1982-1985 East Chicago Washington High School
In order to spend multiple years with any one mentor, more often than not, they would have to be the team coach. The other function is music. Choir director, orchestra and yes, band. That’s how I got my time in with my all-time favorite instructor: Lawrence (Larry) Lane.
When I first noticed Mr. Lane, I was just another youngster in the 70s, standing on the edge of the street, eagerly awaiting someone to throw candy my way. I can’t recall the specific parade; I just know that my mother always took us to the 137th block of Main Street to watch (for reasons I’ll never know. It was usually the most congested area, making it difficult for us to fight for the lollipops and chewy treats strewn about in the street by some clown or someone riding in a car).
My other source of excitement was the band. Watching all those “grownups” marching by in those magnificent maroon and white uniforms to their all too familiar school cadence. Alongside them, marching along in matching step, was their director, who shot me a grin as I jumped up and down, cheering our hometown musical heroes.
What I DIDN’T know was that very same man would be the one to allow my junior high school bandmates and I to join his group right after graduation. That’s right, the summer before our freshman year in high school, we were practicing and ultimately, marching with the band I so adored since my childhood.
That’s because Mr. Lane was cool like that.
Anyone who’s ever played for or spoken with him at length can tell you that Mr. Lane was a devout follower of the arts and did his best to expose us to it at every level. Whether he was talking about his experiences or playing songs from records during our down times in class, or even accompanying us musically during performances, you knew he lived music.
I thought it was amazing that he played in the backup band for The 5th Dimension (y’all youn’uns need to google them).
He was also great when it came to helping you realize your potential, cultivating your musical beliefs or ability no matter where you fell on the so-called “talent” ladder. No student was treated better than the next, and no student was neglected. I had entered his band playing bass clarinet, but when he saw how much I liked playing the other parts in my spare time, he asked me if I wanted to try the french horn, as he was in need of someone to play alongside veteran Hector Porras. I jumped at the opportunity and both he and Hector worked with me so I could make the quick transition from a single-reed woodwind to the cold mouthpiece of a brass instrument.
And he never denied me access to any instrument after I told him that I wanted to learn to play them all. All he demanded was that I take it seriously and not waste my OWN time. He was that way with any and everyone who wanted to delve deeper into the realm of music theory and performance.
He was also “down with the fellas”, quick to talk about movies, current events, fads, foods and anything else you brought up. We could even get him to join in on our “rap” battles on bus rides from time to time, which he enjoyed fumbling through, seeking an end word to rhyme with the preceding line. We laughed because we knew he participated because he wanted to make every moment with us a joyful one.
And Lord knows he put up with some madness. Hey, this is Washington High, and we were the wild bunch. Let’s see, where do I begin? Well, there was that time when…
- Someone passed one of the horns off of the bus by holding the valve slide (only) causing it to fall and get irreparably warped when the bass drum also fell off the back of the bus, directly onto the flared bell. That poor kid had to march in the parade like that.
- The bandmembers made a human totem pole, stacked 4-high, in pep band during one of the basketball games. The person on the bottom fell forward and the “pole” went down like a chopped down tree, right into a little girl who was kicked about 3 rows forward.
- Someone convinced the last three rows aka “The Backrow Patrol” to leave the band, DURING the parade, to run into Dino’s candy confectionary and buy snacks. By the time Mr. Lane signaled for the band to play, he was unaware that the BASS of the band was gone until he heard the imbalanced ensemble.
- Mr. Lane had to stop the band during classroom rehearsal because someone decided to spontaneously play Maurice White’s ad-lib during the bridge of “Let’s Groove”.
- Mr. Lane had a near heart attack when the phony fight broke out between two bandmembers on the way back from band competition at North Webster’s annual Mermaid Festival. Fake blood and all.
Is this a bad time to confess that “I” was the one responsible for all of the aforementioned shenanigans? Yes, I dropped my French horn, I was on top of the totem pole, I ran off during the parade as we passed Dino’s (I didn’t tell anyone to follow me), I was the one who went rogue during “Let’s Groove” and alas, it was me and Eric Glover (yeah, I ratted you out, Glove) who faked the fight.
I can still remember the time Mr. Lane stopped marching band practice and came up to me and read me the riot act for my alleged antics while we were marching. When I told him I was innocent (which I was) and asked him why he was yelling at me, he quickly retorted, “Because you’re the RING LEADER and they do all the stupid stuff you say!!!”
I know, I’m going to hell with gasoline drawz (drawers). Both Billy Kelly AND orchestra instructor Arthur Martinmaki (RIP) often told me how Mr. Lane was losing his hair because of me.
Still, Mr. Lane was patient with me, just as he was with everyone. But don’t go thinking I was the only miscreant of the bunch. I just shared my own sins because I’m the author of this piece.
Won’t take much for me to write another blog, singling out ALL of you…
But please know that despite my mischief, I loved and respected that man in ways you can’t possibly imagine. He spent countless hours with me, talking about past musicians and jazz soloing aka “spontaneous creativity” (as he taught me). Sharing the differences in styles, artistry and the eras.
He made me practice endlessly before submitting my audition tape to the review committee for entry to the McDonald’s All-American Marching Band (sadly, I didn’t get a spot – only two students per state are accepted). And when I told him I’d decided to attend Florida A&M University and try out for the “Marching 100”, he wrote the letter to Band Director, Dr. William P. Foster (who was coincidentally the very same director of the McDonald’s band) and helped me with the music they sent. I DID make THAT band.
And I still smile, remembering him asking me if I wanted to solo during the Pep Band games on “When Doves Cry” and “Glamorous Life”. I only did the former, but I was so happy that he had faith in me, enough to give me the opportunity. It was even more fun when trombonists Mike Puente and Andrew Childs eventually joined me.
Mr. Lane was truly believed in me. He believed in us all. I would go on about the things he’d done for others, but then this would be an 8-part blog, just referencing how he fortified the abilities of so many musicians that came before (and after) me. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be like HIM.
I loved him. We ALL did. Is it any wonder why I chose to be “Mr. Lane” during Senior Takeover Day (an annual tradition when seniors literally take a teacher’s job for an entire day)?
Today, my musical colleagues will tell you how I often refer to EWF’s Maurice White as my “musical father”. But Mr. Lane was irrefutably my true-to-life sire. And I will never forget his final words in our last phone conversation before I left for college (yeah, we talked like that and I STILL remember his phone number): “Kenny, you’re going to the next level. I expect you to be prepared to be just another face when you get there because you will meet people just as good and BETTER than you. Make them know your name. And stay out of trouble.”
I took the time to write that down and read it almost daily during my freshman year, which was the most challenging year of my life. But I was ready, thanks to him.
We’re ALL better people because of him and we all have our stories to tell.
But this story of him is mine, as is my eternal gratitude. Mr. Lane put his musical magic on hundreds of students. Hell, thousands. Including my siblings. We all remember him fondly. And we all smile.
Thank you, Mr. Lane. I love you. And I’m proud to say that I’ve finally calmed down (probably because I’m 54 and my body can’t handle my impish intentions anymore)…
Tune in tomorrow for the finale – Teacher Feature: Day #4 – Dr. William P. Foster!
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