- Special Sections
- Public Notices
TELL CITY - Barry Reasoner was looking forward a week later to moving north to be closer to family members, but took time May 17 to reflect on the 25 years he served in the Tell City-Troy Township School Corp. music programs.
He'd attended 10 days earlier the last of the annual awards banquets celebrating the schools' top musical talent, and told the pupils gathered under the picnic shelter at Mulzer Camp, "you guys aren't just my students; you're my friends. You've put up with me for all these years, and I really appreciate the fact that I can wake up in the morning and know that I'm going to like what I do. That's something that not a lot of people can do."
His teaching career, after he earned undergraduate and master's degrees at Ball State University, took him to three school corporations in five years before he began a three-year stint in Lebanon, Ind., in a music-publishing job.
He attended a state championship band contest at the Hoosier Dome, and leafing through the program, he spotted Tell City's name. He also saw that Barbara Exline was Tell City's director.
"I just about fell out of my chair, because Barb and I had sat next to one another - she played first trumpet in the Ball State Symphony and I played first trombone ... for two or three years straight."
He found her after her students performed, and provided his number as they chatted, in case a job opened up. One did, she called, he applied, "and that's how I got here," Reasoner explained.
He stepped into an assistant director's job, where "I had never had to mix vocal and instrumental music, so it was a brand new thing for me."
He was "incredibly impressed" by "how quiet that large a number of students could be. They were attentive. They knew they had a lot to learn, and were there to learn it. It was that work ethic that people keep talking about. It used to bug me to hear people say that, and now I'm using the term, because there is a work ethic in this town that basically says, 'if you want it done, you have to get it done.' That's their goal." The teachers' job is to lay the framework or devise the game plan, he added.
Reasoner was also surprised by the confidence students showed regarding contests.
"There wasn't ever a discussion about whether they were making it to the finals at the Hoosier Dome," he said. "They would argue with one another about where they would be ending up. 'Do you suppose we could get third this year? How about second?' It absolutely floored me. They were not talking about regional, they were talking about the final performance of the year. In my first year, I felt they were doomed to jinx themselves (but) there was no denying that the Tell City marching program was widely respected, and rightfully so. They earned their berth in the state championships rather easily."
"The other thing I had not seen in other band programs was the automatic support of the parents," he said. "And they were the same, exact way the students were. If it needed to get done, all the director needed to say was 'we need this done' and they would find out how to do it."
He was convinced by the summer of 2001 he was a good assistant director, and felt "that was my niche ...." Then he learned Director Dennis Akers was to leave several days before that year's Schweizer Fest performance. By that time, the highest-quality candidates would have been hired, the principal told him, so "I felt I would put my finger in the dike and see how things go. I was afraid a substandard candidate would have been hired."
Exline had left in the summer of 1986, and was replaced for the next three years by Jonathan Gurney, Reasoner recalled. John Sedwick followed Gurney into the position, also for three years, then was replaced by Tracy Runyon for two. That "chronology of directors" could be viewed as a "revolving door" before Akers provided some relative stability.
Akers had designed the show Reasoner inherited, and he remembers it earning a top rating at the regional level. It wasn't scored in the top five, however, so it didn't advance to state.
The Marching Marksmen did go to state in 2002, 2003 and 2006.
"I know that is a very highly regarded accolade," the director said, "but the thing I really hope has rubbed off since I've been in charge, if nothing else, is that music needs to be played musically. That sounds like a redundancy, but don't just play the notes. Play the music. Notes don't make music. I think the ensemble gets the feeling and the camaraderie builds when you work toward an ideal sound, as well as an ideal look or design on the field."
One of the big advantages he's had as director are the creative people who've contributed to the shows, Reasoner said, naming David Hebeisen, who died in August, Brett Mulzer and Ken Karlin as the biggest contributors in that area.
"If any band director says it's all on account of him that a band is successful, more times than not, he's a liar. Our staff designs the show. Sometimes visuals come first or ideas for a concept, sometimes a piece of music stands out in your mind, and you can build a show around it. Sometimes the name of a show comes first. I'm the first one to tell you I have no desire to further myself in my knowledge of drill writing because I know there are so many people who can do it well. I was perfectly willing to put my mitts on the music - if it had five lines and four spaces, I was happy to take care of it."
Reasoner likes a "separation of powers" inherent in a group with a visual group and musical section on the staff, and a director to coordinate them.
He felt he could "almost let go of the directorship during the marching season with Brett, because he knew I had to be the band director and the choral director and the theory teacher and the music-history teacher and the sixth- , seventh- and eighth-grade teacher."
Mulzer knew anything he could do to take on some of the load was appreciated, Reasoner said. "He was the design guy, he was the visual guy. And it helps so much."
Mulzer began helping after Reasoner moved up and no one was named to the assistant's position.
"Out of the goodness of his heart, he stepped up to the plate." He had worked in the program ever since he graduated high school, Reasoner continued, and "could teach and run rehearsals with the best of them."
Having students "always willing to come back each year eager to work" also helped make his job enjoyable, Reasoner said, although that's tempered by constantly dwindling numbers. While that affects other programs, he stressed that it's just those numbers, not the quality or desire of the students that has declined.
Triumphs have included the trips to state, and more recently, judges at a concert-band contest last month suggesting Tell City should perform next year in a more-difficult group.
"That's the coolest thing a judge can say, the biggest compliment that can be given to a group of kids," he said. "It means you've been challenged with really good music ... now move up to the next level."
Students wow judge
A "gold rating with distinction" went to another recent group that finished a competition only two points shy of a perfect 36 points, he boasted. And a junior-high band performing at a Jeffersonville High School contest "performed at such a high level the judge said 'wow!' three times. Judges don't say 'wow!' about a junior-high band. He commented how he knew Tell City had a quality program, but he had never heard the middle school sound that good."
That's the kind of time it's most gratifying to be a music instructor, because it helps keep the kids interested, Reasoner feels. Improvement is celebrated at each level of development, he explained. When every student has an instrument, is able to put it together, sits in his or her own seat and plays the same note everyone else is playing can be seen as success for a young group. Older musicians should be able to convey the right emotions with their music.
When that occurs, their music becomes magic, he told a group assembled at the awards banquet May 7, and their influence extends well beyond the band-room walls.
"You need to know that you have made a difference in our community," he told them. "You need to know that and you need to keep doing that. You guys have such wonderful maturity."
Whether they're sitting in neatly arranged chairs to play in the formal atmosphere of an auditorium or engaging in often-aerobic antics on the marching-band field, he told them, "I know you can make that magic."
Having a director who appreciates that can go a long way toward bringing it out.