In my ill-spent youth I had the great fortune to attend a consolidated high school whose football was abysmal, the basketball first rate, whose choir and marching band were both capable of turning sour milk into brie. Although playing the Sam or Will linebacker spot would have been my preference, I must admit to being small but slow, and got stuck with a trumpet in the band. There I spent the most wonderful freshman year imaginable marching in north Louisiana’s best band (North Caddo High’s Rebel Band from Dixieland), directed by Richard McCluggage, LSU ’37. I have never been so proud to belong to any organization before or since. We were pretty damn good. In my band debut we stepped off — 110 strong — in company front at State Fair Stadium on September 6, 1963 at half-time of our football team’s annual whipping by Woodlawn (we owned their band). In December the Bluebonnet Bowl paid our travel expenses to do a pre-game show in ’63 (Baylor beat LSU 14 -7) and we led 100 other marching groups in Shreveport’s Holiday in Dixie Parade the spring of ’64. Our band leader was one of a kind: demanding, irascible, inspirational, all in equal measure. He was a life-long bachelor, and his student leaders were always guys. But no one found that odd: males mostly lead the world. Should a high school band be different?
Dead Poets Society ran again on cable last night. I had seen it many times before and always came away struck by the impact one incredibly talented educator can have on his school. Mr. McCluggage was that kind of guy. He was our John Keating, except Mac wasn’t a young rebel. He was an old authority figure, and one who expected us all to conform to the Band Ideal which required practice, lessons if your parents could afford them, and if not, twice as much practice.
In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years the Rebel Band from Dixieland saw our world come to an end. Mr. McCluggage retired. The school board promoted a middle school band director to fill Mac’s spot conducting the state’s best band. The new guy was a kid, not much older than our seniors, and he quickly convinced us all that we had no business performing difficult marches such as Roland Seitz’s March Grandioso: only the best college bands can pull that off. “You are nowhere good enough for that!” (He actually spoke those words to his, and my band.)
The Navy Band plays it better (a little) than we did in ‘63, here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqhbOQgBy4c
Pretty soon we weren’t good enough to play our lofty standards from prior years. No more Grandioso, Bravura, or Ponderoso. We weren’t any good at all. He had us play the music we blew in junior high, which we now did with even less enthusiasm. No one wanted us to lead any parade, or perform in a bowl game. I wish I had quit and taken two years of Latin. They reassigned our bozo of a director after two years. I have no idea what became of him, nor does The Google. Neither of us care.
Five years later I met Mac again. He was a guest in my girl friend’s home. Her family had been big band boosters. The drum major from my freshman year was there along with my gal’s brother, our first trombone in ’63 – ’64. It was like old times, except that the drum major now accepted me as human, if not quite an equal.
Mac’s return made me wonder about the homosexuality allegations that got him run off. That stuff happens. And false rumors happen. Which was it here?
Google told me the other day that in his old age Mac built a very good high school band in his home town in Ohio. In 1985, twenty years after Louisiana ran him off, Richard McCluggage became the thirteenth name added to the Louisiana Music Educators Hall of Fame. He went in two years after another legend, Walter Minniear (Fair Park) and eleven years ahead of perhaps a greater legend, at least when it comes to the brasses, Bill Causey, Sr. (Centenary College). Is Mac in great company in the LMEA? Oh my goodness, yes!
Now I know the truth, and I must cry out: “Oh Captain, my Captain!”