Schroeder Was a Model of Respect, Professionalism

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

May/June 2001

West Virginia's music education community lost one of its pioneers this winter. Francis "Frank" J. Schroeder of Bel Air, Maryland passed away on Friday, January 19 in Cumberland, Maryland. His obituary appears on page 15 of this issue.

I first met Frank Schroeder the first year I taught school. After graduating from Fairmont State College, I was hired as a band director at Clarksburg Washington Irving High School a scant eight days before the first football game. I was forced to learn many things about the band program in a short amount of time.

The third football game was against Parkersburg High School. That was when I became acquainted with Frank Schroeder Not knowing anything about the layout of the Parkersburg field, I wrote Mr. Schroeder, asking him for information about the game. I received a four-page letter from the drum major of the Big Red Band. The letter contained all the information I needed to take the band to Parkersburg, including the name and phone number of the manager at the Wilmar Cafeteria, instructions for parking our buses, and the location of the dressing rooms. Also included was an invitation to join the Big Red Band in the performance of the Star Spangled Banner.

When I called Mr. Schroeder to discuss the arrangements for the Star Spangled Banner, he said he would like our band to march in block formation to the center of the field. His band members would then march between our files. He wanted to know the concert key in which we played the piece, and I said, "Concert Bb." He said that his band could perform the piece in Bb or Ab. He explained that he wanted to be sure of the key because he once invited a band to play with his band and forgot to confirm the key. The visiting band began the piece in Ab while Parkersburg started in Bb. When the Big Red Band members realized what was happening, they switched to Ab.

The night of the game, I discovered what a real professional Mr. Schroeder was. The band's drum major, commander, and other officers met our buses and showed us around the field, pointing out where our band would sit and the location of the rest rooms. Mr. Schroeder invited me to direct the Star Spangled Banner, which was quite a thrill since it was the largest band I had directed at that time. In the following years, I tried to emulate his example by treating other colleagues with respect.

Frank Schroeder was Saul Fisher's band director when he attended Buckhannon High School. Fisher said recently that Mr. Schroeder always programmed good quality music on band concerts. Tone quality and precise intonation were stressed to a high degree, a tradition that has continued to the present day. Mr. Schroeder placed great emphasis on the development of musicianship in each band student. As a result, a number of outstanding student players from the Schroeder era went on to have distinguished careers in music, including David Casto, Harry Hoffman, and Richard Lawson.

Fred Ross, former owner of Fred Ross' BANDLAND in Clarksburg, recalls the first time he met Frank Schroeder. About 1934, when Ross was a junior at Pennsboro High School, he attended a summer band camp at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Lawrence Kingsberry, WVWC band director and graduate of the Ernest Williams School of Music in New York City, invited several Ernest Williams graduates, including Mr. Schroeder, to teach at the camp.

Fred Ross took clarinet lessons from Mr. Schroeder, who taught him the proper embouchure, correct tone, and proper position of the fingers on the instrument. Mr. Schroeder performed passages of music for Fred to show how phrases should be played. Mr. Schroeder made a great impression on Fred and perhaps was the person s who was most responsible for Fred's growing love of music.

During the six week session, summer camp students practiced every day and presented concerts at Adkinson Chapel on Sundays, with Ernest Williams instructors playing alongside students. It was a wonderful learning experience - one that Fred Ross never forgot.

About ten years ago, Fred Ross attended a reunion of Ernest Williams students that was held at the University of Maryland. At dinner the first night, the moderator asked graduates to stand and introduce themselves and their spouses, and to explain what they did for a living. After Fred introduced himself and his wife Gerri, he heard a voice yell out, "Fred, it's Frank Schroeder!" Neither of them knew the other was attending the reunion. They had a great time reminiscing.