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Harry D. Blake - Class of 2017

Harry D. Blake was born in 1940, in the historic coal mining community of Helen, West Virginia, which once boasted of two highly productive mines owned by Koppers Coal Company, which later became Eastern Associated Coal Corporation. Harry was the eldest of two sons born to George R. “Joe” and Louise P. Blake. His younger brother Robert “Bobby” Blake (deceased), served in the Air Force and was involved in the NASA’s first space exploration missions, where he was awarded the Snoopy Award for his outstanding work on the early missions. Mr. Blake’s father and his three older brothers were all involved in the coal mining business. His father served as the “tipple” or processing plant foreman for Koppers Coal Company and Eastern Gas and Fuel Mine in Helen for over forty years.

Mr. Blake’s parents attended Mark Twain High School where they both played in the band and his dad was also outstanding in basketball and baseball. Much of community life revolved around the small church in Helen, which also provided a company store, movie theater, grill, post office and boarding house for single men. The mine workforce was diverse with black, white, Italian, Polish, and others working together. In 1950, Harry's father helped other miners to bring the first television to the community. They installed an antenna on top of the mountain which they made from copper wire lines from an old mine motor. On a Saturday evening in 1950, on a table in the Blake front yard, to the disbelief of most people, black and white television was first seen in Helen, West Virginia.

Mr. Blake attended Helen Elementary School thru the sixth grade. After his parents moved to Sophia, West Virginia, in the summer of 1951, Harry attended Sophia Junior High and Sophia High School (1951-1958). On his first day of high school, Harry went to the band room at Sophia High School and asked to join the band. To this day, Harry does not know why this happened or why his journey in instrumental music began. He choose trumpet because it only had three valves and during his high school days served as first chair in the concert band as well as the drum major and featured twirler for the high school marching band. Mr. Blake’s band director, Arthur McInturf, and his own parents tried to discourage his interest in being a band director which he had decided during his sophomore year. During his high school years he was involved with band activities, basketball, 4-H club, and science fair projects. During his senior year, Harry informed his parents that he would be very unhappy in any other career other than teaching instrumental music, despite the low teacher's pay.

During his senior year, the coal mines went on strike. Mr. Blake enrolled in West Virginia University that fall thanks to a bank loan from his parents, which allowed him to start his education. Harry would be the drum major with the university band and begin his career as a music major not knowing where the money would come for his second year of college. Don Gibson, basketball coach at New Mexico Highlands University, called his mother and wanted to know why Harry was not present in school at Highlands University. Someone had forgot to send him the information that he had a full-ride athletic and music scholarship. Mr. Blake immediately left West Virginia University and headed west by train to begin his college education at New Mexico Highlands University.

Mr. Blake was blessed to have attended New Mexico Highlands University, which was staffed at that time by an incredible young, progressive and talented teaching staff. This staff provided him with the greatest opportunity of his life. Small classes and lots of individual attention and support from Dr. Champ Tyrone, Mr. Melvin Hill, Dr. Ronald Wynn, Jerome Garfield and Dr. Roberta Zohn molded his love for and philosophy of music education.

Mr. Blake received a full athletic scholarship for basketball, but due to fact that he was 6’ 2’’and too small, he was red-shirted his freshmen year. This allowed Harry an extra free year to finish his BA in music education as a French horn major with minors in trumpet and clarinet and extra time for lessons on all of the instruments. Harry’s music education was well-rounded with five years of performances with the choir and musical theatre, where he served as the lead dancer in several university musicals.

Mr. Blake’s baton twirling skills also progressed during his college years as he competed across the country at state, regional and national contests. Harry was recognized as the Men’s National Baton Twirling Champion in the summer of 1962. In the spring of 1963, Harry’s basketball skills helped him set a new individual basketball scoring record as he scored 43 points in his last home game as a senior at Highlands University. Upon graduation, Harry declined an offer to tour and perform his baton twirling act and play basketball with the Harlem Globe Trotters’ Washington Generals, the losing team each night. Mr. Blake was selected to Who’s Who’s in American Colleges and Universities, Kappa Kappa Psi and the athletic H- Club during his undergraduate years.

In the fall of 1963, Mr. Blake accepted his first teaching position at Jefferson Township in Goshen, Indiana, where he taught K-12 music. Elementary music, band, choir, and seventh and eighth grade general music filled his day. With a total enrollment of 110 high school students, Mr. Blake conducted a fifty member band and a choir of fifty voices which received superior ratings at the district and state level Indiana contests.
In the fall of 1964, Mr. Blake moved to Ligonier, Indiana, to a larger school with 275 students. Harry created the school's first marching band, even though the school played no football. In the spring of 1965, Mr. Blake’s band and choir again received superior ratings at the Indiana district and state festivals. Living close to the state line of Indiana and Michigan, Mr. Blake was inspired by the strong band programs in the state of Michigan at the time. He was greatly influenced by Dr. William D. Revelli at the University of Michigan, Leonard Falcone at Michigan State University, Leonard Meretta at Western Michigan University and Harry Begian at Cass Tech High School in Detroit.

Mr. Robert Welty, a twenty year teaching veteran and owner of Blessing’s Musician & Supply, served as a mentor and musical father for Harry during his early years of teaching. Mr. Welty helped recruit Mr. Blake to come to Michigan to rebuild the Quincy, Michigan, high school band program beginning in the fall of 1965. By the spring of his first year the program was receiving first divisions at the district and state contests. By the spring semester of 1968, the Quincy band program was once again at the top of their classification in the state of Michigan.
Mr. Blake was using the Sturgis, Michigan High School Band program as his model, which was led at that time by legendary band director Jack Bittle. Teaching in Michigan created many excellent opportunities to visit, watch and learn from the great teachers of instrumental music in Michigan.

After five years of successful teaching, Mr. Blake returned to New Mexico Highlands University, accepting a graduate teaching assistantship to complete his master’s degree. With one-year old son Joey Blake now part of the family, Harry became the Assistant Director of Bands while finishing his master’s degree in theory and composition. Mr. Blake graduated in June 1969, summa cum laude (4.0), with his Master of Music degree while he performed on horn in the orchestra and percussion in the band. Mr. Blake was fortunate to study with Dr. Champ Tyrone, Ronald Thielman, Grady Green and Francis Elliot while working on his master’s degree.

After graduation, Harry received a call from Mr. Jack Bittle, former Director of Bands and the new principal at Sturgis High School, offering him the Director of Bands position in Sturgis, Michigan. It was a humbling experience to be offered one of the premier jobs in the state of Michigan. Ray and Genenne Morrison (orchestra & choir) were wonderful colleagues who helped guide Harry to grow as the director and conductor of the Sturgis band program.

The Sturgis Trojan Marching Band was on the cutting edge of new ideas for 1970's. Their concert programs continued to grow and gain state and national recognition, as well as receiving outstanding superior ratings at Michigan district and state music festivals. The Sturgis Band won the prestigious Virginia Beach Music Festival in June of 1971 and returned as the Honor Band in June of 1972. Mr. Blake gave freely of his extra time to MSBOA, by serving in district, regional and state offices. Harry was the 1st vice president of MSBOA during his last year of teaching in Michigan and was recognized by the state as one of the state’s most outstanding band directors in1972. In the spring of 1973, Mr. Frederick C. Ebbs, Director of Bands at Indiana University and composer Robert Jager, were guest artists at the Sturgis bands spring concert. These friendships provided priceless mentoring and guidance for Mr. Blake in future years.

When Mr. Blake returned to the Virginia Beach Music Festival in June of 1973 as a guest, he was approached by Mr. Frank Wickes, Director of Bands at Fort Hunt High School. He was offered the opportunity to move to Virginia and become the next Director of Bands at Fort Hunt High School, which was in the Fairfax Co., Virginia school system. Mr. Wickes had just accepted the Director of Bands position at the University of Florida.

A new state, new friends and new students greeted Mr. Blake in the fall of 1973. Fort Hunt High School had an enrollment of 2200 students and had 240 students in the high school band program. Mr. Blake was the only band director and conducted the symphony band, symphonic band, concert band, jazz band, marching band and taught music theory daily. Following the traditions of Mr. Wickes, the Fort Hunt High School Band continued to grow and was recognized on the marching field and in the concert halls as one of the nation's premier high school performing ensembles.
Mid-East Band Clinic, Mid-West Band Clinic, east coast tours and performances in the Kennedy Center allowed the students in the Fort Hunt band program to perform for thousands. Winning nationally recognized band competitions such as Six Flags over Georgia (Atlanta), the Shenandoah Conservatory Music Festival, the National Bi-Centennial Band Contest (1976) and the Virginia Beach Music Festival added to the reputation of the band program and the academic success of Fort Hunt High school under Harry Blake’s guidance and leadership.

A private lesson program, taught by outstanding professionals who were members of the four service bands in Washington, D.C., allowed the students to attain an extremely high performance level on their instruments. Those teachers included Donald Hilts - oboe, Linda Baker - clarinet, George Etheridge - saxophone, Victor Bowman - trumpet, Tom Murray - French horn, John Marcellus - trombone, Brian Bowman - euphonium, Marty Erickson -tuba, and Garwood Whaley – percussion. Not only did the students learn, but Mr. Blake also had a great opportunity to learn and grow professionally from the outstanding professionals visiting his school each and every week.

It was during the Fort Hunt years that Harry Blake met Karen Lambert, a band director in the state of Connecticut, during a spring band exchange trip between their two schools. Harry and Karen were married in August of 1976 and began a lifetime of work and enjoyment in making music together and raising Harry’s son, Joey. Karen Lambert grew up in the Fairfax County public schools where she developed into an outstanding flutist and musician. Karen received her bachelor’s degree in music education from the Julius Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. Ms. Blake also completed additional flute studies at Eastman during the summer and studied privately with James Pappoutsakis of the Boston Symphony. She later earned a master's degree in flute performance from Texas Tech University.

The Fairfax Co. School system was preparing to close Fort Hunt High School as soon as the enrollment reached 1600 students. Each year the district was setting new boundaries and sending the students to new schools north and south of Fort Hunt. In the spring of 1977, as school enrollment reached 1725, Mr. Blake left Fort Hunt to start a new chapter in his life teaching at the college level.

Mr. Blake began twelve years of college teaching (1977-1989), which included Director of Bands positions at Frostburg State University (Frostburg, Maryland), UNLV (University of Nevada-Las Vegas) and Cameron University (Lawton, Oklahoma). Being a small college band director meant that he taught many classes besides conducting the band. During those twelve years Mr. Blake taught private French horn, brass methods, woodwind methods, percussion methods, elementary and secondary conducting, secondary instrumental methods, beginning piano and American popular music, supervised student teachers and served as music department chairman at Cameron University. Recruiting, conducting the percussion ensemble, conducting school musicals and supervising the dance team and cheerleaders also were part of Mr. Blake’s job description at these universities.

During Mr. Blake’s twelve years of teaching at the college level, Mrs. Blake served as a faculty member at Frostburg State University and Cameron University as the professor of flute. In addition, Karen developed outstanding color guards at these colleges and was the administrative assistant to the director of bands at UNLV.

During this collegiate period, Mr. Blake’s ensembles performed at MENC state and regional conventions, and he was instrumental in promoting 20th century music festivals, featuring well-known wind composers such as Robert Jager, Ron Nelson, Fisher Tull, Elliot Del Borgo, and Samuel Adler. Harry Blake also served as a state chairman for both the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) and the National Band Association. (NBA)

It was during the late 70’s and 80’s that the Blake family was involved in the development of their son Joey Blake’s tennis career. Joey developed into one of the top junior tennis players in the world. At 18, he was ranked #4 in the world in both singles and doubles by the International Tennis Federation. As a freshman Joey attended the University of Arkansas, where he won the Indoor NCAA Tennis Championships and was named an All-American by the NCAA. Joey turned pro after one year of college but a wrist injury while on tour ended his professional tennis career. Today, Joey is the owner of Global Tennis International and Director of Tennis Development for I Tennis in southern California, where he teaches and coaches many of the top junior players in the country. Joey was also an outstanding flutist and earned first chair in the Nevada All-State Band as a high school freshmen and sophomore.

In the fall of 1989, Mr. Blake left the college ranks to return to teaching high school in the great state of Texas. The quality of the Texas band programs made this change an exciting and positive time for the Blake family. Harry’s first stop in Texas was at Midland High School for one year. For Karen, who has a deep love of trees, flowers and outdoor life, West Texas was not a good fit! Moving to Killeen High School in the fall of 1990 and working together, the Blakes developed the Killeen High School band program into an outstanding program. A strong marching band, excellent concert groups and a progressive color guard and winter guard program put the Killeen program back on the map in Texas. After only four years, the top band qualified as a finalist for the state 5A Honor Band competition and the winter guard won their first state championship under Karen’s direction in 1994.

Good friend Linda McDavitt, decided to retire as the Director of Bands at MacArthur High School in San Antonio and urged Harry to come to San Antonio to take over the program. Mr. Blake and his staff continued the tradition of excellence at MacArthur with all three bands continually performing at the UIL Sweepstake level, the Honors Wind Ensemble being a featured band at the National Concert Band Festival in 1997, the marching band earning a top five finalist position at the BOA Southwest Regional in 1997, and the Honors Wind Ensemble finishing eighth in the 5A Honor Band competition in 1996.

In the spring of 1999, Harry Blake retired from teaching in Texas, but Mr. Karl Raschkes, Supervisor of Fine Arts in the Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Oregon, convinced Harry to serve as a master/mentor teacher in instrumental music for the school district. Alongside his new friend, Karl Raschkes, Mr. Blake worked to help young directors improve as instrumental music teachers. During his three-year enjoyment of the beautiful Northwest, Harry not only worked as a mentor, but had great success conducting the North Salem High School Wind Ensemble and Marching Band. The North Salem program achieved their highest ratings ever, finishing second in the state concert band contest and won numerous marching contests. In addition, Mr. Blake also conducted the McKay High School Orchestra for two years, where the group not only qualified for the state contest for the first time in the history of the school, but finished sixth out of the twenty string orchestras at the state contest in their first appearance.

Realizing that he was not ready for retirement, Harry returned to Texas where the people have a great love for bands and music education.
In the fall of 2002, Mr. Blake became the Director of Bands for DeSoto ISD in DeSoto, Texas. Strong administrative support allowed Mr. Blake and his staff to lead the DeSoto program's return to prominence as one of Texas’s 5A outstanding band programs. The challenges of a diverse group of students made the teaching exciting and rewarding. Hiring strong associate directors like Frank Felice (Little Elm Director of Bands) and Dr. Benjamin Lorenzo (Associate Director of Bands at the University of Arkansas) and Karen Lambert Blake was extremely important for the development of the students in the DeSoto ISD band program. The return of a musical and artistic marching band with an outstanding colorguard and drumline, quickly led to the development of outstanding concert ensembles, percussion program and a nationally acclaimed colorguard/winterguard program created by Karen Blake.

During Mr. Blake’s tenure at DeSoto, the relationship between next door neighbor Duncanville (Dr. Tom Shine) evolved into one of great respect and admiration as the students at DeSoto learned the meaning of hard work and dedication that had been created so beautifully by Dr. Tom Shine and the Duncanville band program. It was about doing your best, performing to the best of your abilities and enjoying the love of music. The students in the DeSoto band program learned how to become successful no matter how difficult the task. Mr. Blake was advised by many not to take the DeSoto band job. They said there was no future in the program. Mr. Blake’s responded, “All students deserve a good teacher.”

From the fall of 2002 to the spring 2008 the DeSoto Band program returned to producing UIL Sweepstake bands and developing into a truly remarkable band program. The Wind Symphony was a featured band at the National Concert Band Festival in Indianapolis in March of 2005, the Southeastern Band Festival in 2007 at Troy University, and at the 40th Wind and Percussion Clinic in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2008. The marching band was named alternate to the state marching contest in 2006, finalist at the Duncanville Marching Invitational in 2007 and Grand Champion at the Aledo Contest in 2006. In the spring of 2004, the DeSoto Band won the All-American Music Festival in Orlando, Florida competing against 275 concert bands during the sixteen weeks of competition. In September 2007, Mr. Blake returned to his alma mater to be inducted into the New Mexico Highlands University Athletic Hall of Honor.

In the spring of 2008, Mr. Blake decided to “retire” again. That was, until Mr. Larry Campbell at Blinn College offered him the opportunity to become the Director of Bands at one of Texas’s outstanding junior colleges. Mr. Blake accepted the opportunity and spent the next seven years continuing the traditions and excellence that Mr. Larry Campbell had established. The marching band grew to 140 members on the field in the fall of 2014. Besides performing at football games, the Buccaneer Marching Band gave performances at UIL region and area marching contests. In the fall of 2013 and 2014, the marching band enjoyed performing exhibitions at the Texas State Marching Contest in San Antonio.

Having the same philosophy and being near the same age, many dubbed the Blinn Band program as the “Larry & Harry Show.” In his capacity as Dean of Fine Arts, Mr. Campbell worked hard every day to ensure the administration supported the music program and that the music faculty had the knowledge and opportunities needed to develop the Blinn music program. Mr. Campbell was a man dedicated to the real purpose of music education.

Reaching ninety plus music majors made the Blinn music program one of the largest junior college music programs in the state and nation. The program featured two concert band ensembles, a jazz ensemble, percussion ensemble and chamber music programs on the instrumental side of the program. The program was annually recognized with Blinn College placing more students in the Junior College All-State Band than any other junior college. A record forty-four students were placed in one year. This was due to the quality of the students and the strong professional music staff that was teaching at Blinn College. Annual spring performing tours to high schools allowed the Blinn Band to showcase its musical talent and recruit future students. Many outstanding music students who are now music teachers in the state of Texas, began their careers at Blinn because of the financial assistance and low cost.

In the spring of 2015, at the age of 75, Mr. Blake officially retired from teaching. 52 years of full time teaching, 52 years of marching band and 52 years of helping students enjoy creating music at the highest level possible. Harry and Karen moved back to the Arlington, Texas, from their home in Bellville, Texas, in the spring of 2015. At the present time Mr. Blake is teaching adjunct at TCU and supervising student teachers. Mrs. Blake is very active with her development of the color guard at the University of Texas at Arlington and the Bri'A Independent Winter guard program. Being on call to help young teachers has kept Mr. Blake busy, along with clinics, judging and conducting. Arranging, editing and creating new editions of musical arrangements with full scores and parts occupy many hours in Mr. Blake’s schedule.

Mr. Blake says, "Being inducted into the Phi Beta Mu Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame is one of the greatest highlights of my career. I am deeply humbled by this honor as I join so many other outstanding teachers who have given their lives to music education in the great state of Texas. This honor really belongs to all of my former students for their hard work and dedication to music education and all of my peers and colleagues who helped me along the way. Thanks to my wonderful wife Karen, my late mom, dad and brother, Karen’s parents and my son Joey, his wife and family for the never-ending support. To all of my friends and mentors, especially Fred C. Ebbs, Robert Welty, Richard Crain, Frank Wicks, Ray Cramer, Anthony Maiello, Jack Bittle, Carlton Morris, Karl Raschkes, composers Robert Jager, Julie Giroux and Kevin Walczyk, I thank you for your belief and support in my work as a music educator throughout the years."

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