of the practice when the band assembled on the field for the critique of the evening, Bob asked me to join him on the field. It had become Bob and Joe, or Robert and Joseph by then. I walked down to the field with him and stood on the outside of the circle and before I knew it he was introducing me to the band and inviting me to step into the center and give you the benefit of my notes and observation. Well, that did it! What a thrill for me! Here was this group of wonderful, dedicated, committed people with a common goal and unlimited potential, and here I was being asked to make a positive contribution. It was important to me to understand that Mr. Cotter felt that I could be of some help, and it was exciting for me to understand that the goal to which you were all committed, was to be the very best you could be wherever that might take you. That was exciting. That was a challenge. Just how good could you be? I did not know. I was never sure whether Mr. Cotter knew or not. If he did, and if he ever thought there was a limit, he never told me. The message to you from Mr. Cotter was always, “you can be just a little bit better,” “ you haven’t quite reached your limit,” “work a little harder, push a little higher and you will be surprised where you will end up.”

Bob was never shy about telling me that I, or we had not done a very good job in a certain circumstance, that we had to work harder, do a better job for you, because you were giving it all you had and you deserved better from us. Oh yes, he could drive, cajole, and motivate the staff, just as he did you. We were not immune. That was the true genius of the man, to get everyone to do just a little bit more when they thought they had done all they could do.

The atmosphere he created with his leadership and single-minded commitment to excellence was contagious. It swept not only the band members, but the staff as well, and as you know it did not stop there: The entire high school felt it, the entire community of Largo, then the county and ultimately the entire Tampa Bay Community. It was exciting and satisfying. When you went out and performed at your highest level, the reward of satisfaction you provided to all of us who were involved was immeasurable. I wish you could have shared with us some of those private moments when we basked in the warmth and pleasure of what you had accomplished. Thank you Robert, and Kids for letting me tag along.

This isn’t the end, there's a lot more to come.

God Bless,

Joe “Old Yellow Pad” Donahey