A Passion For Music

I was watching Mr. Holland's Opus on the tube the other day and was surprised to find myself teary-eyed, even though the film lost me by subjecting me to Michael Kamen's atrocious "symphony" in the finale. Why had I become all choked up? Because I had a Mr. Holland of my own.

My high school band director was a man improbably named Sharon Hoose. He was a slim, dapper chap who had directed the Lane High School band for 25 years, and he had a credo that saved my adolescent sanity: If you were a musician, you were special.

When we weren't compelled to be in some class or other, band students at LHS practically lived in the bandroom. We didn't have to gather in the cafeteria before school—if we didn't have early Marching Band practice, we could socialize or practice in the bandroom or one of the practice rooms. We could finish those last-minute assignments in the music library. Instead of study hall, Mr. Hoose would arrange for band members to be assigned to the bandroom, where we could practice, study, or, frequently, listen to records on his stereo.

Most of the stereos I'd seen prior to joining the band had been KLH systems or some other type of inexpensive hi-fi appropriate to the college students who populated Charlottesville, but Mr. Hoose had a rig that seemed incredibly exotic to me. For one thing, he had separates, and, while I can't be sure at this remove, I suspect he had tubes. There was a new ritual Mr. Hoose introduced me to: warming up the system.

I wish I could tell you that I discovered soundstaging and imaging then, but I didn't. I do remember being impressed by the enormous stereo spread of the system. (That was mostly because my friend Michael Spence brought in his copy of Stan Freberg's History of the United States, Pt.1, which had Native Americans tap-dancing from one speaker into the other.) But Mr. Hoose did teach me other audio lessons that have served me in good stead to this day. He taught me not to throw away the paper inner sleeves (as all my friends did), and how to put the sleeve in the record jacket so that the record wouldn't come rolling out when you least expected it. I remember him playing different performances of the same work and asking us why one worked better than the other—which is also one of the few memories I have of a high school teacher asking me what I thought, rather than having me regurgitate what I'd been told.

Most important, he taught me that music was something that adults could care deeply about—and even, if they were very lucky, make their life's work. Correctly determining that I had no chance of making a living off my musical talent, he encouraged me to pursue musicology, recording, or even criticism (assuming I didn't feel compelled to earn an honest living).

He wasn't a character out of some Hollywood fantasy, though. He could be pretty crusty—especially if you didn't respect music or your own talent. And he certainly wasn't always open to music outside the canon. I came into band study hall one day excited over my latest discovery, Bessie Smith. I told Mr. Hoose she was the greatest blues singer who'd ever lived. He put the record on his stereo and was less than bowled over. "That's wretched," he said, "but that trumpet player is pretty good—whatever happened to him?"

"Not much," I mouthed off. "He just kept on being Louis Armstrong."

You could blame my lifelong love of high fidelity on Mr. Hoose. In the 27 years since my high school graduation, I've certainly thought of him more—and more favorably—than any other teacher I had. Hence my teary eyes at Richard Dreyfuss. There was no way Mr. Hoose could have known he was starting me on my road to becoming an audio critic—he was only sharing his passion.

Jonathan Scull likes to suggest that everyone share their passions for music and audio with their loved ones. No more sitting alone in the sweet spot—bring in the family and play them something you love! You'll all be richer.

I couldn't agree more. When neighbors, friends, or relatives drop by, play them something you cherish. In the short term, you'll be enriching your life—theirs too. And in the long term, who knows?

About a week ago, my nephew called to tell us he's been offered a summer job in the chorus of the New Jersey State Opera. Next fall he returns to Westminster Choir College, where he'll start his senior year in music education and also join the Westminster Choir in touring, as well as performing with the New York Philharmonic. We're very proud of him.

"Tell Wes this is all his fault," he told my wife. "I'd never heard of Westminster before he gave me that Chesky recording of the choir one Christmas. If I'd never heard that, I probably would never have come here." In a little over a year, Sean's going to be a music teacher himself, exposing the next generation to the wonders and glories of our musical heritage.

Our passions are what make us human—we must nurture them, share them. We never know where they'll lead, but we can be certain that the journey will be worthwhile.