"Seventy six trombones led the big parade...."
As a high school student, the band room was my home away from home. I was in charge of the marching band uniforms and so had the small practice room where they were stored as my own "office". That is where I kept my books, coat, etc. After the first semester I never used a hall locker again.
Although I was a math major, I played trombone in the orchestra, concert band, and stageband (a jazz big band). One year I also took Harmony 1 and 2. There were two lunch periods so as to split up the 3,600 students at the school into more manageable(?!) groups. My last two years, I didn't have a lunch period - I was taking a full load of classes for the math major, plus the music groups.
In the fall, Marching Band took the place of Concert Band and the school allowed it to be counted as "Physical Education" (P.E.) due to all the marching around during and after school hours, but I stretched that to include Concert Band in the Spring semesters (totally against the rules). So for four semesters I had no P.E. and no lunch period. Every semester, my "counselor" would call me into his/her office and point out that my schedule was too full and that skipping lunch period and P.E. were not allowed. I would respond that it was too far into the semester at that point (they were slow to catch on what I was doing) for me to drop any classes, as it would mean receiving a failing grade or at best an "incomplete" on my report card, and "hey, I plan to go to college, and I need a good grade point average". The counselor would let it slide with a warning: "Don't let it happen again!" (I did end up having to take a make-up P.E. class my last semester, in order to graduate).
So how did I beat the system and get away with it every semester? Well, I owed it in part to the turn-over in counselors, but mostly it was possible thanks to this man - The Music Man.
Kenneth K Kamp was the band director at my school. Every year when it was time to register, students would go into a large room where cards representing the classes were laid out on tables and pick up the cards for the classes they wanted to take. It was done alphabetically and as my last name is near the last 1/3 of the English alphabet, there was a big risk that some classes I wanted would already be full. So Ken (Mr. Kamp to me then) would slip in before registration even started and pull the requested cards for me and a few other band members. This insured his best players could get the classes they wanted and also play music.
A graduate of USC (University of Southern California) Mr. Kamp directed the band at Taft High School from 1964 to 1995. When I was in school, he was still a very young man, and we all thought he was "cool", and he was - as a band director friend of mine would say "when it was hip to be hep, he was hep". Our football half-time shows often included arrangements current pop hits and special effects. For example, we once formed a jet plane on the field using CO2 fire extinguishers for the engines and played the Joe Cocker hit "The Letter": "Give me a ticket for an aeroplane..."; he had a party for band members at his home. He shared his intersts with us, he asked us about our aspirations. We were all impressed with his car too - a Porsche 911S. But he wasn't trying to be popular - he was simply a great music teacher.
Many of the students I was in band with went on to perform professionally. One of my fellow trombone players, Lynn Tivens, joined a band called "The Gringos" which played brassy rock music ala "Blood, Sweat, and Tears". They made some albums and toured the entire US and Canada. Another 'bone player, Jock Ellis, played in the Don Ellis Orchestra (no relation) and has since recorded with artists such as Frank Zappa and groups like "The Doors". One year our stageband won the Los Angeles District Jazz Band competition - using arrangements of then popular Don Ellis big band written by our own pianist (who now plays flute in the Peninsula Symphony in the San Francisco bay area). The marching band also worked hard and on January 1, 1968 we marched in the nationally televised Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. The 9km (5.5 mile) long route is quite a workout, so we spent the two weeks of Christmas vacation leading up to it by marching around the parking lot of a local college every day.
When graduation time came and I applied to university, Mr. Kamp wrote an excellent letter of recommendation for me, at least I assume so because I was accepted. Conducting graduation was a lot of work for him. My class had over 900 students and as the names were called and the students received their diplomas, the orchestra played "Pomp and Circumstance" by Edward Elgar over and over and over and over..... It was hard on the wind section too, as those of us graduating played until it was near time to receive our diploma, then rejoined the orchestra after doing so. I lost touch with him for a long time after that, partly because he took a break from Taft to help get a new high school started.
Several years ago I looked up Jock Ellis using the internet and emailed him. At the time I was playing in a dance band and he helped me with suggestions on how to improve. He also put me back in touch with Ken, who had retired but was playing piano for rehearsals of various bands in Los Angeles. Ken was first and foremost a clarinetist, but also very good on piano. I've kept in touch with him ever since. I also found out that Lynn Tivens and another Taft 'bone player, Larry Black, had played some music with Ken and I started emailing those two guys. The internet is truly wonderful for things like that. After all these years I'm back in touch with four of the other trombone players and a saxophone player from high school days.
About six months ago, Lynn emailed to tell me Ken had cancer. He had been smoker, but had quit and was very athletic. He had gone through surgery and was undergoing chemotherapy, but it wasn't working. He was not too uncomfortable and was working on some big band charts he hoped to finish before his time ran out. I would email him about once a month with a music related cartoon, joke, or memory from high school days. Ken passed away on October 10, 2006.
We all have such good memories of him and are grateful for what he did for each of us. I am sure many other of his students from his long career feel the same. I've even come across articles on the internet written by students who graduated long after I did, which quote something he said during their band years. I am happy that I was able be in contact again these past several years and had the opportunity to express my gratitude. Like the Music Man, or the title character in Mr. Holland's Opus, Ken Kamp enriched the lives of his students. I know that for us Taft High trombone players of the late 60's, he's still marching at our side.
UPDATE: See the post about the "KEN KAMP MEMORIAL CONCERT" to be held March 5th 2007!