I’m Gonna Miss You, “Sir”

I’m still trying to process the loss of my friend, Tom Shaner. He passed away just before Christmas. He was my high school band director. He was more than just a friend to me (and many others). He was a mentor, a leader, a counselor, a cheerleader, a boss, a role model, an advisor, and at times, was like a second father to me.

I received word that he was in the hospital the week before Christmas. Due to Covid, no visitors were allowed. I found out afterward that he had been in ICU. Then his family announced that he was coming home to hospice care. Word came very quickly after that he had passed away. I am still in shock, as are many of his former students.

I had been watching the mailbox for a letter from him. He and I had exchanged e-mails recently and he said he was going to drop a note in the mail. I assumed that the note might be stuffed in the annual Christmas card from him. It never arrived.

My Facebook was filled with other band students remembering him. There were pictures of him and many stories, some I had heard before, some I had been in band to witness, and some I had never heard before. Those various memories from band students younger and older than me, were proof that we all shared many of the same wonderful experiences with him. They also were illustrations of the great impact that this one man had on students throughout his teaching career and far beyond.

From a previous blog:

One of the first blogs I wrote here was about the impact of teachers. I listed some of mine. Here is what I wrote about Mr. Shaner almost 3 years ago:

Mr. Shaner was my band director. If you are looking for my stance on Music Education in schools – here it is. “I LEARNED MORE TO PREPARE ME FOR LIFE FROM BAND CLASS THAN ANY OTHER CLASS IN SCHOOL”. There. I said it. I learned the importance of preparation. I learned the importance of punctuality. I learned the importance of practice. I learned the importance of team work. I learned the importance of organization. I learned the importance of patience. All of my time management skills came directly from band class. I learned about discipline and work ethic. I learned the importance of cooperation and respect. The list goes on and on. The lessons that I took from band class in itself can be an entire blog. (I can also add the importance of dedication, responsibility, self worth, dignity, and honor to this list!)

I recall one day in 9th grade, I was running late for school. I grabbed a pair of khaki pants from a basket that was in the laundry room. I walked into school and TS said “Hey, man, you know an iron can get those wrinkles out of your slacks”. Now some people might think this was mean. I didn’t take it that way. Instead, it made me aware of little things like looking good. It was a simple nudge to take an extra minute to dress right.

It was not odd for him to call someone in the office and ask if everything was ok if they looked like something was bothering them. Sometimes he would get wind of a situation someone was dealing with and he would be aware that there was a lesson in it for everyone. He would just tell some story in class with the lesson at the end and it did two things – it helped the person in the situation AND it helped the rest of us in case that situation ever popped up in our lives.

I remember one time Steve and I were goofing off during a rehearsal. It was the day before festival, so it was not the time to be fooling around. He stopped the band and asked us what was so funny. Because we did not have an answer he pointed to the door and said “Bye. I’ll see you after rehearsal”. We sat at the end of the hall and pondered how much trouble we were going to get into not only with him but with our folks. He sent Kelly, the band president down to the end of the hall to get us. He looked at us dead in the eye and said “I did not want you to go with us to festival tomorrow, but the band as a whole voted and said you should come”. He proceeded with the rehearsal. The following day, I was the first to arrive in the band room. He greeted me with a smile and I was completely confused. He was SO angry the day before. I asked if he had a second and he said to follow him to his office. He sat down and looked at me, like he had no idea why I was there. I apologized for my behavior the previous day and told him it would never happen again. He stared at me for a few seconds and got up quickly (which scared the hell out of me). He extended his hand and said, “It takes a lot of guts to admit when you are wrong. It takes a real man to apologize. Thank you for taking responsibility for your actions. I have a lot of respect for you.” He took it a step further and made sure the entire band knew what happened. He said he thought that they should know that I cared enough about them to apologize for my actions. Talk about respect? I have the utmost respect for that man and all of the lessons I still carry with me to this day. I am glad that we have remained in contact all these years later. He was a major influence in my life and in the lives of many students.

His Own Hashtag!

The one thing that showed up in almost every post about him on Facebook was how strict he was about being punctual. “If you’re on time – you’re late!” He always told us that! In other words, if rehearsal started at 4pm, you had better be in your seat with your instrument ready to play at 3:59pm (or earlier!). SO many people mentioned this in their posts. I chuckled and thought he would think it was great that the hashtag #ifyoureontimeyourelate was in almost all of these posts!

The Band Room

The band room represented a safe haven for most of us. It was like a family gathering place. Almost everyone hung out there before and after school. Most of us ate lunch there, too. We did homework there, we talked about life there, we laughed there, and we cried there. Many of us never used our lockers because we kept most of our stuff in the band room!

Mr. Shaner always had something playing over the speakers in the band room in the morning. Sometimes it was just the classical music station, while other times it was an album featuring artists like Maynard Ferguson and Doc Severinsen. I was introduced to so many great albums by hearing them in the band room.

Many student’s first stop was the band room every day. We’d drop our instruments off in the instrument storage room and walk over the the white grease board where Mr. Shaner wrote all the announcements. At the bottom of that board, he always had some quote. The one I remember most hits me a bit hard with his passing: “Live every day as if it were your last – someday, you’ll be right.”

In my senior year, I was the Band President. All the officers had mailboxes in his office. He would often write notes for all of us on Post It notes and stick them in our mailbox. Mine often read simply “See me”. Sometimes, the sticky note was stuck to some flyer or something and it would read “See me on this!” Every now and then, an officer would find a page from the Far Side calendar in their mailbox, just because.

I had a typing class my senior year. I hated it. I would get my work done early and I would sit there for the rest of the hour doing nothing. Eventually I’d as the teacher for a pass to go to the band room to work on stuff I needed to get done. This became a habit and one day I walked to his desk and before I could ask he said, “No. You may not have a pass to the band room.” I looked at him and said, “I was hoping you could give me a pass to the IMRC.” The teacher looked at me puzzled and I continued, “The Instrumental Music Rehearsal Center” (which was something Mr. Shaner had said in class that week). He wrote the pass and told me to beat it!

Band Class

While in school, I have many wonderful memories of band class and Mr. Shaner. I remember how he would tell us stories about the little old lady that he went to church with, which always made us laugh. Whenever one of his kids had a baby, he’d announce how his wife, Carol, “became a grandma again.” I remember how if there was a part of a song that didn’t sound right, he’d pull out the grade book and go down the line and make us all play individually – for a test grade. Then there was “the parting of the stands”, when he would step off the podium and go directly to whoever he needed to yell at.

When I was a junior, I wanted to be a band director (until I stumbled into radio). Mr. Shaner ran an after school Conducting Class for whoever wanted to be in it. It was part music theory and part conducting. Each of us in the class got to lead the band in a warm up chorale every day. I really enjoyed that. One class he asked each of us to bring a song to the class and explain why we liked it. I remember there being a lot of different types of music and his reaction to each was always enlightening.

The above picture was taken of him conducting the Jazz Band. We rehearsed after school and we got to play at Pep assemblies. Jazz Band was so much fun. It was just a small group of us, and he seemed to really have more fun with us. I remember one of the songs we played was Delta Dawn (the Tanya Tucker song). The sax section had the melody and the harmonies were just fantastic. I was given the solo on a song called “In a Sentimental Mood”. I was scared to play it but he was so encouraging and I remember not being so nervous after he talked to me.

At Christmas time, he would invite the band officers over for dinner or a movie. I remember how strange it felt to be at his house at first, but we were welcomed as friends and family. I can’t remember how many times we drove by his house honking our horns after graduation.

The “Radio” Preview?

At the end of my sophomore year, he had put an announcement on the grease board asking if someone wanted to help take songs from vinyl and transfer them to cassette so he could listen to them in the car. All the music publishing companies would send out record albums with demos of their music for the upcoming season. Band directors would listen to them and then order whatever songs they wanted. He needed someone to announce the title of the song before it played on the tape. That way, when he heard something he liked, he knew what the song title was. I volunteered to do it.

Naturally, before each song, I played DJ and if I knew something about the artist, I’d ad-lib something. I told jokes, and was just silly on them. He must have enjoyed it, because I did it for him the next two years. If we were recording something in class he’s say something like, “Hey, Golden Tones, why don’t you announce this for me.” I remember announcing Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo by saying, “Here’s a swinging little number called Mood Indigo.” Without missing a beat, he said “Shirley is gonna go around now saying ‘Hi! I’m Mood Indigo!”

He was so encouraging about my radio career. He’d listen when he could. He was always so supportive and interested in my radio job. He often talked about things he’d heard other DJ’s say. In an email he sent last year, he told me: “saw you in front of the microphone on Facebook this morning. I’m always pleased to see you doing what you always do so well.”

Open To All Ideas

He always seemed to want our ideas to come to fruition. It was tradition for the band officers to do a skit in front of the rest of the band. For our sketch, I thought it would be funny to have each officer step into the spotlight and lip sync to songs (this was long before lip sync battles were a thing). He gave the green light and we had a blast!

The skit that year led to us doing a lip sync contest. I asked Mr. Shaner if we could do it as a fund raiser. He was not really sure it would work, and he asked me many questions about it and how we were going to handle things before giving it the go ahead. He was willing to let me throw it together.

He called it Puttin’ On The Hits! We opened it up for everyone, but they had to audition. Someone did Time Warp from Rocky Horror (that won), someone else did Going Back to Cali, and me and my buddy, Steve, did the Ames Brothers Rag Mop. Prior to the show, ticket sales were low. We thought we were gonna cancel it because of that. However, the sales at the door that night sold out the show. We had a full house that night and it was a huge success.

Band Banquet Imitations

My Junior year, the officers were discussing the agenda for the annual Band Banquet. We needed one more speech, so I said I’d get up and do an imitation of Mr. Shaner. That night I was nervous. I got up and started my speech by saying “The longer you’re in band, the more Mr. Shaner starts to grow on you…” with that I ducked under the podium and threw on a bald cap. I then put a baton in the back of my shirt collar like he did. I “yelled” about how nobody practiced, talked about retiring and some other things. As the laughter died down, I realized I hadn’t written an “out”. I went on to thank Mr. Shaner for the many times he opened his office to listen to me talk about life, and issues I was dealing with. I don’t recall all I said, but I got pretty emotional and ended by telling him I loved him. He got up and we hugged. Somewhere I have a picture of that moment.

Remember, that happened my Junior year ….. so when my senior year arrived, he got me back good! I used to have the video of it, but I am not sure what happened to it …. so from memory, here’s what happened:

He always had a spot on the agenda to speak at the Band Banquet. So when it came time for his speech, I introduced him and sat down. He stood up and reached into a paper bag. He pulled out a wig and put it on. The entire hall erupted in laughter. He ran around the hall doing all kinds of gestures that I really hoped I had never done. At one point, he stopped at pointed to the custodian who cleaned our band room and yelled “Get outta here, Bill!” which was something we all yelled at him. By the time he got to the microphone, I was crying from laughing so hard. But he was far from done…..

He began to tell silly stories as me. One of them was “You know, Margaret is always asking me to come over and go to dinner or to the movies, but I tell her I’d rather play pinochle than do that!” (The guys and I would always play cards together, and Margaret was one of my best friends.) As the stories and laughs continued, he paused, said something about a costume change and turned with his back to the audience.

NOTE: Now, if you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know that we did a lot of TPing when I was in school. We had a group that went out called the TP Bandits……

He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a piece of toilet paper that he made into a mask and the laughter became ten times louder!

He looked absolutely ridiculous! It was the funniest thing I have ever sat through! My sides ached from laughing so hard!

The thing about Mr. Shaner was, he could take you from laughing like crazy to crying like a baby. Immediately after he took off the TP mask and wig, he spoke to us about the achievements of the year and offered up wisdom. I remember he mentioned how after graduation, friends will go separate ways. He said that you could go 30 years and when you met back up, could pick right up where you left off. Looking back at that now, I am lucky to have had his friendship 30 years after that night!

After his speech, I told him that was the worst impression of me I had ever seen!

After Graduation

I’m not going to lie, I hated graduating. I didn’t want to head out into the real world! I was comfortable in the band room. There was talk about an Alumni Band, and I was asked to head it up. I gathered all the addresses and we got it up and running. It, in itself, became a great way for all of us band “kids” to come back and hang out with Mr. Shaner. We marched in the homecoming parade every year and even played on the field once or twice. He was very supportive of the group. When he retired, there was an attempt to get folks together, but it was less successful. I truly believe that this had to do with the fact that he was not there to run rehearsals and chat with. There was always so much laughter and fun when we all got together, but without him, it was not the same.

I remember stopping by the band room one summer and he had lost a bunch of weight. He said he had been doing Weight Watchers. I had been struggling with weight for some time and I asked him about it. He was very encouraging and suggested I go. I remember losing 85 pounds and he cheered me all along the way!

One day, my girlfriend at the time and I went to see the Community Band play at one of the colleges. I was surprised to see Mr. Shaner playing his cornet in the band. There were many other concerts I attended and saw him play. It was always a treat for me. We often bumped into each other at shows. I remember seeing him at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra show, and at a Doc Severinsen show (among others).

Don’t Break Anything …

I can’t recall if it was before or after Christmas, but my son was about 1 or 2 years old. We had stopped by his house just to say hello. Their house was full of things on shelves that were breakable. I was so nervous with my son. Mrs. Shaner told my son to pick a gift from under the tree. He picked a book that came with a CD that he listened to often growing up. Mr. Shaner and I sat at his kitchen table talking. I kept wanting to get up because Mrs. Shaner was “entertaining” my son. He kept telling me, “Carol is keeping an eye on him. He’s fine.” Come to find out he was in their room jumping up and down on their bed ….. LOL

Hot Chocolate

I’d always mention getting together for coffee when we’d talk on the phone. He’d always say, I don’t do coffee, but I’ll meet you for hot chocolate. We did that often. In those times we were together, we’d talk about life, family, and the various things going on in our lives. There were so many times I’d walk into his office at school and say, “Do you have a minute?”, and we’d talk just like this. I always enjoyed his insights to things. He was so helpful when I was going through my divorce, offering some sage advice. He always helped me to see things just a bit differently.

Even in his last email to me he offered up encouraging words. He spoke of how much he enjoyed seeing my daughter in pictures on Facebook. He suggested a few books he thought I would enjoy and offered support about my bible classes. He was such a wonderful friend.

Some Closing Thoughts

Every once in a while, you meet someone who makes a huge impression on you. Tom Shaner was that man for me. He was more than just a teacher. As I stated, he was a mentor, a counselor, a leader, and a true friend. He taught me and so many other students life lessons that we have carried with us throughout our lives.

He led by example. He was almost always the first one to arrive to things and the last to leave. He was firm, yet caring. He was serious, yet funny. He showed us the importance of hard work. He showed us the importance of humor. He instilled in us pride for our organization and in our accomplishments. He made music and making music fun! The list goes on and on …

What an influence he was to hundreds of students over the years! I commented on someone’s Facebook post this week by saying that “no matter what year you graduated, no matter what section you played in, no matter what you ended up doing for a living, or where you ended up, we all had one common thread – Tom Shaner.”

He has been such a big part of my life, I am not sure where I would be without his guidance. I am forever grateful for the moments that I shared with him. I don’t know that I could ever put into words what a blessing he was to me. I am so thankful to have had him in my life.

He always said “If you’re on time, you’re late,” so I am going to assume that he was right on time for the heavenly concert that God needed an extra cornet for.

Thank you, Sir. You will be missed every day!

Portrait by Tom’s grandson, Evan.

Psssst! Did you hear the latest?

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Dreaming about band class is not uncommon for me. It happens often. Many times it is a recurring dream – I blogged about that recently at the following link: https://nostalgicitalian.com/2019/06/19/recurring-dreams/

Yesterday, however, the dream involved something that I had pretty much forgot about. The dream took place before a football game. I know this because we were all in our marching band uniforms. As we walked into the band room, (arriving early – because “if you’re on time, you’re late!”) there was a music stand by the door. On the music stand was some sort of printed “newsletter” which was typed out using an old typewriter. You remember the old typewrite font??

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Every student anxiously went to the music stand to grab a copy and read through the latest “gossip.”

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I woke up and laughed. How had I forgotten something that all of us band kids looked forward to each week? Band Gossip was always a lot of laughs. Let me explain:

In our band room, there was a cabinet where you’d put your music folder in after class. There were slots for each folder. When the librarians added a new piece of music, they’d slide it into the slot for you to add to your folder.

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On top of that cabinet sat a shoebox. The shoebox was decorated with some sort of paper covering and had a hole cut out in the top of it. Written on the top in magic marker were the words: “Gossip Box.”

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Throughout the week, students would stuff the Gossip Box with Gossip. Some of it really was gossip, much of it was inside jokes and silliness. Students were only allowed to use first and last initials in reference to a person. Sections of the band were referenced, as was the band director. Prior to each football game, an announcement was made that “all gossip had to be in the box by the end of lunch.” Whoever was in charge of it (I don’t recall) went through the box, got rid of any repeats, weeded out those things that were cruel or mean, and then typed it up. Prior to football games or concerts, a new issue of “Band Gossip” was put out for every one to read.

I remember things like:

  • K.P. is the Stay-puffed Marshmallow Man.
  • The trumpets are fine!
  • Brass is Class!
  • I love the Muppets.
  • J.S. Show us how to get down!
  • Hey, H.S. Can’t wait to go to homecoming with you.
  • T.S. needs a new baton.
  • K.R. and S.J. are always up to no good.
  • Get outta here, B.H.!
  • S.K., Make sure you practice measure 19!!
  • Go Abes!
  • Ever notice the way J.K. wears Blue and Gold socks?
  • T.T. Watch that flag pole!
  • M.M. Rock your solo!
  • B.B. is spending a whole lot of time with D.S.
  • What’s in your locker, K.H.?

Pages and pages of stuff like that. We ate it up. All those little nonsense things written on whatever scrap of paper we could find, in hopes that it would show up in the next issue. Our director often had to tell us to put the gossip away so we could prepare for the game/concert.

It’s funny how something that I hadn’t thought about in over 30 years, can show up in dreams. In it I giggled and laughed with Steve, Joe, Margaret, and Stacey as we read the gossip about ourselves, our sections, and other band peeps. It was like it was 1988 all over again. I saw people in that band room that I haven’t seen in years. The grease board where our director wrote announcements was hanging in its place. The parkas were draped over chairs in case it rained. I had the sheet music for Rhapsody in Blue in front of me so I could run through my solo. Our Drum Major, Ronnie, stepping up to the podium to conduct us through the warm-up. Amazing little details in an amazing little dream.

When I woke up, I reached over to the bedside table and grabbed a pen and piece of paper and wrote “Band Gossip.” I had intended to save this for a future blog, but the images were so vivid, I sat and wrote this before work. I hate when I forget a good dream, and didn’t want to forget this one. In a way, that’s why I blog so many memories. I have a history of Alzheimer’s and dementia in my family, and by writing them down, I hope to preserve them for friends and family.

For my LHS classmates, I would love to know if I left out any details. What pre-concert or pre-game things do you remember. Share your memories or stories, please. I would love to hear them.

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