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James Elliot Marioneaux - Class of 2018

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James Elliot Marioneaux was born in Beaumont, Texas, on June 6, 1949. He began playing clarinet at Longfellow Elementary School under the direction of Devon Floyd. Mr. Floyd could never remember how to pronounce Marioneaux, so he called him “Mayonnaise.” When Devon Floyd left, James played under Don Knapp in eighth and ninth grade at Stephen F. Austin Junior High School. He really liked playing clarinet and could play all of the band music by ear, but he did not have a good sense of rhythm and counting. When he got to Beaumont High School as a sophomore, Hall of Fame member Arnold Whedbee told his assistant band director, Hall of Fame member Jimmy Simmons to hear James and discourage him from band because he would never be a good clarinet player. Simmons asked James if he really wanted to play the clarinet and James said, “Yes, and I want to be a band director.” Simmons made James stay in a practice room during band in order to learn to tap his foot with a metronome any speed Simmons selected. After three weeks, he accomplished this and was finally allowed to rejoin the band. James began taking lessons from Simmons, working in the music library and doing chores in the band hall to pay for his lessons, all the while learning about band organization and running a band office. James went from not being able to tap his foot or count rhythms as a sophomore to making the All-State Band as senior. Jimmy Simmons had become a musical inspiration, personal mentor, and father figure for James. For all of this, James owes Simmons a debt of gratitude that he can never repay. Hall of Fame member Dr. Ralph Mills came to clinic the Beaumont High School band, insisted on hearing James play, and offered him a scholarship on the spot.

James attended Sam Houston State University and had the privilege to study clarinet under Richard Pickar, principal clarinetist in the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He also worked under Dr. Mills for four years but due to a lack of funds, transferred to Lamar University for his last year of college. Jimmy Simmons, now assistant band director at Lamar University, got James a scholarship and a job teaching private lessons in the Nederland schools. James also played in the Beaumont Symphony Orchestra, Lake Charles Symphony Orchestra, and the Beaumont Civic Opera Orchestra to make ends meet and was able to finish college. In addition to his degree, James earned the Performers Certificate in Music, being the only student at Lamar University to earn this two year certificate in one year. Nearing summer graduation, James discovered that there were not many jobs open that year. Simmons told him to go to the TBA convention, introduce himself to older directors, tell them that he was about to graduate from Lamar University, and ask if they knew of any jobs open in their region. He did this and got his first job teaching at Crosby, Texas. He graduated on Saturday, moved to Crosby on Sunday, and started summer band on Monday.

James began his teaching career in 1972 in Crosby ISD as junior high band director, fifth grade music teacher, and assistant director at Crosby High School. The school and community had many racial issues at the time and was one of the last school districts in Texas to be forced to integrate their schools. The band program was not strong, but James was just happy to have a job. People told James that he should get to know the best band director in the area, so he immediately contacted Hall of Fame member Charles Forque, band director at Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown. Charles knew that James was a beginning teacher in a band program that had fallen on hard times, and became a great resource. Charles’ assistant director, Jim Cunningham, worked the junior high band, bringing a grey box he picked up that day. It was a new kind of metronome that James McAdams built in his garage. They predicted that the McAdams metronome might be in nearly every band hall in the United States. They were right.

After three years in Crosby, James moved to Copperas Cove, where he was the assistant director at Copperas Cove High School for four years. He learned a tremendous amount about teaching in a quality program from head director Bill Marocco and also worked with Richard Knoll and Bob Nelson. He played first clarinet and was a soloist with the Heights Concert Band and will be forever grateful to Carlton Morris for the opportunity to play under all the outstanding conductors he brought in, most notably Dr. William Revelli.
In 1979, James became Director of Bands at El Campo High School. After a rough first year, the band flourished as a consistent UIL Sweepstakes band, Region Honor Band, and attended the UIL State Marching Contest. He also found another mentor and lifelong friend, Hall of Fame member, Fred Junkin. Fred asked James to play E-flat clarinet on the Copeland Third Symphony the Victoria Symphony Orchestra was playing. He said he would even let James use his personal E-flat clarinet. James, not knowing the part, thought “It’s just the E-flat clarinet part, how hard can it be?” Receiving the music in the mail, he was shocked that it was so difficult. Not wanting to embarrass himself in front of Fred Junkin and the orchestra, James worked very hard on the part. Sitting next to Fred in the first rehearsal, James said, “My part looks harder than yours.” Fred replied, “It’s a LOT harder. If I didn’t get somebody else, I would have had to play it.” For the first time in his career, James got to hire a staff member. He hired Steve Hankins, the moderator of the Yellow Board, for his first job right out of college.

Hall of Fame member Al Cortinas told James that he should attend Texas A&I University where Al and several others were planning to get their master’s degree over the course of several summers. Al knew of a house they could rent together. The day before classes began, they discovered all the room air conditioners had been stolen from the house. Being resourceful, James went to the Kingsville Motel 6 and negotiated a large discount for rooms for the entire group. James calls his master’s degree his “Motel 6 Masters.”
After five successful years in El Campo, the Palacios ISD superintendent asked James to take the high school band position. James was reluctant, but the superintendent was insistent and quoted a salary James just could not turn down. Other area directors told him that Palacios High School had never won a UIL Sweepstakes in the history of the school and James should not take that job. James’ first year in Palacios, the high school band earned their first Sweepstakes. After a marching rehearsal his first year, James overheard one student say to another, “This guy is serious. He actually expects us to learn this.” During James’ time in Palacios, the band earned four UIL Sweepstakes awards, was Outstanding Band at the South Coast Band Festival and placed sixth in the TMEA Honor Band competition. Teaching in a small school was a transition for him, but small schools are where James would spend the rest of his career until retirement.

After a one year move to Clute Intermediate School in the Brazosport Independent School District due to family concerns, James went to Sweeny High School. It was there that he got the opportunity to work with his college buddy and closest friend, Mike Cudd. James and Mike had often discussed working together, and the opportunity finally arrived. Improvement in the band was rapid and the Sweeny High School band won the UIL 3A State Wind Ensemble Contest, State Solo and Ensemble Sweepstakes, competed at the UIL State Marching Contest, and placed third in the TMEA State Honor Band competition.

James made his final career move to Barbers Hill High School in 1993, where he would retire. The band had been through a succession of one and two year band directors, but James stayed for nine years. Because of the turnover in directors, the band’s quality had suffered but quickly improved. Many people were supportive of James’ work including Hall of Fame member and Region Executive Secretary Ben Gollehon. When James’ father passed away the week of UIL Marching Contest in 1995, the band dedicated their performance to his father’s memory. During his tenure, the band earned eight UIL Sweepstakes awards, competed at the UIL State Marching Contest three times, and placed fifth and seventh in the TMEA State Honor Band competition.

James continued playing when the director of the Baytown Symphony Orchestra asked him to play principal clarinet. At the same time Richard Pickar, who had retired from the Houston Symphony Orchestra and was the conductor of the Galveston Symphony Orchestra, asked him to play principal clarinet in that orchestra. James still plays principal clarinet in both of those orchestras, is the Assistant Conductor and orchestra manager of the Baytown Symphony and is the conductor of the Houston Flute Choir. He is a respected clinician and UIL contest judge, who maintains a private lesson studio and teaches clarinet at Lone Star College. Following in the footsteps of his mentors, he now mentors to several young directors, giving back to the band directing profession.

James met his second wife, Christina, late in life when she asked him to work with her Humble Middle School band for three days while she was away with the high school band. He became a regular clinician for the band and invited Christina to play in the Baytown Symphony Orchestra. They met for dinner before rehearsals, began dating, and became engaged. The students at Humble Middle School wanted them to get married in the school auditorium and let the band play for the wedding. That did not happen. She commissioned Leroy Osmon to write a concerto for the occasion of James’ sixtieth birthday, which James premiered with the Baytown Symphony Orchestra. Christina is an outstanding band director, French hornist, and is now an outstanding orchestra director. She also plays in the Houston Flute Choir and directs the group in James’ absence.

James feels that being inducted into the Phi Bets Mu Band Director Hall of Fame is the highest honor of his career. He credits his many mentors, especially Jimmy Simmons, for his success. He is also thankful for the Lord bringing Christina into his life and for her undying love and support.

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