The Taconic High School Band of 1976 – 1977 from Pittsfield, Massachusetts tells a magical true life story – told 40 years later in collaboration with eight high school students authoring the book. Creativity | Authenticity | Connection | Chance
In the spring of 1976 the country was celebrating the bicentennial, and I was working with the Talcott Junior High School band for the big Memorial Day parade in West Hartford, Connecticut. The town was excited about the parade and all the school bands were participating. Our percussion section prepared a series of exciting drum cadences, and the band created some enthusiastic cheers spelling out our school name that complimented our two memorized march band pieces.
Just prior to the date of the parade I heard a knock on my door and the Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Ira Singer was there with a huge smile on his face. He asked me if I would consider taking a high school band position at Taconic High School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. My gut reaction was to immediately say, “yes,” but my response was “give me a few days to discuss this with my wife as she has a job as a music therapist at Southbury Training School in Southbury, Connecticut.” Dr. Singer replied, “Share this with your wife -there are two music therapy openings. She might enjoy taking one of these positions.”
As this was a great opportunity for me, I shared with my wife the opportunity for us both to take on two new jobs in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. As time passed, I signed a contract for the music position thinking that this was a no-brainer for us both, but the position at Southbury Training School was very unique as there was an entire team of music therapists which was more than unique for 1976, and the position as advertised in Pittsfield was a job description that was not appropriate for her professional development.
Commuting to Pittsfield, Massachusetts from our home in Southington, Connecticut was a 90 mile drive each way; however, a colleague, Bill Deegan, was also working in West Hartford and accepted a job in Pittsfield within a week of my contract signing. As he was a pilot who gave flying lessons and owned his own two-seater airplane, we agreed to fly to school together each day, split the cost of the gas, and he had an old Volvo that would remain parked at the Pittsfield airport for us to commute daily from the airport to school and back.
Our daily routine began in early August with me driving to Bill’s house, the two of us driving in my car to the small airport in Hartford, checking the gas tank, untying the plane, starting it up, and accelerating down the runway to Pittsfield. It was a beautiful 30-minute flight over the Berkshire mountains with the sun rising to our right as we flow each day. The Pittsfield airport was very small, but as it was near Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, it was very busy during the summer months of the year.
Our landings on most days were very routine. We tied down the plane, walked to Bill’s Volvo, drove to school and arrived each day prior to most of the faculty! We reversed the routine every day at 4:00pm. We continued this daily routine throughout the months of August, September, and October, but as the weather started to fall below 32 degrees we both were back into our cars commuting together and making the trek 90 miles each way.
In the months ahead Bill bought a home in Pittsfield. There were several days when I was stranded due to very bad weather and spent the night with his family as the roads were impassable.
Each morning during my planning period, I had a daily informal meeting with the high school principal, Dr. John Davis, who was interest in flying. He wanted to know the details of our daily flight. Only once one did we have plane problems. We had to be rescued by a fellow pilot who was a friend of Bill’s who happened to be flying some material aircraft equipment to the Pittsfield airport by chance. I did not arrive home until 3:00am the next day.
Our most harrowing early morning landing experience occurred on a very cloudy day, and the airport was completely covered by dense fog. We circled the sky repeatedly looking for a break in the cloud cover that would allow us to see the runway. As the sun was rising, suddenly an opening appeared, and we nose-dived towards the runway and landed safely.
For me, having an opportunity to fly the plane was amazing. I will never forget my first take-off and my first landing. Both were exhilarating and scary at the same time.
I thought to myself during each flight, “How many band directors are flying 180 miles every day to start a first-time high school band program from scratch?” Clearly, this opportunity was completely outside of the box and was my destiny.