Rattler reminisces about band director

After hearing that Jamie Stephenson of Tucumcari High School Class of 1975 would be participating in the program Saturday night at the Rattler Reunion Banquet, I began to recall the many years during which his father, Mr. R.G. Stephenson, was Band Director at THS from c. 1939 until 1954.

During those years, he directed the elementary and junior high bands as well and gave students an opportunity to learn to play band instruments and to participate in many activities in the town, county, state, and other states. Those students fortunate enough to enter band in the fourth grade had eight years in which to improve their musical abilities, to enjoy the marching band, and to play in the concerts.

He taught us to march in the beginners’ band and allowed us to show off to people along Third and Fourth Streets while we practiced marching and playing at the same time.
No doubt, our tones were far less than perfect then, but we thought we were as good as the high school band and did our best to learn to put our left feet forward as we started down the street. We might not have had very straight lines, but we thought they were as they should be.

The junior high band had inherited uniforms from the high school band, and we thought we looked very sharp as we performed during parades and other events. For some unknown reason, Mr. Stephenson put me into the high school band when I was in the eighth grade, and I thought I had reached the apex of my career because I was the only eighth grader among all those big high school students. We were attired in beautiful uniforms and stood tall and proud wherever we appeared.

We went on many trips during the next few years and learned much about behavior as well as about representing our school. Mr. Stephenson always dressed in his white uniform on those occasions and caused us to want to stand as tall and proud as he. Whether we were at the Tri-State Fair, the New Mexico State Fair, the Sun Bowl, or at homecomings at Canyon or Portales, we did our best to let people know we were the Tucumcari High School Band and that we could keep up with the much larger schools as we performed.

During summers, we would gather to practice at night in order to be ready for the Sheriff’s Posse Parade. In those parades, we dressed in our western wear and were always pleased to see Mr. Stephenson wearing his tall cowboy hat from his time spent in the Hardin Simmons Band. That hat can be seen at the museum and certainly causes one of us to pause each time I pass it.

He saw that we had an opportunity to perform as often as possible and certainly wanted us to be involved in all celebrations in the area. We marched all over town in the long parades we used to have and often showed up without being called or coerced during summer events. He was a most patient man, but when we stepped too far over the line, he could become a rather strict disciplinarian and would let us know we needed to make a few changes in a very short time.

Those of us who belong to the Golden Rattlers spend much time recalling our years in band and all the fun we had. We were most fortunate to have Mr. R.G. Stephenson as our band director and remember him when we hear Hail to the Rattlers because he gave us the words to accompany a march entitled Hail to the Varsity. He was among our greatest teachers, and some of us will let Jamie know a few of our thoughts this weekend.