Today our thoughts are with our veterans, but I am also remembering [WWII veteran] Mike Landes, the director of the Hoover-Schrum Grade School Band in Calumet City, Illinois. Mike started me on clarinet in the second grade and it was a major character forming part of my life until I graduated in eighth grade. We played concerts and marched in parades all over the Midwest. These kids could really blow. Mike was also a very opinionated lefty, who used to love arguing with me, and I loved arguing with him. That was my first experience in debate. He was also the first grown up I heard swear. Mike was a Jew, teaching in very Polish-Catholic Calumet City, so he and I had that in common. (He cast me as Ebeneezer Scrooge in our grade school’s production of A Christmas Carol.) Mike was a trombonist who, I recalled, learned to play in the same orphanage as Benny Goodman. But reading Goodman’s bio on Wikipedia does not indicate Goodman was ever in an orphanage (though he was from the South Side of Chicago), so something about my recollection is wrong.
Mike’s son, Mark, has uploaded to YouTube, two of the many records we made, along with some great pictures and illustrations. The first is our 1965 New York World’s Fair Concert, which we played at the fair in Flushing Meadows, and also at the Kiwanis International Convention in the old Madison Square Garden. I was in the seventh grade. In the introduction to “The Curtain’s Going Up,” I am the only boy, but my voice is higher than the girls. My line begins “The audience is in its seats and the band is in its place . . . ” In “The Music Man” number (33:14), my lines are “I got some salmon from Seattle last September” and “It could be something for someone who is no relation, or it could be something special, just for me.”
The second is a recording of our concert competition pieces. According to the date of the recording, I was in eighth grade playing first clarinet. (I thought the band was at its absolute peak when I was in the seventh grade; those eight graders were amazing.) We were particularly proud of playing the Finale of Shostakovich’s Symphony #5. (It comes on at 14:55)
Mark has also uploaded a 1984 concert video in which you can see Mike some 20 years later, and his last concert in 1986, the year he died, with the band playing Hava Nagila. By then, the band plays slower, and is much much smaller, but is still impressive — though it is also a reminder of what an accomplishment it was to hone us into what we were in the 1960s. I don’t really know how he managed it. Watching these videos, after not seeing Mike for 30 years, was a little eerie. I really miss him and wish we could debate again. He was quite a man, who did a lot to make me one.
[Updated to reflect that Mark Landes wrote to me that his dad fought in WWII.]