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A Fabulous Journey

James T. Rohner | March 2013

    Forty years ago on January 2, 1973, I first sat in the publisher’s chair of The Instrumentalist and started a long chapter of turning words and photographs into printed pages for school band and orchestra directors. At that point in history, school music programs had expanded greatly in the post-World War II era and had assimilated an arm of Suzuki string program students into orchestras.
    Along the way there have been so many memorable individuals. My old trumpet teacher, Ren Schilke, had developed superb professional instruments, but in declining health he commented at our last lunch together that he got the greatest kick out of teaching students, preferably beginners with no bad habits to unlearn. Francis McBeth wrote thought-provoking articles and steadfastly refused to ever write about anything he had covered before.
    At the 1999 Midwest Clinic I met Lloyd Hoover, who had retired two years before but had just been called back to rescue the failing band program. He was crushed to discover that one of the two successors had thrown out his collection of every issue of The Instrumentalist since his college days. He hadn’t been able to afford to take time off to get a graduate degree, and these magazines had been his ongoing, advanced study program. What else could I do but send him a full set of anthologies. My son remarked at the time, “He’s the person for whom we have always written the magazine.”
    One college director, who pondered how much audiences at his concerts really liked the music he chose, decided to videotape every concert that year, but with the camera turned on the audience. That way he caught the view he never saw and was shocked to see how many bored, sleeping, and page-turning individuals there were behind his back. His programming changed dramatically after that.
    Another professor videotaped veteran directors while they rehearsed a band. These experienced directors were shocked to discover how much they overconducted, talked or spent too much time on just a few notes.
    During most of the past 40 years I read every article before it went into print. One time I routinely passed through an article that suggested transposing one part so an outstanding bassoonist could play with the jazz ensemble. Soon after this appeared in print a director wrote to us that this was a dumb idea because the resonances of a bassoon weren’t right and how much more educational it would be for this student to double on another instrument. How did I miss this? I did spike down another article describing how one director programmed long, heavy works on four concerts each year. The author admitted that because students insisted, they had a fifth concert with only light fun music and that the audience for this event was much larger.
    Two issues of The Instrumentalist stand out from all the others. The March 1980 magazine was prepared during the Blizzard of 1979. One New Year’s Eve 24 inches of snow fell on Evanston, and two weeks later another 24 inches arrived, and we were buried. One employee cross-country skied to work, and many others walked to the office. We also sent out a VW square-back with snow tires that could get through anything each day to rescue key employees who lived farther away. We somehow produced the issue. Survival breakfasts at the office helped.
    The other memorable magazine was the 50th Anniversary Issue in August 1995. We asked 18 musicians to choose the best excerpts from articles over five decades in one area: clarinet, jazz, trombone, band repertoire and so on. The job of culling all the articles in 18 areas proved to be a big task, and we didn’t have the stacks of articles ready for the contributors. As a result we repeatedly sent batches of articles by overnight Fedex to each of the contributors, never realizing the cumulative impact this had on the recipients.
    To our surprise all 18 came through, an amazing percentage in the publishing field. We had way too much to fit in one issue, but someone on the staff suggested printing it all regardless. We ended up with 228 pages, the most ever. I edited all but the last 11/2 of the columns and selected all of the covers and most of the photographs featured in the issue. Many advertisers ran a current ad plus the first one their company ever ran with us, some going back to 1946. This issue was my baby, and I loved every minute of it.
    The memories keep coming, but as I leave the magazine in hands of my children, Ann and Jim, I will only add that it has been a fabulous journey.

– James T. Rohner, Publisher