Throughout his life and his 41-year career as a musician and educator, Joe Fred Harness has exhibited a fierce dedication to music. Joe taught his students about music, but many also remember Joe as a father figure who also taught them about life and character. He always has words of wisdom and humor to share with his bands and friends.
Joe was born to Guy and Audrey Harness in Frederick, Okla. Joe and his older brother, Jim, spent their childhood in the small Oklahoma town helping their parents run their grocery store. From an early age, Joe was extremely social and was on first-name basis with most everyone in town.
Jim played cornet, and at the age of five, Joe expressed interest in learning to play the instrument, too. Joe’s father, a skilled craftsman and welder, found a very used cornet and got it into working condition. Joe watched his brother practice and then would figure out how to reproduce what his brother played, eventually learning to read music. As a child, when he was asked what he liked to do, Joe would quickly reply, “play my horn – that’s it.”
While in junior high, Frederick High School Band Director Mel Clark quickly took note of Joe’s exceptional talent and asked him to perform as a member of the high school band. Mr. Clark maintained his interest in Joe’s musical development, playing duets with him every day after school and encouraging him to attend solo competitions at various high schools and universities throughout Oklahoma. Joe attributes his desire to become a teacher to Mr. Clark and considers him one of the truly important influences in his life.
Acclaimed North Texas State Trumpet Professor John Haynie also became a recurring figure in Joe’s life, through his participation in many solo competitions in which he competed. Mr. Haynie was always impressed with Joe’s natural ability, yet was always brutally honest in his criticism of the young cornetist. Professor Haynie eventually recruited Joe to North Texas State.
At North Texas, Joe worked hard to become an outstanding player, eventually earning the principal chair in Maurice McAdow’s Symphonic Band. At the conclusion of his studies and with his bachelor’s degree awarded in 1964, Joe accepted a position as the band director at Brownsville Cummings Junior High and assistant director at Brownsville High School.
As part of one of the most exemplary band programs of that time, Joe learned from the many fine teachers in Brownsville and developed the Cummings Band into a consistent Sweepstakes band. He then spent one year as band director at Bowman Junior High in Plano, Texas, where he was heavily influenced by many of the fine directors in the Dallas area.
After his year in Plano, Joe returned for one more year as an assistant at Brownsville High, then became the first director of bands at James Pace High School in Brownsville. It was during the beginning of his tenure at Pace that Joe met and fell in love with Alma Rivera, marrying her in spring 1977. Joe describes his time at Pace as a “labor of love,” where he poured his all into the program for 23 years. While he was at Pace, the band placed in the top ten in class 4A State Honor Band Competition five times – finishing third in the state in 1985, took part in two concert tours of Europe, qualified for the Texas State Marching Contest, and never received less than 1st Division rating in Concert.
Joe is most proud of his family, including his wife Alma, his daughters JoAnn and Cayce, and his son Christopher. Those lucky enough to call Joe a friend are very blessed, as are the thousands of students influenced by this fine musician and teacher.