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I became a Wolf, then a Wildcat

By Linda 

 

LindaI was 12 years old and in the seventh grade at Henderson Junior High School. Although I played first clarinet in the Junior High School Band, I was shy and socialized uneasily.


One day, Mr. Geuder, our band director, walked into the bandroom where we all were squeaking incongruously on our band instruments, and he waited for us to quiet down. Then he announced that seven of us would be moved up to the Basic High School Band, which sorely needed skilled players.


Trombonists, trumpeters and flutists were all hijacked, along with clarinetists Marilyn and me. We were all shocked. Our much older brothers and sisters couldn’t stand to have us around at home, much less play in a band together. Mr. Fuller’s folly of putting 12-year-olds with 18-year-olds did not include permission from parents, the Junior High principal or teachers. As the BHS band director, he just did it. It was a fait accompli.


Our blue-gray winter woolen uniforms were stained and ill-fitting, and we struggled to march in step with the taller, older juniors and seniors. Emblazoned with a large, circular, embroidered Wolf head with blood dripping from its jaws, the mascot was symbolic of the fierce Basic High Wolfpack, top-ranked in football in 1960. "The Blue and White Forever" school song was played by the BHS band and sung with passionate loyalty by BHS students in the bleachers. I felt like a token Wolf, as I marched at Homecoming halftime, played in concerts and cheered for the Wolves.


A couple of years later, our family moved to Las Vegas, and I enrolled in K.O. Knudson Junior High School. The brand-new school was the home of the K.O. Kougars, and the locale for the worst junior high school band in Clark County. Most of the band members were new players. Leontyne and I were the only experienced musicians, and we both played first clarinet. 


Mr. Graniet, the band director, yelled at Leontyne and me to stop playing so loudly, drowning out the rest of the band. Leontyne and I conspired to get even. One day, we pretended to play, fingering our clarinets for all the notes, taking breaths appropriately, all in silence. At first, Mr. Graniet seemed PLEASED. Then we girls broke character and began to laugh. Mr. Graniet was FURIOUS we weren’t playing at all and yelled at us for being IMPUDENT, which we girls thought was hilarious.


The band squeaked and squawked so badly, I couldn’t bear to march with them as a clarinetist, especially in the Industrial Days Parade in Henderson, where everyone knew me. So I marched in front of the band in a short skirt, top and boots my parents bought for me, and I twirled my baton. I was good, not great, but even dropping my baton and picking it up from the street was better than being associated with that horrid cacophony from the band. No amount of rehearsal improved the band—ever.


It was my destiny to be zoned for Las Vegas High, then the BEST high school in Nevada. With some 2,400 students, LVHS had the most traditions, the best football team, the nationally know Rhythmettes, and the renowned Las Vegas High School Wildcat Band. Mr. Larsen was the legendary director of the Wildcat Band, leading them to "Superior" ratings in all Nevada and California band competitions.


With great trepidation and fear, I decided to audition for the Wildcat band. As we musicians entered the band room, Mr. Larsen told us to sit in rankings where we thought we belonged. There were three rows of clarinet players, first, second and third, based on skill, talent, and experience. This was the best of the best, and I was awestruck. I didn’t think I even belonged in the same room with these wonderful musicians. So I sat myself as last chair, third clarinet, literally teetering on the edge of the riser.


I literally shook when Mr. Larsen had me do a cold reading of a complicated piece for my audition. After I was done, I searched his face for his reaction, but he remained neutral. Then he had me play two more solos in difficult pieces, which were clearly not third level but first level. I thought I played okay; I didn’t miss any notes. I thought, "Well, maybe, just maybe, I’ll make the band, at least get in."


We all had to leave. Later, Mr. Larsen posted the names and positions on the bandroom door. I looked for my name, and I was stunned with delight. Not only did I make the band, but I was first chair, second clarinet! With only two first clarinet players, I rotated as second or first chair, first clarinet when either Susan or Danny were absent.


It was a thrill to wear my beautiful red and black uniform emblazoned with the scary-looking wildcat head with penetrating eyes and jaws wide open, ready to roar. And roar we did, with our flashy dance moves on the football field and the perfect harmonious, brilliant sounds of our LVHS band.


I was a WILDCAT and loved playing our fight song, "We’re all from Las Vegas, and very proud to be. …" and our school song, "Nesting near the golden foothills …"


Mr. Larsen knew I was shy and insecure, despite my skills. Periodically, he would stop the entire band in the middle of a great piece, and he would yell amidst the sudden silence, pointing at me:


"Linda, play louder!"

 

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