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The Things We Remember, The Things We Learn, By Jim Wright

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:27 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Jul 22, 2012, 7:28 AM ]

I remember being an 8th grader in the summer enrichment program and picking up a sousaphone for the first time. I remember Dave Brittain teaching me what a Bb, F and high Bb were and how to play them and the rest of the Bb scale. Gosh that mouthpiece was big!

I remember Dusty Durst teaching me in that tiny practice room. I was going to be good enough to make the Band of Gold because I had the best brass teacher around! I remember the first week of 9th grade when the Largo Jr. High band director promoted me to first band after only one summer of work on the tuba. Baby, I was on my way!

Then there was Blue Band summer! Or was it Marine Corps boot camp at Paris Island, SC? Who's that other tuba player and why is he looking at me funny (Peter Howdeshell)? OK, he seems ok. Then there was the first rehearsal of the football pre-game show WITH the Band of Gold. When they stepped off behind us I nearly got blown over! I had never heard anything so loud in ALL MY LIFE! I thought then, I'll never be that good! Our blue band was good, we had some good musicians and we learned our lessons well from Mr. Cotter.

Then came our first BOG band camp. We had to learn all three shows in a week! I thought the World show was a little flaky but I trusted the genius. Peanut Vendor sounded like a mess for weeks! How many BOG kids can you fit in the Edgewater Beach pool? Twenty or thirty more! Band camp taught me that every waking moment can be used to reach a goal and fun can still be had. Not too much fun, and not too much silliness.... but a little. Blue Band prepared us so well for the journey into "gold – hood". We thought it would be much harder but it was just more of the same program, but now we had GOLD T-Shirts and people stood and applauded longer!

I remember the inspections and cleaning sousaphones for hours (every week). Later during a full career as a naval officer, I would never see another command inspection even a tenth as detailed as those. I remember fainting once in Blue band during one. I remember running at band practice once and getting tripped by one of those skinny little flag girls' flags. I went head over heals with Rob Hendrickson's (a senior) sousaphone. I got up and guess who was right in front of me to make sure I was OK? He must have run a 9.5 second 100 yard dash to get there, The Boss. He looked into my eyes and knew I was OK. He let me know that taking ten percent off my foot speed for a safety margin was ok if we had the sousaphones on.

I can't remember when but at some point this stranger started showing up at practice and the Boss told us he was an old drum corps guy and he was gonna help us with our marching and brass playing. He told us to quit tonguing with "too-kah" and start doing "doo-gah". We were suspect, but again, trusting. The Boss knew best, he was the best at it, and he'd pick the right help. Some called him the yellow pad guy but I always thought of him as Mr. Doo-gah, ... heah! I'm just glad I never had to stand in front of him and say "Your Honor". He gave us close order drill in band practice, and heck, after that I was way ahead of the other plebe midshipmen in college.

I remember so many hours of practice as the Kerkrade trip got closer. So many hours of fund raising. Clearing land for the Largo Rec center, marathon car washes, walkathons, delivering those damned phone books. Then as we got close I felt things unraveling. We were stagnating. Then Mr. Cotter got sick a short time before the trip. Bob Jr. held the practices and after the first one or two he gave us a tongue lashing I'll never forget. It was in the band room during concert rehearsal. He talked about how the Boss was overworked and how he was concerned about his dad's health. I think he scared us all to death. I think Jr. won us those two 1974 gold medals with that speech. I remember the first time we practiced after the Boss returned the look on his face. We blew him away. We had taken a huge leap forward while he was ill. And we continued that steep improvement curve all the way until we left. I wonder even today if he was really ill, or was it staged by the genius? I remember almost crying when Jr. gave that speech.

Then there was the trip, with the plane in the mud, the snafu about open versus junior band division. The bicycle band we saw practice and how the Boss wanted to talk about "what ever you do, do it well" when we watched the pedaling sousaphones. I remember Dr. Sourbeer feeding me muscle relaxers for a pinched nerve in my back. Suffered when another brilliant tuba player jumped on my head in the Edgewater pool.

Then came contest day. We sang and prayed, then marched in, and as they announced our name and division the crowd started laughing at us! After Stars Fell, they weren't laughing. By the quiet part in the middle of Barnum and Bailey's they were all on their feet applauding! They never sat down, and I will never forget that day. Then I'll never forget the look on the Boss's face when they picked Manx Overture instead of Shashtikovich (spelling?). It was rare that the Boss got fooled, but his face always looked the same when he did! He looked like a kid at those times.

I remember the days of my junior year, as we got ready for Kerkrade. School, band practice, woof down two school lunches and go swim 5,000+ yards with the swim team in 62 degree water. Go home and stuff myself again and try to stay awake long enough to study some. I still can't believe that the Boss let us do that. He was extremely ethical and fair about kids that also did sports. Mr. Cotter taught me so much about how CONSISTENT work and improvement was far more important than any one day. The only day's effort that was important to measure was today's. When today was over it was either used wisely, or wasted. But it was gone.

I remember one thing in particular and have learned later how rare a quality it is. Bob Cotter never gave up on anyone. He valued every human being immensely. He knew that his call was to consistently help all kids that he could. I can remember the times he had to deal with some of us that would have been expelled, thrown out or ignored by other leaders and teachers. He never gave up on any of them. He always treated them with the same respect that he treated the rest of us. Heck he even treated the worst kids like he did the real superstars of the band, the drum majors, the captains of guard and gals, and the few really great musicians we had. If you wanted to be in the Band of Gold he'd welcome you no matter how badly you played or marched. I remember him saying, "I can teach a monkey to blow a horn and to march, I'm here to teach you to be good people". I have all too often seen the US Navy, and my two other employers "give up" on people. When I was a mission commander of a P-3 aircrew I tried my best to always treasure these raw materials (junior pilots and other aircrew) I had to work with on my crew. As a leader, without your people, you've got nothing.

A few times since then I've applied the Boss's "formula" when I thought it was worth it and each time it has worked flawlessly. I am amazed sometimes by peoples' ego and fear of failure. I never fear failing, and love the learning process of "doing", and it's because of the Boss. Because of the Boss, I reached "championship" level in two long-term pursuits: hunting Russian submarines from navy P-3 airplanes (building a crew) and road racing bicycles (building a winning masters racing team that was genuinely feared by others). In both those endeavors, I made a decision to do what it took to try to reach the highest possible level. In both cases I far exceeded my wildest dreams! It wasn't me though, it was our friend and extraordinary mentor, Robert Cotter.

Thank you Lord for Mr. Cotter.