I recently got an email that my high school band director, Mr. Spriester was turning 80 on November 15th and could I send a card. Then I got to thinking, although I live ten miles from where I grew up and never really told him how much he impacted my life. If it weren’t for you Mr. Spriester, I would not be in music and certainly not a music teacher.
Mr. Spriester was one of the most important teachers that enabled me to soar and little did he know how much he impacted my life. As a young freshman in high school, he was the first music educator that did not get upset if any of I made a mistake. I was quite taken my this, all my other music teachers would scream and push me, thus making me nervous and thus I would create even more mistakes. I remember he would say “Just play the mistake loud, so we know what we have to work on.” He demanded respect and excellence. Looking back on all those rehearsals with the eighty or so students, be it marching band, flute challenges or concert rehearsals, he never raised his voice. There were never any behavior issues and the repertoire we played was extremely difficult. The band sounded terrific and his musicianship was incredible.
I have so many memories that rush back, but I am going to talk about three that were life changing for me.
In the Pit
First, I was not selected my senior year for the musical. I had been in the all-school musical the three years prior, but not in my senior year. I had my “one line,” as a junior, and was hoping this would be the year out of the chorus. There was NO chorus in the musical my senior year, so I did not get a part and I was not in the show. Being a musical theater person this is devastating, since the summer before I decided that music was my field. I really don’t know how it happened, but Mr. Spreister had me sit next to him in the pit and do to cues for the pit orchestra. I actually felt important. Looking back I am sure it was a job that was added and no one before or after me did this job. But, while I was doing this job, I felt important. I think he knew how much I wanted to be in the show and found a place for me.
Since music was to be my field, I had taken music theory my junior year and was planning on taking a second year of music theory, however, not enough students signed up, so the class was not offered. So, instead I took a fourth year of Math. It was completely over my head, so I dropped it mid-year. I asked Mr. Spriester if I could take an independent study on music theory, of course he said “yes.” I had seventh period free and so did he, so we set up a weekly appointment. The year before we analyzed about 10 of Bach’s motets. I would finish the book of 200 and study Grout’s “History of Music.” I was a duck in water, I swam! I loved the independence of my own program of study and to my surprise I loved analyzing the Bach motets, it was like a math puzzle. (I know even back then I was an “odd duck..” This independent study allowed me to be one of the top music theory students at The Ohio State University and it was the start of my love of music history. Today, my main focus in my classroom is composition and the Composer Collaboration Project has developed into an award-winning project.
North Shore Band and Northwestern University
He didn’t talk a lot about it, but he continued to play trumpet in the North Shore Band. As a young musician, this was important to me that my own teacher was part of this outstanding performing band. This is a world renowned organization and at the time was founded and directed by John Paynter, the director of Bands at Northwestern University. We, as a high school band, also participated the yearly Northwestern Football game during half-time and would march/play on “band day.” These two things showed the character of Mr. Spriester, his musicianship and giving high school students additional opportunities outside the traditional classroom.
He also started the Deerfield Community Band. So, he also gave back to the community. I don’t really know how did it, in the fall he worked six days, (since on Saturdays we had to be at school by noon and stayed until the 5 on home games) participated in the North Shore Band, directed his own band, and even talked about additional “gigs” he had on the weekends. Oh, yes he was department chair and taught all day, had jazz bands, and was musical director for the musical. Additionally, he scripted all the marching band shows. We did a different show each home game and this was before computer programs, they were all handwritten, typed, copied, and passed out to the entire band. Today, marching bands have ONE show and the show is conceived on the computer.
In conclusion, I wasn’t the most talented student, just one of those students that we teach every day. But what Mr. Spriester was for me in high school was that he set a high bar of excellence in everything thing I did in music. He allowed me to be creative, make mistakes, and then said “yes,” if I they had an idea or suggestion. Thanks Mr. Spriester being one of best musicians, as well as teachers I had – Happy Birthday Al! Enjoy your 80th birthday!