So I was shown my first beginning band, and Mrs. Hansen the principal pointed out this kid in the back with a runny nose and glasses, and said, “I think the boy may be a genius. Either that, or he’s disturbed.” Now it’s clear to me that, if he’s disturbed, he is also a genius.
–Paul L. Parets, May 1974, introducing the premiere of my Exordium for band.
Well, if I was/am disturbed, it’s a tendency toward narcissism and taking myself too seriously. And if I’m a genius, it’s only in being too stupid to quit, and in having learned how to do a few things tolerably well. Of all the teachers at Croswell-Lexington High School, it was Mr. Parets who did the most to channel both the disturbed and genius parts into something I and society could live with. He encouraged my autodidact explorations, had me direct the Freshman Band (probably pushing it, there), premiered my first band work, and gave me every opportunity consistent with fairness. He also convinced my parents to send me to the University of Michigan, in spite of their fears that the hippies would corrupt me. I was at that inconvenient age where I was old enough to identify with hippies but too young to actually be one. I got my share of corruption: by hippies, by charismatic and cultic Christians, and finally by libertarians. But I also got an education I would not have gotten anywhere else in the state.
Not that I got anything like proper career counseling, either then or in college. I suspect that at that time “band director” was the only career path Parets knew. Instinctively, I knew that was not my path. I’m not nearly good enough at getting into people’s heads to be an effective teacher. I can teach composition relatively well because I can get charged about a student’s ideas and show them ways to develop them. Even though I try to be careful not to step on the student’s idea or lead, I am much more interventionist than any teacher I have ever had. I’ve never been particularly good at teaching basic skills; they came too easily to me. Even as a librarian, I’m much more comfortable with technical services or research than with bibliographic instruction. And of course, nobody grokked “composer”, because they were all dead…well, except for Burt Bacharach, whom my father thought I was going to be. If little Jeffy were going to do high school over again with my current knowledge base, he’ d study bassoon privately with Ed Pitrago, get a double-reed scholarship, and get good enough to make a living playing, which would give me a chance to take in other composers’ laundry and save me from the punch presses. And he’d practice piano a lot more, especially etudes (sorry, Mrs. Norman).
Anyway, what brings this whole topic up is that I found out today about Parets’ Facebook page. He went off to Delaware in ’76, did grad school (doubtless got more from it than the typical music educator) and served in the Red Clay district, Delaware, for 34 years. This blurb refers to him as “legendary.” “Legendary”, in the band world. usually refers to the likes of William Revelli; I don’t think I even heard of “H. Bob” (Reynolds) being referred to as “legendary”. So it’s high praise indeed, and doubtless deserved. Last summer, with Hiram Community Band, I found myself asking “WWPPD?” when confronted with the Totally Inaudible Mellophone Player. Paul would have gotten in her face and said, “BLOW that thing!” But them he didn’t have to deal with her daddy 10 feet away with drumsticks in his hand, or her siblings being a quarter of the band.
I see he still has political and religious interests. I took World Religions with him, and he was frank about not wanting to spend a lot of time on Islam, as he didn’t think much of it; I can only wonder what he thinks of it now. And he’s (relatively) on the right side politically (probably as much as you can be without being run out of Delaware). I don’t see that he’s retiring, but he must be, soon if not now. I wish him a fruitful and happy retirement; he’s earned it.