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January 1994 The Unforgettable Revelli, The Recollections of Colleagues and Students

Richard W. Bowles: When I taught at the Brevard Music Camp in the summer of 1959, I had completed my first year as assistant band director at the University of Florida and spent several days rehearsing the camper’s band, which you would conduct on the final concert. The first oboe player was a robust girl who had pleasant tone quality and read well, but her ear was more suitable for detecting the approach of enemy aircraft than distinguishing between musical pitches. Only when her reed happened to be inserted into her innocent instrument at precisely the proper depth was the result acceptable.
   Your first rehearsal started well and progressed to the initial oboe solo. There it stopped. You said to the oboist, “Young lady, sound your Bb,” which she did. To the first clarinetist you directed, “Sound your third-space C.” The difference between the two pitches, which should have been identical, was perhaps a quarter tone. You pointed to the girl and said, “Again;” then to the clarinetist, “Again.” You went back and forth, each time comparing the two pitches that differed so widely that even the man sweeping the back of the amphitheatre noticed it. You dropped your arms and said to the oboist, “Now honestly, does that sound right to you?” The girl, entirely guileless, replied, “It sounds okay to me.” You threw up your hands and said to the world in general, “Young lady, you’re very fortunate; you will never suffer.” Aside from that detour, the band progressed remarkably under your leadership, and the concert came off without a hitch. Thinking back on this I realize that I learned more than the oboist did: that inspired leadership can bring about a level of excellence that the players themselves never dreamed of. (Richard W. Bouses is Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Florida.)

   Edgar B. Gangware: The 1948 Northwestern University Band traveled to Ann Arbor by train to perform for the Michigan football game. In those days Northwestern was quite a power and went to the Rose Bowl that year. We had a new head of the drum section for that game; this proved to be quite a problem. He began the half-time show at 120 steps a minute instead of 180, and the show was a disaster. Mr. Bainum was always afraid you thought he did this on purpose.
   During a clinic in Alexandria, Minnesota for Vince Di Nino in 1953, you were teaching J.J. Richards’ march, Emblem of Unity, and asked the clarinets to play the trio softly. This was a challenge, but you used the illustration that they should play softly as if they were trying to thread a needle with the air column. That did the trick, and I have used that expression ever since. Your contributions to bands, like the stars in the sky, are yet to be counted. (Edgar B. Gangware is Director Emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University.)

   Acton Ostling, Jr: I recall a staff panic attack when several successive marching band appearances resulted in some difficulty getting the exact material for one of the shows. When the show was finally set, it was necessary for the staff to begin work early Monday morning, cut all classes, go without lunch, and then just barely make the change in the folios by 4:00 P.M. for rehearsal.
   The head librarian was beside himself, and wanted to make sure you knew what it had taken to accomplish this. He went into your office around 3:45 P.M. and told you about each sacrifice. Your response was this wonderful quip: “Well, think how much you would accomplish if you worked that hard every day of your life.”
   Another time, you were in College Park, and everyone had left after the evening session except for you, John Wakefield, his family, and me. John’s young daughter and son were there. You tenderly took them over to the band setup, placed each of them up on a front row seat, and encouraged them to pretend to play instruments as you sang and conducted. It was not the incident itself, as you acted out the role of a conductor for the children, but the gentle and loving manner in which you played make believe with these two young children that remains in my mind as a wonderful memory.
   Many have seen your demands for exacting standards for all that needs to be accomplished, but few have witnessed the wonderful, personal side to your makeup. (Acton Ostling, Jr. is director of bands at the University of Louisville, Kentucky.)

   Robert Jager: Our paths first crossed in the spring of 1956 when you were the guest speaker for a countywide band banquet in Muskegon, Michigan. You spoke of great musicians, and when you mentioned Harry Glantz, you asked if anyone knew who he was. Before I realized it, my hand was in the air. When you called on me I responded shakily, “a trumpet player.” “Of course, he is,” you said, “but where?” Fortunately, I was studying from a trumpet method edited by Harry Glantz and had read his biography on the front cover. The first lesson I learned from you was not to raise your hand if you’re not prepared.
   Thirty years later I was commissioned by the University of Michigan Band Alumni Association to compose a work honoring your many years of service to the Michigan bands. When the dress rehearsal day came, you asked to meet backstage at Hill Auditorium to go over the score at 12:30.1 got there at 12:00, and you were standing in the door waiting for me. Even though I was thirty minutes early, I was late. The thirty years suddenly rolled away, and I was back in the trumpet section once more preparing to be moved down a chair. (Robert Jager is a composer and professor of music at Tennessee Tech University.)

   William V. Johnson: There is nothing more powerful in the life of a young person than a dream. You gave me that dream, and then you gave me a dream of your own. One day when I was 14 years old (1954) and sitting in my dad’s movie theater in a small town in East Tennessee, a short subject about the Michigan Marching Band came on the screen. I had just become a member of the Cumberland County High School Band. After watching the most spectacular display of artistry I had ever seen in my life, I dashed out of the auditorium, ran to my dad’s office and announced to him that someday I would become a member of the Michigan Band. Four years passed, and I became a student at Indiana University; but I didn’t forget my dream. I watched the Michigan Band perform in our stadium and remembered that day in 1954, but it wasn’t until you came to Indiana to conduct the Indiana Intercollegiate Band that I made the firm commitment to become a member of the Michigan Band. I became your student in 1965, played in both the marching and symphony bands, and thought that nothing in my life would ever equal the thrill I experienced.
   When I finished my master’s degree and explained that I wanted to go back to Indiana and teach in a high school, you said that if I wanted your help, I would have to think differently about the direction my career should take. I thought you were crazy and got an interview for a position in Fort Wayne the next weekend. My car broke down on the way and the job was given to someone else. A few weeks later, you called me into your office and announced that you had arranged an interview for me for the director of bands position at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. I had never heard of Cal Poly and informed you that I was not interested or qualified to teach on the college level. I will not repeat your reaction to that statement, but I flew to California the next day to interview for the job. This fall I am beginning my 28th year as director of bands at Cal Poly.
   During my final days at Michigan the symphony band toured some of the Eastern states with performances at Lincoln Center in New York and the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. After one performance, a woman who had been in the Michigan band 25 years previously came back stage. The very moment you saw her, you called her by name and gave her a big hug. Tears rolled down her face. Several of us who witnessed this later asked how you could remember someone you had not seen in 25 years. You said, “The trouble with you boys is that you don’t love your students.”
   Twenty-seven years have passed, and each year I realize more and more the tremendous love that you had for your students. You showed us that love by demanding that we reach for the highest level, even beyond what we believed to be possible. You were unrelenting in demanding excellence. At times we thought you were impossibly difficult, but we knew that it was your genuine desire to see us succeed that motivated you. (William V. Johnson is director of bands at California Polytechnic State University.)

   Jack K. Lee:
 There is no other conductor who demands greater concentration than Bill Revelli, and this is perhaps the greatest secret of his success. It supersedes musicianship, organizational abilities, and basic techniques and skills and is a study of one man’s will to control 100 musicians.
   Another of Bill’s secrets is that he never stopped learning. In my first year with him at Michigan we had an unusual free weekend with no game or clinics, a free weekend until the phone rang. Bill wanted me to drive into Detroit so he could take a snare drum lesson. I wanted to go, but what I most remember is that I had a boss humble enough to admit he needed a little more knowledge and would take the time to pick up new ideas.
   One Thursday the Michigan Marching Band got hit with a downpour, which was not unusual, except this week we were doing a big shield formation with yards and yards of red and white streamers; they got soaked. My wife and I spent all night in the basement by an old “coal furnace washing, drying, and ironing the cloth so it would be ready for the Friday rehearsal. A night without sleep affects people in different ways, and I was not my usual bubbly self when rehearsal time arrived, but tried to stay awake. After the rehearsal you asked to see me. It was not an unexpected surprise because on a couple of other occasions I had meetings of this type and was enlightened as to how little one knows at the age of 26.
   After an explanation regarding the streamers you let me have it; this was perhaps the greatest learning experience of my life. You started out by telling me there were over 60 applications for the job when I was hired. All had more experience, but you hired me for two reasons: I had not asked what my salary would be and I was the most enthusiastic of the applicants. Then you let me in on a Revelli secret: “When I’m worn out, I try to do a little play-acting to make myself look spirited. You have the enthusiasm we need in this position, and I don’t ever want to see you let me down in this regard.” After this I would look for some Revelli dramatics that seemed to come whenever things were going badly, but all of a sudden things would turn around. What an actor, even at age 90 you would think all is peaches and cream, but I know better and this man deserves an Oscar. You do what you must do to get the job done with perfection. I have found that play-acting helps and does not stand in the way of sincerity if you are sincere in purpose.
   My favorite story is the band director who dies and goes to Heaven. At the pearly gates he hears glorious band music and asks St. Peter if it’s Bill Revelli conducting. “No,” says St. Peter, “It’s God; he just thinks he’s Bill Revelli.” (Jack K. Lee is Director Emeritus at the University of Arizona.)

   Anthony J. Maiello: On one occasion you asked me what were the three most important words in becoming a successful music teacher. You gave me the week to think about it, and the next weekend you asked me if I had the answer. I mentioned three words and you quickly dismissed them, telling me there were three other words of much greater significance. By this time my curiosity was at an all time high. You kindly informed me that we should always observe, diagnose, and prescribe if we are to be effective as musicians and teachers. I always remember those words in every class I teach and every rehearsal I conduct. (Anthony J. Maiello is professor of music and director of bands at George Mason University.)

   John M. Long: I will never forget the time you taught two graduate courses, each with three times the established class size, while co-directing our band. When a graduate faculty member said I was taking advantage of your reputation by having you do the job of at least three full-time faculty members, I realized that this was probably true, and decided to ask if you wanted to reduce your teaching load. You looked at me and said, “I am glad you mentioned this because I thought I wasn’t teaching enough.” Your dedication to work and your attitude are rarely found in any university community. (John M. Long is dean of the School of Fine Arts and director of bands at Troy State University.)

   Harry Begian: I attended Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan when you first came to the University of Michigan. One day a high school chum and I attended one of your band concerts and heard the finest band sound ever. I realized then that a concert band could indeed be a refined musical medium for performing serious music. When I first heard your Michigan band, I realized what a band could and should sound like. Though in my later work with bands I never tried to copy the Revelli sound I carried in my mind that beautiful sense of balance, intonation, rhythmic and textural clarities, and tone quality I first heard with your band. (Harry Begian is Director Emeritus at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.)

   Keith House: One-liners by William D. Revelli. “I could have written that — you could have written that — but we didn’t.” (Statement made when he was conducting Military Escort with the Windjammers, Inc. Band as a tribute to Henry Fillmore.)
   “Must you double tongue everything?” (Statement made to me when we were sight-reading a march at the University of Michigan; I played 32nd notes instead of 16th notes.)
   “Get a metal mute. That thing you’re using is for dance bands.” (Thinking to myself, “All right, I’ll get one the next time I get to the music store.”) Next day, same scenario, “I told you to get a metal mute. I don’t mean next week.” (I had a metal mute for the next rehearsal.)
   “Did you ever meet anyone who didn’t like a march?”
   “Men, you’re slaves to the bar line.” (While rehearsing the Finale to Death and Transfiguration with the 1951 University of Michigan summer session band.)
   “Do you realize that there are people who have played their instruments for eight years in school band programs who have never played one note by Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart?” (Private conversation.)
   “I have always championed the cornet over the trumpet, but I lost that battle a long time ago.” (Keith House is band director at Central Methodist College in Missouri.)

   Arnald D. Gabriel: William Revelli’s indomitable spirit and optimism were evidenced at my induction into the National Band Association Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors. He and I were asked to address the two bands that each of us conducted and the faculty administration of Troy State University. Dr. Revelli preceded me and was his eloquent and articulate self. When it was my turn to address the assemblage, I indicated that Dr. Revelli would be 90 years old in a week and that his longevity was attributable, in part, to his love and insatiable quest for excellence of band music. In fact, I continued, I had resolved to conduct a concert when I reached 100 years of age. Without missing a beat, Dr. Revelli added, “… and yes, I’ll be there!”

Perhaps Dr. Revelli’s greatest attribute was summarized by the dean of the school of music at the University of Michigan during Dr. Revelli’s retirement ceremonies, “Not in anyone’s memory, during his long and distinguished career, has Dr. Revelli made derogatory comments about a colleague.” This attribute should be emulated by everyone in our profession. (Col. Arnald D. Gabriel is Conductor Emeritus of The United States Air Force Band.)

   Robert E. Foster: You probably do not remember the first time I met you, but I will always remember it. In the winter of 1954 I was a member of the All-Regional Band that met in Kingsville, Texas on the campus of Texas A. 6k I. College. I was an eighth grader but had been selected first-chair cornet in the band. Seated next to me was a senior student named Bill Hipp. During the first rehearsal you decided to hold a cornet sectional and re-audition everyone. As a result of that audition, Bill became solo cornet, and I became the second-chair player. William Hipp is now the dean of the school of music at the University of Miami. From that time on I was acutely aware of the wonderful band at the University of Michigan. When I became a high school band director in Houston several years later, my fervent desire was to help the band sound as wonderful as the University of Michigan Band. (Robert E. Foster is director of bands at the University of Kansas.)

   Frank L. Battisti: At the summer clinics you ran at the University of Michigan in the late 1950s, I was a young high school band director and looked forward to attending this weeklong, annual event. These clinics were a chance to meet important people, to hear the latest literature for wind band, and reap the benefits of the inspiration supplied by you and your guest artists. This was both an exciting experience and a source of great knowledge and stimulation; I was motivated to do more and to do it better.
   I would like to communicate to you the great respect and admiration I have for your constant commitment to and involvement with American school bands. Your message is loud and clear: get the best by giving the best of yourself. (Frank L. Battisti is wind ensemble conductor at the New England Conservatory.)

   Ray T. DeVilbiss: I shall always remember hearing the Michigan Band perform in Chicago many years ago with you on the podium. It was a memorable moment, not one we could buy or taste or see, yet we all knew it existed. It is that momentary chill that tingles your spine, be it during a stirring march, a symphonic poem, a thrilling overture, or a powerful symphony, that we search for in music, and this is what we find whenever you perform in concert. (Ray T. Devilish is Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of South Dakota.)

   Charles Minelli: It was in Ogden, Utah. Bill, Mary, Charlie, and Pat were having Sunday noon dinner at the Holiday Inn. Bill and Charlie were to conduct the weeklong music festival at Weber College. A young newly wed couple came into the dining room and sat down at the table next to ours. She looked outside at the motel marquee and said to her husband, “Honey, who is Revelli-Minelli?” After a very short while he looked out and said, “Honey, that’s a famous dance team.”
   Mary, Bill, Charlie, and Pat went fishing in the Rockies. Mary and Pat stayed on shore. Bill said, “Charlie you fish, I’ll row.” Getting not a bite, Bill said, “Here, let a real fisherman fish, Charlie you row.” Bill threw in the line and came up with two fish on the same hook. (Charles Minelli is conductor of the Lakeland Community Band.)

   Gerald Prescott: You and I are two of the few people who can remember the 1920s when we were developing high school bands. We found that almost everyone who had a saxophone seemed to possess a C Melody, and we struggled with the establishment of A 440, finding that a few of our students still had high-pitched instruments. We had the fun of seeing the change from Albert to Boehm System clarinets, getting our flutists to use C rather than Db instruments, getting everyone equipped with the conservatory system oboes, and Heckel system bassoons. How lucky we were to have Bill Ludwig, H.A. VanderCook, Joe Maddy, Victor Grabel, Austin Harding, Edwin Franko Goldman, and the artist teachers available to give us the low-down on all the instruments.
   I hope you have forgiven me for having my band prepared for The Star Spangled Banner in Ab when your band had been instructed to play in Bb. Your men proved their talent and training by moving to Ab after only a couple of measures, thus saving the day. You have left your mark of excellence and your great sense of humor as your trademark in our profession. (Gerald Prescott is Director Emeritus at the University of Minnesota.)

   Frederick Fennell: As we’ve been saying together for some years, remember the good, rejoice in the positives, and always remember the people for whom, and with whom, it was a privilege to be a conductor. That’s a lot of people, so it takes a lot of you to go around. (Frederick Fennell is conductor of the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra.)

   Frank Piersol: During my first year of teaching I encountered you in the lobby of a hotel during a professional meeting. I was in the process of selecting a number for my band to use in the approaching music contest and asked your opinion on a composition by Karl Frangkiser. I’ll always remember the attention you gave to my question and the skillful way in which you led my thinking toward other possibilities. I think that was the beginning of my life-long search for fine material. (Frank Piersol is Director Emeritus at the University of Iowa.)