Malcolm Latta Helm was born on August 13, 1947, in Pilot Point, Texas. On August 30th, he was adopted by Otis and Mary Helm and began his life with his new family in Amarillo. He attended Amarillo High School where he played cello in the orchestra, trombone in the band and was a member of the Texas All-State Band. He attended Amarillo College and then received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from West Texas State University. He did additional study at Sam Houston State University.
Malcolm began teaching in 1968 at Spring Forest High School in the Spring Branch ISD. He moved to the Dallas area in 1973 and began teaching at Lake Highlands Junior High School. His band at LHJH was selected as the 1976 CCC Honor Band. This same year, Malcolm was selected as the Phi Beta Mu Young Bandmaster of the Year. The following year, he became the Director of Bands at Lake Highlands High School where he remained until his retirement in 1991.
Under Malcolm's direction, the Lake Highlands High School Band was honored to perform at several conventions, including the 1979 and 1988 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic and the 1989 American Bandmasters Association Convention. The Lake Highlands band consistently received Sweepstakes awards at UIL Contests; won "Best in Class" at many festivals and placed on several occasions in the TMEA Honor Band competition. The Lake Highlands marching band was a trendsetter in the field of marching and was among those bands which introduced "corps style" in Texas. With the help of the Lake Highlands band staff and the parent's club, the drum corps show, Festival of Drums and Bugles, was begun, and is now in its 19th year. In 1987, the Lake Highlands band was honored with the Sudler Flag of Honor from the John Philip Sousa Foundation.
Musical arranging was a love of Malcolm's. He transcribed arrangements for band of the Finale of both Prokofiev and Mahler symphonies as well as writing many marching band arrangements.
Malcolm was a march fanatic! While he loved to perform the traditional, well-known marches, he also enjoyed finding and performing those less known. Somewhere along the way, he became a member of what was called the "Bob Hoe Club." He looked forward to receiving another "Bob Hoe" recording and he would listen endlessly to those interesting and sometimes obscure marches. Among his favorite performances with the Lake Highlands band were two Sousa concerts. He did extensive research on Sousa and how to do a "Sousa concert," and he enjoyed planning for these performances. He especially loved portraying Sousa in concerts with the band.
Professional affiliations were an important part of Malcolm's career. He was a member of the American Bandmasters Association, the American School Band Directors Association, the International Trombone Association, the Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association, the National Band Association, Phi Beta Mu, Texas Music Educators Association, Texas Music Adjudicators Association, Texas Bandmasters Association, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and the Richardson Educators Association. He served TMEA as a region officer and was honored to serve on the TBA Board of Directors and to be their President in 1990. He was active as a conductor, a clinician, and a judge.
In the summer of 1988, Malcolm learned that he had cancer. Throughout the next five years, he would endure numerous surgeries and many chemotherapy treatments. From the very beginning of this battle, Malcolm was determined to fight and to conquer this disease. It was extremely important to him that he continue to direct the Lake Highlands High School Band and that he remain professionally active.
He went to work many days when he was really much too ill to be there. When his hospital stay included a Friday, he would always make sure that the doctor and the nurses knew that his chemo treatment for that day must be given early enough so that he could check out of the hospital long enough to attend the football game. When the band was preparing for the 1988 Midwest Concert, he really needed to practice with the young lady who was playing the flute solo on the "Carmen Fantasy." So, she came to the hospital and Malcolm practiced with her in the hospital room. Surprisingly, the other patients and the nurses enjoyed the "concert."
It was his undying love for band, his true dedication, and his strong determination that kept Malcolm going right up the end. With his friends at his side, Malcolm died on March 27, 1993, at his home in Mesquite. He is survived by his wife, Debbie, and a sister, Louise Kinslow, of Greenville.
In the words of a colleague: "Malcolm was a strong role model for so many choices and decisions." And in the words of a band parent: "You (Malcolm) are a 'tap opener.' You have become an institution to the school, a source of inspiration to the budding musicians, and an influence for integrity and excellence."
The Texas Bandmasters Association honored Malcolm at the 1994 convention with the Malcolm Helm Scholarship.