A Musical Family Sharing Wisdom Across Generations

Editor | January 2009

    Music is likely to be the topic of conversation whenever the Fuchs family gets together because brothers Gerald and Jim, as well as Gerald’s sons Jeff and Craig, are all band directors. “Our wives just hate family visits during the winter holidays because we spend so much time talking about repertoire,” says Craig. “After many years of directing bands, my father worked in the retail music business, so he always asked about various new pieces.” During one kitchen conversation about marching, the men moved the dinner table out of the way for a debate about turning corners and when to use the right or left foot.

Gerald Fuchs
    Gerald Fuchs and his younger brother Jim grew up on a dairy farm in Concordia, Missouri and attended the tiny local high school with just 120 students. He recalls that an influential choir instructor was so inspiring that all but a few students joined choir. This teacher went on to Berlin for 16 years to sing in an opera company there while Gerald and Jim moved on to what is now called the University of Central Missouri. Fuchs admits that although his parents hoped the boys would stay on the farm, the hours of dairy farming did not suit him.

Gerald attended school on a vocal scholarship and took both vocal and instrumental music. “I went through the band classes and played alto clarinet for a year but was basically a vocalist. For my first two teaching jobs I was hired for my vocal expertise but fell in love with bands. I went back to graduate school for work on instrumental technique and literature and then took a job at Belton High School in Missouri.”
    During the years in Belton from 1962 to 1969, Gerald frequently brought his young sons, Craig and Jeff, and a daughter, Shelly, back to school in the evenings for solo and ensemble rehearsals. The children would sit in a chair and watch everything that went on in the bandroom, which influenced their decisions to become directors.
    After nearly 20 years Gerald left teaching in 1976 to take a position with Wingert-Jones, a large music retailer in Kansas City. The company wanted an instrumentalist who knew band literature, and the offer came at the perfect time for Fuchs. He was running a growing program of 250 students in Savannah, Missouri without any assistance and felt burned out from the work.
    He spent 25 years working in the retail side of Wingert-Jones, advising directors on new music. “This was the time when Claude T. Smith was writing a number of pieces for the company. The success of Emperata Overture was the main reason that the company started its publications division.”
Gerald enjoyed his work in music retailing because it gave him an opportunity to continue in music and stay in touch with fellow musicians who had been friends for years. After 25 years on the retail side and rising to general manager, Fuchs retired in 2001 to return in 2004 as the director of publications of Wingert-Jones/J.W.Pepper. He retired again in 2007.

Jim Fuchs
    Beginning in fifth grade, Jim Fuchs received his first clarinet and took private lessons from the local band director. He participated in band, men’s glee club, and choir while in high school; and when his brother Gerald decided to become a music teacher, he followed the same path. Jim was particularly interested by watching his brother take over a small music program and helping it grow.
    Jim relied on various mentors in the early years of his career, including the wisdom of his brother. “Mentors are very important and lacking in many schools. During my years of teaching  in Paola, I met a business teacher who influenced me through her traditional approach to instructing students.”
Although Jim enjoyed teaching over 21 years, he decided in 1984 to pursue a different career in part because of frustration with school bureaucracy. “At times I felt like a counselor to students. I didn’t want to be a counselor; I wanted to be a band director.” Jim, like his brother, went into the business side of music. He is very proud of his nephews, Craig and Jeff,  and their college music programs. “We sure do have great conversations when everyone is together. My only regret is that I did not teach at the same time as they did. I would have loved to use them as guest conductors.”

Jeff Fuchs
Jeff Fuchs recalls a series of events that contributed to his career in music. He was particularly impressed by the strong relationships that developed in his father’s ensembles. “In the early 1970s,” he remembers, “a trumpet player in one of Dad’s bands was killed in a car wreck. I was in middle school at the time and recall how many band students came over to the house to grieve together with him.” There were also lighter moments for young Jeff, who fondly recalls spending snow days at school with his father and brother. “It was great because we had an empty school gym and trampoline all to ourselves. We’d go to school and hang out with Dad.”
    Jeff says he never felt pressure to pursue music, only encouragement. He has wondered for years if the instrumentation in his father’s band contributed to his decision to play tuba. “I always joke that my father needed a tuba player and could control my  musical development better than others.” Playing under his father’s baton, Jeff says he never received special favors. “I remember being treated so much like everybody else that it wasn’t like having my father in class.”
    One inspirational teacher for Jeff was Bill Mack. “Bill Mack was just a master teacher and motivator. He accomplished things that probably shouldn’t have been possible. He used his musicianship and motivational skill to push the band further.”
Jeff says Mack reminded students about the value of developing technique beyond what was required by the music. This was a particularly valuable lesson for a high school tubist facing less difficult band parts. “I was able to play all the way through those Rubank books and the Arban trumpet book as a result of playing in Bill’s summer band program. His encouragment back then helps me even today.”
    Jeff went to college at Truman State University in Missouri, with the idea of pursuing the business side of music, until it became clear that the close relationships between director and students would not be part of the business world. At one job early in his career Jeff taught band and vocal classes at a school of 250 students in Huntsville, Missouri. Jeff and a colleague taught every music class for the district except junior high choir.
    Jeff says that working in a small school allowed him to take chances in his teaching and occasionally make mistakes. One year he decided to program a piece in German with his high school choir. “The piece did not go well, and the judges at contest taught me how much I didn’t know about German. I feel bad for what I did to those students.” Although Jeff has moved on to the college ranks and is director of band activities at the University of North Carolina, he still has fond memories of a childhood spent in music.

Craig Fuchs
    Craig Fuchs remembers spending countless hours in band rooms watching his father teach. “I’ve moved so many chairs and stands it’s not even funny. I learned from him the importance of excellence in the band room and at home. My dad doesn’t do anything that is not absolutely first rate. He doesn’t accept mediocrity.”
    Having a father who was known by everyone in Missouri band circles occasionally had surprising benefits. Craig remembers one instance when he and Jeff got into some mischief at summer camp. “We were putting toothpaste on people’s doorknobs, and once the counselors discovered who was behind the pranks, we had to  wash windows. The head of the camp  came by and asked why the Fuchs boys were washing windows. We didn’t have to wash any more after that.”
    Even with a well-known father and an uncle in the music field, Craig never felt pressured to become a band director. “Dad just let us be kids, and we became all-state players through our own motivation. I knew before the end of high school that I wanted to be a band director.”
In the early years of his teaching career, Craig remembers being tempted to use the same stern discipline of his father’s generation. “It was an old-school approach, and I was a pretty intense teacher in my first few years. As the times changed I chose to alter my approach to running a classroom.”
    Craig says that even though he is now a veteran teacher, he still seeks advice from his musical family. “It is nice to have that support system. When my uncle left teaching to become a road man for Hume Music, he visited me every Monday. In addition to helping me with equipment we would talk shop all the time. Sometimes in teaching you feel like you are out on an island with no one nearby to help with problems. My mentors were family members so I could always get advice when I needed it.”
    Craig also sought out the help of mentors when he took a job at Shawnee Mission West High School in Kansas. “I had never taught in Kansas and decided to seek out the director of the most successful music program in the state. I met with the director to find out what made him successful and how he developed a model program. I tell younger directors today that you have go out to find assistance. You can’t wait for someone to call you.”
    Although having four band directors in the same family might seem unusual, Craig says, “We don’t think of our situation as special. It is just the way we grew up. We have always been a close-knit family with music at the center. Even my sister, who is an English teacher, participated in band by playing flute.” The musical tradition in the Fuchs family appears to be moving into a third generation as Craig’s son has completed an undergraduate degree in vocal performance and is now working on a master’s degree, and Shelly’s son, who plays tuba, is entering the University of Central Missouri in the fall of 2009 as a music major. If this new generation ever needs some advice there are four people ready to offer there opinions and experiences.