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Shipman's music teachers: Bob Lane

Bob Lane was the director of the band at Hobbs High School when I was there from fall 1963 through spring 1966. When I think about the important musical skills and where I got them, Mr. Lane gets the lion's share of the credit.

No matter what the style, I feel that becoming a good musician requires an array of skills, among them:

Mr. Lane did more than any other music teacher I've had in developing all these important talents. I would never perform at my current level without his years of patient instruction.

High school band in this time and place was a curious sort of compromise between spectacle and art. The band was reasonably well funded (especially compared to nowadays!) but much of the justification for this funding was based on football. The halftime show was a critical part of any football game, and half our school year was dedicated to these performances.

Mr. Lane was a purist when it came to halftime shows, a devotee of what he called precision marching. He scoffed at bands that formed pictures on the field. Our shows were formed from a small set of standard movements: marching in straight lines perpendicular to or parallel to the yard lines (and rarely oblique, on the diagonal); square turns (although for flashiness we sometimes did a ``three-quarter spin,'' rotating 270 degrees counterclockwise to turn right); counter-marching, wherein files moved half a file spacing to the left and marched back between the files moving forward; seque spin, where a rank moves half a file spacing to the left and the next rank moves up, to form more closely spaced lines; and pinwheels, with four marchers rotating around an imaginary point.

Despite the limited elements, we put on some pretty nice shows. They often featured exploding block formations, where different rectangular or triangular slices of the band would move in different directions. We also did lots of step-two drills. These would start with a long straight line. The person at one end would start marching, then after two steps the next person, and so on down the line, forming a diagonal moving line. With two lines facing each other, a step-two drill produces moving diamonds.

I'm sure all of us remember the most unusual and popular halftime show we ever did: The Anthill Drill. We got to watch a film of this drill taken from the press box. The band started in standard formation in the end zone. I think we marched with either 104 or 112 that year, 13 or 14 ranks of 8. We moved out to the center of the field playing the first chorus of a march. At the point where the trio should have begun, the music stopped and the entire formation appeared to dissolve, as if we were ants diffusing from an anthill. We were all still in step, listening to barely audible single rim taps from the drum section, but spreading all over the field. Exactly 64 beats later everyone was suddenly back into formation and we continued down the field, playing the trio section of the march. This moment produced the loudest cheer I've ever heard during a halftime show.

Although the final product looked random, the drill was in fact carefully choreographed. Here's how we worked it out.

Mr. Lane told everyone to work out some random path that took exactly 64 beats, used only the allowable rudiments of precision marching, and got them back to where they started. Then we walked through it four steps at a time and checked for collisions. If two people's paths intersected, the collision was arbitrated, one of the marchers changing routine to avoid the collision. After a few run-throughs, every marcher had a path that brought them back to where they started and missed the other marchers, although there were some near-misses.

Although Hobbs wasn't usually a football power in those years (basketball was our sport, thanks to the amazing four-decade career of Coach Ralph Tasker), somehow we'd acquired a great coach for that one year, who took us to the state championship in Albuquerque around Thanksgiving of 1965. We loaded into three buses and looked forward to marching in the halftime show in Lobo Stadium.

Unfortunately, the game was played under a torrential downpour. It rained something like two inches just before the game and about two more in the first half. The field between the hash marks was the consistency of chocolate pudding. Our drum major, Joe Caddell, liked to strut with a lot of amplitude, so he fell down a lot. I recall that bleeding madras clothing was in vogue around then, a bright pattern of colored squares, but notorious for its non-colorfast properties. Danny Clevenger, one of our star trombonists, had a bleeding madras shirt on under his white uniform coat. By the end of the game it was basically a bleeding madras uniform coat.

The band stayed two to a room at the Highway House motel on Central. Riding herd on a hundred high school students in the big city can't have been fun for the band staff, and I recall several extra chaperones. The drummers were especially poorly behaved, a tradition for drum sections everywhere. They heard that Mr. Lane had gone to the notorious Tiki Kai bar down the street (where they had scantily clad cocktail waitresses!), so they walked down and had him paged. I also heard that Earl Scott and another drummer had bought an entire layer cake at a nearby bakery and, when they couldn't finish it, left it between the mattress and the box spring in their room. Oh, the poor housekeepers.

To this day, every time I hear a band play one of our old warhorses like Amparito Roca or Colonel Bogey or Grandioso, it takes me back to the days of marching season.

Clumsy as I was, I tolerated marching season, because in the spring semester we got to play Real Music.

Bands in that time and place were quite competitive, and Mr. Lane was a formidable competitor against the other big schools of the region: Roswell, Carlsbad, Clovis, Portales, and assorted schools in West Texas. There were two big regional competitions every year: a marching competition in the fall and a concert festival in the spring. Three medals were awarded to the band as a whole. Medals were ranked as first division, for exceptional performances; second division, for decent performances; and heaven help the band that got a third.

In my final year, 1965-66, the HHS Band got the ultimate accolade, a ``sweepstakes,'' first-division medals in the three critical competitions: marching, sight-reading, and prepared piece.

The preparation for the marching competition gave me recurring nightmares for at least twenty years. My recurring nightmare found me standing in the end zone, just before starting the halftime show, in full uniform (black wool pants with a gold stripe and white jackets, with shako hats and gold plumes), and panicking because I had no idea what to do. As the dream progressed I would invariably get out of position, run around trying to get back, and try not to collide with other members.

In fall 1965, the marching competition was on a Saturday, and we had a game Friday night. Most bands did the same show for the game and the competition, but Mr. Lane made us learn two different shows that week. We looked down on bands like Clovis, who learned one basic but difficult show for the whole year and did only slight variations. Our Friday show was a slight variation of one we'd done earlier, although most weeks the show was completely different. The show for the competition was much harder. I remember that the entire band had to be at school at six in the morning at least one day that week to give us extra rehearsal time (normally band was first period, about 8am).

The sight-reading and prepared piece competitions were quite grueling. For the sight-reading part, the conductor was given a piece he'd never seen before. He had two minutes to look it over silently. Then he had two minutes to talk through it with us and prep us for the hard spots (which was laughable, as the entire piece was nasty). Then we started playing it.

The prepared piece had to come from a short list of quite difficult pieces. I think the one we played was composed by William Reed, and it was Very Modern, meaning that it wasn't terribly slow or melodic. Reed went in for a lot of random bleats and crashes. It was very tough reading and I'm thankful for my exposure to all this hard material, the only way to develop good reading skills.

Mr. Lane was a superb conductor, and now as I work under the batons of some world-class conductors such as the NMSO's David Lockington and Guillermo Figueroa, I find myself comparing them with the clarity and precision of Mr. Lane's baton technique, and he holds up well.

The competitive nature of the position, and Mr. Lane's own great drive to excellence, did us young musicians a world of good. Unfortunately, it took its toll on the man. Several years after I'd left town, I heard he'd had some heart trouble and had to cut back on his workload, moving to positions for lower grades. Last I heard he's still alive and well and doing musical instrument repair for Music Villa in Hobbs.

Thanks, Mr. Lane, for your deep understanding of music, your broad ability in teaching, and your high standards.


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John W. Shipman, john@nmt.edu
Last updated: 2004/03/26 18:49:34
URL: http://www.nmt.edu/~shipman/music/lane.html