(Image to side of Bob Kuban directing the band at Bishop Du Bourg High School - 1966).
WOW. The book was fascinating in so many ways. Written with Nancy K. Wegner, Bob delved deeply into his life as a professional drummer and his entire life from the time he first picked up his beloved drum sticks.
Not only did I spend four years literally sitting so close to Bob I could have spit on him (not that I would ever have dreamed of that) I also was a huge fan and followed his band to all the teen dances at the time.
Since I was proud to hold the first clarinet chair the entire four years in band (yes, I know a little geeky but I practiced a lot) I sat literally right next to his instructor’s chair at the front of the room.
During sophomore, junior and senior years, I was the keyboard player for an all girl rock band (The Teen Queens - yes a little nerdy, but hot back then in our skintight gold bangled outfits) and our drummer, Mary Buck, claimed that Bob put in a good word for us with the union so we could play some of the better paying union dances.
In those days you had to formally apply and usually a card carrying union member had to give you the thumbs up to get in.
More importantly, Bob was my teacher (a really great one) and constantly challenged me over the course of four years to be a better student and performer. I also was rewarded for my hard work with maintaining my first chair pole position and getting straights As all four years.
Yes, I worked hard for every "A" and Bob never let me slide. He appeared to believe more in my musical talent than I did. At one point he asked me if I planned a career in music. Nah, I replied, I want to be a writer.
It’s nice to remember that conversation and appreciate the fact that I accomplished that dream. But no, I left my music behind when I graduated from college where I played folk guitar to entertain for various events but shunned anything remotely related to soggy (yucky) clarinet or sax reeds. After awhile I sold my guitar because of the calluses on my fingers. Yes, I know. I’m a wimp.
(Image below of Bishop Du Bourg HS Band during Bob Kuban era. Image of me - 2nd row from front - 1st on the far left)
Sometimes I would push the envelope in Bob’s class and not practice as diligently as I should. He demanded that we always give our best, but you know how it is when you're a teenage girl. You would rather do your nails then run them up and down a clarinet. Bob would always catch me if I played less than my best and would either raise his eyebrows at me or throw the eraser into the clarinet section. Then as I was leaving he would say…"Miss O’Connor…..I know you can do better. See that you do".
I started playing the clarinet in 2nd grade at Our Lady Of Sorrows grade school and even though I hated the reed part (TMI with the wet reed stuff), I loved to play in the band. It was a great high, especially when everything and everyone was in sync. I also played alto sax, piano and organ (for my parish church - Our Lady of Sorrows - as well as the girls in the rock band), although not a lot of call for those instruments in the high school band.
In his book Bob talks about zooming down Hampton Avenue in South St. Louis to make it to school on time. Yes, I used to see him streak by on a regular basis since I lived a few blocks (Rhodes Avenue) off his transit path.
What he doesn’t mention, or at least I didn’t see it in his book, was the long slippery corridor that led from the main Bishop Du Bourg lobby down to the band room which was at the other end of a long wing. Bob would often come zipping down that hallway at 100 MPH and depending on his mood, might actually slide part of the way down in his shoes, like one of the Flying Wallendas.
He was always impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. I was fascinated by his hair, which was perfectly cut and styled. He wore a type of modified pompadour with a full sweep of hair that extended back from his forehead.
The hairstyle worked for him (he was a full-blown music star) but I always wondered how he got it to stand up with absolute perfection. Back then I had little knowledge of proper gels and hairsprays as I do now having spent the past 11 years dedicated to those products at HairBoutique.com.
At one point during our four years as teacher/student when I told him I was taking private piano lessons at the St. Louis Conservatory of Music, he encouraged me to hang in there and work hard on all my various music projects. He told me I would never regret it. And I didn’t, even though music did not remain a strong force in my life after school.
At times in between theory or practice he would entertain us with stories about Ike and Tina Turner (he played with their band) or other interesting "gigs" he went on. I was always in awe. He was like Mr. Hollywood to me and all the kids in our band class. We would all ooohh and aaahhh when he told us his various tales of playing with the hot bands.
During that period I wore my hair in a short blonde shag and had long pieces that semi curled against my face. He would ask me about my “sideburns” which I found hilarious. Once when my hair turned bright DayGlo orange due to my own bathroom experiments, he cocked his head, rolled his eyes and that was it. I was relieved that he didn’t ask for details.
My very best friend and fellow clarinet co-hort, Betty Brennan (who died in 2004 of cancer) and I would play little tricks on him or whisper and giggle, just to see if he was paying attention. Most of the time he would bark at us for a minute to “knock it off and get serious” or he would throw the famous blackboard eraser (never hitting anyone directly) or pens and then we would get back to the business of learning.
It actually became something of a game to see how often we could get him to pitch that eraser around the room.
Reading Bob's book was such a wonderful experience. I always wondered how he had fared over the years with his band and various music projects. It was heart warming to read all the stories about those days back in St. Louis in the band era and to discover what a successful life he has enjoyed.
Note: Bob is still playing in St. Louis as of 2008. To check out his calender of events visit his website at: http://www.bobkuban.com/
Whether you’re from St. Louis or not, this is a great read. It's entertaining, heart warming, thought provoking and full of great antidotes. So check out this book. It’s still available from a variety of book sources.
To Bob Kuban wherever you are, thank you for being one of my all time best (and favorite) teachers and for teaching me the importance of commitment, hard work and dedication. It has definitely come in handy in my life journeys.As a final note, if you remember those Bishop Du Bourg band days and want to share your own memories please email me at [email protected]. I don't promise to remember you but I will never forget that Bob Kuban era in high school.
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