Dead Poets with Richard McCluggage

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!”

6 thoughts on “Dead Poets with Richard McCluggage

  1. How fortunate you were to have such a fine influence in your young life.

    How sad are the reasons he was pushed out, and what then happened to your band as a result.

    In the end, though you all were without him, it sounds like he got the recognition he rightly deserved.

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    1. And I did have a pretty good senior year after they replaced Mr. Low Expectations with a good ol’ boy who liked to set high goals (tougher music). It felt like a band again, nothing near what we had, but by the end of the year I felt proud of the progress we had made, if in band spirit if not so much in musicianship.

      Had I never written anything in this blog I would have never known of Mac’s redemption. That heals a wound that’s been open too long … I’ve never believed the allegations but keenly felt the loss of our Captain, and selfishly, the loss of three years that we could have been in the spotlight, but mostly passed in the shadows.

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  2. Yesterday I unboxed 3 vinyl records of Louisiana Tech Bands playing various songs. The years of the albums were from 63-67. I found Richard McCluggage on the back of the record’s cover with a photo. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to send a photo of it.

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    1. Sure, I’d like to see the old boy’s youthful image … rare was the public school teacher who always broke starch in those white shirts.

      Also, I was not aware of any connection to La Tech. Jimmie Reynolds was the band director when I was there 68/71. Probably was a summer band camp instructor I would guess.

      Thanks for reading us,

      Jackson

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  3. What a great tribute to Richard McCluggage. I knew Mr. McCluggage as a high school student ’78-’82 in Coshocton, Ohio. He was the director of the Coshocton County Community band and he was a local high school band director. I played trombone at a different high shool and took a few lessons from him. The Community Band experience was great in that he expected and got a lot out of his mix of high schoolers and community members who continued to enjoy the music. He’d yell at all of us if he thought we weren’t paying attention. We played a ton of Sousa marches and performed every weekend through the summers.

    In 1978, he gave 30 minute music lessons for $2.50. The lessons were given in the basement of Glass Music in Coshocton, OH. My weekly lesson was his last for the night and when I finished, I would meet my mother in the lobby. She would be there talking with a gentleman who’s name now escapes me. Mr. ? would go to dinner with Mr. McCuggage every evening. We didn’t talk about the obvious in those days, but it was clear they ‘preferred the company of gentlemen’. If he had to leave Louisiana as a result of being gay, that’s very sad. I have no doubt your band was his passion! By the time I met him, he was in his mid-sixties. He would chew on a cigar as he pounded out a few notes on the piano to make his point. I wish I could have known him when he had a group of kids who would be willing to stand on their chairs to salute him!

    Here’s a link to his Find-A-Grave memorial. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/120541069/richard-mccluggage

    An earlier commenter mentioned a picture of Mr. McCluggage. Do you have a picture you could share?

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    1. Mac touched many lives and your words about him got me misty eyed. He was something like a Patton of music, or more closely, a Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. How can an ordinary high school have such excellence in music year after year, and the simple answer is inspired leadership.

      Alas, the commenter who offered a photo of a younger Mac did not send it. I left my yearbooks at Mom’s house, and somehow they went away. So I have no pics.

      Thank you the wonderful comment, but I will not leave you with only that.

      Here is a short true story from our concert performance in spring, 1964:

      It took place on a college campus in Natchitoches, about 100 miles south of school. Unlike the Bluebonnet Bowl (who paid for chartered buses) we rode yellow school buses. But there was a sound insulated practice room maybe 100 yards from the performance site. Bands go there right before going on stage, and he had us tune up — there was a new fangled electrical device with perfect pitch that high schools could not afford. It offered a perfect C (for trumpets) after hearing one player’s tone with an unnecessary meter showing sharp or flat, it blew perfect pitch again. We each were to play our tuneup note, and adjust, then play again. When this was done time was left, so Mac had us play the first 16 bars or so of our two performance numbers.
      Upon his baton cutoff of the second piece intro, the tuning machine wailed briefly. And he angrily growled “Who’s that clarinet?” Everyone laughed.

      He had somehow flicked it back on while conducting, and the tone served as fine way to release our jitters.

      Oh Captain! Those words are not too strong; they are well deserved.

      Thanks for reading and writing,

      Jackson

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