JOHN L. WHITWELL
I was born in 1942 and lived until the age of eight in Cow Holler, Tennessee, which is only about 35 miles from the nearest well known community of any size, Bucksnort—which was originally named after a ‘moonshiner’ named Buck. So, when people would visit Buck for a snort, the locals eventually just rounded off the language to "I'm going to Bucksnort.” I remember very well when we received electricity in 1950 or 1951, and we still did not have running water when my family moved to River Rouge, Michigan, in 1952. River Rouge is a blue collar community located on the Detroit River and just south of the city of Detroit.
My father and his brothers were all very musical, but their music was folk and bluegrass and was learned by rote. I will never forget attending my first parade and hearing the first band of my life on July 4, 1952. The River Rouge High School Band, under the direction of Mac E. Carr, was leading the parade and changed my life forever. The sound and sight of that great band made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and the memory of it still excites me in the same way to this day.
My best friend in the fourth grade in River Rouge was David Gerstler, who told me he was going to play the trumpet when we started in band in the fall of the fifth grade. Not knowing the names of any of the instruments, I decided that I, too, wanted to play the trumpet. When the elementary band director got to me in the instrument assigning process, he said I had long arms and looked like a trombone player, so I was issued a school owned Pan American trombone. I have since surmised that he probably issued the instruments in alphabetical order and had long before run out of trumpets. By the time he got to me, the trombone was the only instrument he had left.
At the end of my seventh grade year, Mr. Carr asked ME to assist him in the summer band camp with teaching the younger trombone students! The fact that he thought enough of me to ask for my assistance was one of many moments of encouragement he offered that eventually led me to choose a career in music education. The River Rouge High School Band room was a special place and a ‘haven" for me. It was also a place where we experienced regular visits from such notables as William "Bill" Bell, Leonard B. Smith, and many others. Mac E. Carr was my band director and private teacher until my family moved, at the end of my ninth grade year, to Wyandotte, another "downriver" community. I am not sure who I would have become had my family not moved from Tennessee to Michigan in 1952—maybe I would have been a farmer or maybe even president of Jack Daniel's!
After high school, I wanted to attend the University of Michigan and play in William D. Revelli's band, but my parents thought I needed a "church experience" and insisted I attend one of the colleges affiliated with the Churches of Christ, so I attended Michigan Christian Junior College and Abilene Christian College. Playing in Douglas ‘Fessor’ Fry's Band at ACC was a great opportunity and continued to shape my career in music education.
My first job was in the Northwest Jackson, Michigan schools, where I taught from 1965 to 1975. In those 10 years I taught beginners for two years, junior high school for two years, and high school for six years. I also completed a master's degree from the University of Michigan, which started under William D. Revelli and ended under H. Robert Reynolds. Additionally, Elizabeth A. H. Green was another U of M teacher who was an enormous influence.
I next taught at Huron High School in Ann Arbor (1975-81) where the program enjoyed the success that comes with students studying privately with great teachers and the many other benefits of being in a major university community. It was during my last year in Ann Arbor that the two Ann Arbor High School Bands shared a concert at the Midwest Clinic and I met a younger (only slightly) Richard Crain, who brought the Spring High School Band to the Midwest. In that Spring Band was senior trumpet player Kevin Sedatole.
In 1981, I was invited to return to Abilene Christian University as Director of Bands, low brass studio teacher, and instrumental music education specialist. The ACU Symphonic Band performed at TMEA in 1985, featuring Dale Clevenger as horn soloist. I moved to Stephen F. Austin in 1987 and attempted to succeed Melvin Montgomery (which was not possible)! The SFA Band performed at TMEA in 1990, featuring Dr. William D. Revelli as guest conductor, and then performed at the 50th Anniversary National Convention of the CBDNA in 1991, featuring guest conductors David Whitwell (cousin) and Karel Husa (no relation). Also in the spring of 1991, SFA hired a young Kevin Sedatole as Associate Director of Bands and Director of Athletic Bands
In 1993, I was honored to move to Michigan State University as Director of Bands and Chair of the Conducting Area, a position I held until my retirement in 2006, when I was succeeded by none other than Dr. Kevin Sedatole. This is both a ‘good news’ and ‘bad news’ situation. The good news is that under Kevin's superb leadership, the Michigan State University Wind Symphony is by far the BEST it has ever been. The bad news is that under Kevin's leadership, the MSU Wind Symphony is by far the BEST it has ever been!
I believe that DIVINE PROVIDENCE has guided me throughout my life. I have no other way to explain the great fortune I have enjoyed in being able to have a career in music education and to have so many wonderful teachers, colleagues and students, and to have such a beautiful wife (of almost 46 years), two magnificent children and three spectacular grandchildren. We all live within a mile of each other in Flower Mound.
Being inducted into the PHI BETA MU TEXAS BANDMASTERS HALL OF FAME is one of the greatest highlights of my professional career. THANK YOU!