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I was a college sophomore when one of the five guys renting a room on the same 3rd floor of a Civil War era house started trying to convince me to ditch my religion for his. He was relentless, day after day, month after month ….and gradually, he started making sense. I thank God that Pastor Evans had instilled enough trust for me to send him a note asking him to explain what this guy was saying that was starting to mess with my mind. He called me on the Thursday afternoon that he received my desperate note to tell me that he would pick me up at the Greyhound station Friday evening when I arrived back in town. When I tried to explain that I wasn’t planning to go home that weekend, he responded; “Johnny, I’m not asking you to meet with me at your convenience….I’m telling you that youare coming home tomorrow, except you’re not going home….you’re coming with me….and if you’re not on the bus, I’m driving to Lexington to pick you up.” He rescued me during that all nighter, and I shutter to think what path I might have gone down if he hadn’t cared enough to confront me. Pastor Evans was the preacher who came to Huntington from his retirement in southern Kentucky to preside over my deacon ordination.
By the time I was a freshman in high school, I was told I had potential to be a decent clarinetist. I was interested in pursuing music as a career….and my high school director (more on him later) insisted I study with this particular teacher named Robert Roden. At the time, he was one of the most expensive teachers in the area and there was no way my single-parent mother (who is also a polio survivor) was going to be able to pay his fee. Robert Roden had a full studio of students and really didn’t want any more, but agreed to let me “audition” as a favor to my band director, James Copenhaver. It was after my audition that he made me this “deal” for lessons:
“Okay, Mr. Gardner…here’s our situation. 1) You DO need clarinet lessons 2) I CAN teach you 3) you CAN’T afford me. I teach the 1st chair clarinetist at Simon Kenton HS, the 1st chair clarinetist at Campbell County HS and YOU are wanting to be 1st chair at Holmes. So, I’ll make you a deal. I have a bad heart and am not supposed to do strenuous work…..so if you are willing to cut my grass and shovel my snow anytime I need you, I’ll teach you how to play that clarinet until the day you show up at one of your lessons with me unprepared. Do we have a deal?”
Until I show up unprepared? Now that’s pressure, but it was the only chance I had and I took it. In my first year with him, I made All-State Band as a freshman. By the time I was a senior, I was 1st chair in the All-State Orchestra, the top spot in the state. Also senior year, Mr. Roden did something really unique. Since he taught the 1st chair clarinetists in the three biggest area high schools, he gave all three of us the same solo to take to the same contest, turning it into a bragging rights contest for those three schools. The Simon Kenton girl went first and she got a (I) rating. The Campbell County girl also got a (I). By the time I went, the room was so jam-packed with students from all three bands that the judge said they could leave the door open for those who couldn’t get into the room. When I got up to play, the judge, who was the clarinet professor at Eastern Kentucky University says, “Hey John….I don’t think I’ve ever heard this solo at a high school level venue and I’ve already heard it two times today. Can you tell me why it is so popular in Northern Kentucky?” I explained that we all three were studying from the same teacher. His response, then, was something like….”So you’re under some pressure, right?”
When I finished, Mr. Roden stood and applauded and so did the judge, scoring a (I+) on my sheet. He called me over and told me to “always play in such a way to make people stand up.”I played that solo for scholarship auditions at Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky universities and got full tuition offers from both, but went to neither.
Robert Roden certainly did teach me how to play, and he did it without my ever hearing him play. He told me if I wanted to be even better, that I should go to the University of Kentucky and study with Phillip Miller, who had studied at the Paris Conservatory. Mr. Roden was one of 165 fatalities in a fire at a supper club in Northern Kentucky where he played in one of the stage bands. He got out of the burning building once, but went back in to get his music. And the really sad connection is that my dad was one of the Asst Fire Chiefs of the Covington Fire Department, one of the groups fighting that particular fire. Music can be replaced.
I played that flashy solo that got me that fancy rating and standing ovation and felt pretty good about it. When I finished, Mr. Miller was rubbing his beard, as if in pain….and eventually said, “Not too bad, but ya know, NASA can teach a monkey how to wiggle its fingers.” That should have been a warning.The third man who majorly impacted my life was that clarinet professor at UK that Mr. Roden had recommended, Phillip Miller. Mr. Miller came to Holmes High School to audition me. It was four years later that I learned that the reason he made the trip was to get me on an orchestra scholarship before the band director could tie me up in the band program. I think those guys hated each other.
During several of my sessions freshman year at the UK School of Music, Prof Miller regularly commented variations of, “That was pretty lousy….I can’t tell if it is you or that crappy clarinet of yours.” I realized that, if I was going to graduate, I was going to have to get a new clarinet. Not that the one I had was bad. It was a Selmer Series 10 – top of the Selmer line at that time. By the end of the year, I had purchased a Buffet R-13, the only clarinet Prof Miller would accept.
I wondered why he made me do a full Junior Recital and an hour-long (instead of a half hour) Senior Recital. I didn’t find out until second semester senior year when I was scheduled to student teach when Prof Miller was furious to discover that I was an education major. He thought I was a performance major. Turns out, that when he auditioned me, he turned in paperwork for me to be a performance major on an orchestral scholarship. The band director turned in paperwork for me to get a band scholarship. The Director of the School of Music went to the band director and explained that I could not have both of those scholarships, so the two of them decided to discard Prof Miller’s recommendation without telling him.
My senior recital was in the concert hall rather than the recital hall and I had a very good crowd. My biggest problem in playing has always been endurance and we had the pieces organized so that I could get through them as long as I played them in a certain order. But, right before going out, Miller knocked one of the clarinets off a table and bent a couple keys, so he told me to go out and play something else while he fixed that horn. I was so terrified about the change of order that I forgot to be nervous.
My last semester at UK, the orchestra was playing some really major works full of clarinet solos. Unfortunately, the earliest I could get from my student teaching school to orchestra rehearsal was about 10 minutes late. He told me if I couldn’t get there on time, I couldn’t play the solos and would have to play 4th clarinet. I argued that I had earned my spot and wasn’t playing 4th. So, he kicked me out of orchestra and told me he had wasted four years of his life on me. What an ending.
He was one of the meanest humans I ever had to deal with, but he did teach me how to play clarinet pretty well. I would like to think that I could have made it in the performance world, but that really wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be a band director, inspired by the band director I had.
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By John Gardner
My dad was a 32-yr career fighter, retiring as an Assistant Chief for a moderately sized full-time department that had about 10 stations throughout the Covington, Kentucky (Cincinnati area). I recall a childhood time when my siblings and I were visiting him at the firehouse. When the alarm sounded, he abruptly pointed to the wall, said “Stand right there ’til someone comes for you.” Immediately, 10 doors (5 front, 5 rear) open, the intercom is announcing location and status, and people are hustling from every direction. Twenty seconds later, the building is open, empty and quiet. One of the dispatchers invited us into his area while our mother scrambled to come pick us up.
As a small business owner, I believe some of my Dad’s Fire Department practices could help Small Business when it comes to putting out fires. Here are 11 things Small Business and Fire Departments should have in common.
Firefighters know who they work for and will sacrifice to serve. When someone calls 911, firefighters will do what firefighters did on 9/11.
One of the most effective practices I put into place was to bring in a salesperson to talk to our order fulfillment crew and explain to them what happens to his customer, his income and even their jobs when orders go out with too many errors.
Meticulously planning and preparing for, and then efficiently and effectively fighting “fires” is something both fire fighters and small business owners should be good at. Business should be ready, but not always “putting out fires”.
The purpose of THIS post is to encourage you to be READY and SET so that when the alarm rings, you are prepared to GO!
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I wrote a tribute to my Dad, the firefighter, and included description and picture from the worst fire he ever fought…. the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire of 1977 that took the lives of 165 people, including my high school clarinet teacher. I also talk about his Fire Chief experience with accusations and responses to sexism and racism. Read more….
By John Gardner
A mother and young child go into a pet store to buy a dog. They find one, but mamma says it is too expensive.
The wise sales clerk invites the mother and child to take the puppy home for the night….with the offer to bring it back the next day if they don’t think it is worth the price.
They will NOT likely bring the puppy back.
I fell for that sales close with a car once. My wife wasn’t with me when I stopped on the lot (intentional, so I had a way out of a pressure sales situation). The smart salesperson invited me to drive the car home to show her. SOLD!
I used the “Puppy Dog” approach with a clarinet student (I will call her Sally). The first time I heard her play was in a middle school concert we attended to hear one of our sons. I didn’t know Sally, but I noticed her. It was probably 2-3 yrs later when I convinced her parents to let her study privately with me. She had incredible musicianship but was hindered by a mediocre instrument.
When I would ask about a step up instrument, she always responded about how busy her parents were. DAD WAS A SURGEON, so I knew the price was NOT an issue.
I went to the music dealer and asked if I could borrow a top of the line clarinet for a day. I asked for permission to bring it back, but assured them I didn’t think that would happen.
I took the clarinet to Sally’s band rehearsal at the high school. I told her to play it in the rehearsal and then to take it home that night to practice with at home. I gave her the amount of the instrument and asked her to return either the clarinet or a check. The next day, she handed me the check.
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