Music Story by Kurt Meyers

For five and a half years, I played clarinet in the Marion-Franklin Band. It was a chief source of
social interaction.
We were 6th graders the year Marion-Franklin opened. The instrumental music director, Mr. G
Gordon Ritter, not only established a band at the junior-senior high school. He went around to the
elementary schools to stir interest in instrumental music and create future players for the M-F band. The
various music dealers around the Columbus area held an open house in the Marion-Franklin cafeteria.
Students and their parents could handle instruments and contemplate buying one. Once selections were
made, Mr. Ritter made the rounds of the elementary schools for weekly lessons on the instruments we had
picked up.

My parents both were music educators. Dad had been the instrumental music man for the Grove
City Public Schools for several years before switching over to engineering. We had several instruments
sitting around the house. When I settled on clarinet as my instrument, he took his old metal one
downtown to Musical Arts on E. Long St. to have it refurbished. I took lessons from dad and Mr. Ritter. (I
must add that my granddaughter took up the clarinet at the same age as I did. She progressed three times
more quickly than I did.)

The next year, we newly-minted 7 th Graders were welcomed into the band at M-F. I found it
difficult to play and march at the same time. Over time, that problem went away. Our parents were
standing up in the bleachers, proud as all get out, to see us come marching down the field in our new band
uniforms, black highlighted with red, with white spats as accessories.

There was added interest when we welcomed the other school’s band to football games held at
Marion-Franklin --- and then traveled to a couple of away games ourselves. The bands performed
individually at half time. However, prior to the game, the two bands marched into formation with each
other for the combined playing of the National Anthem, directed by the visiting director. That was a
moment when we sized up the other band and made comparisons. We were almost always the better
looking band, and often the better sounding band.

From those six football seasons, four bands stick out in my memory. Those four years when we
were still in the Franklin County League, we saw the Hamilton Township High School band every year.
Their brass were loud!!! They didn’t just blast; they blared. I never knew so much sound could come from
one trumpet. Imagine a dozen of them. Among my father’s collection of instruments was a Sousaphone (a
reshaping of the traditional tuba). Dad studied at Ohio State, but he was never in “the best damn band in
the land,” and therefore never dotted the “I” in their famous Script Ohio. When dad realized that I was not
interested in playing the Sousaphone, he sold it to Mr. Seilenbinder, the director of the Hamilton Twp
band. I recall when he stopped at our house. He removed the instrument from its case, tooted a couple of
notes, handed my dad $200, and carried it out the door.

The second memorable band appeared during our last two seasons when we had switched over to
the Columbus City League. We took our places at the south end of our field. The Columbus North High
School Band entered the field at the north end and marched toward us. They sounded like a symphony
orchestra coming down the field. Such excellence in a high school band I never heard before or since.

The third memorable band was also from the City League when Columbus East High School
came to M-F. The night East High came the field was covered with fog. If a footall play started in the
middle of the field and drifted toward the visitors’ side, we could see nothing. We only heard the cheers
from the other side when the play ended. The same happened in reverse when the play moved to our side
of the field. East was the premier African-American high school in those days. That was clear in the play
of their band which specialized in rhythms from New Orleans, the Caribbean, South America, and Africa.
I learned for myself while carrying on missionary work in Africa that at the heart of music is the rhythm.

The fourth memorable band goes back to Franklin County League days. We traveled to Mifflin
Township for a game. As visiting band, we moved into position for the National Anthem. Their band
came out to join us. Their band was half our size. They wore no uniforms. They were wearing very old
playground shoes, stomping on the muddy field. Standing alongside each other, we were the “king’s
court” and they were ragamuffins. I felt bad for them. Until then, I didn’t know that Mifflin Township
was a depressed area.

The highlight of the 5-1/2 years in the band came right in the 7 th Grade when our band went to
Washington, DC, for the Cherry Blossom Festival. This was a remarkable achievement for a band that
was in only its second year of existence. Mr. Ritter was cheerful, friendly, courteous, and he worked us to
become “the best we could be”. In Washington, we were dubbed the “Cinderella Band” because of our

We met at M-F after supper to stow our luggage and board our buses. Were there two or three?
We rode all night to get to our destination. To this day, I do not sleep well on buses, trains, or any other
moving vehicle. I was awake all night. We made several pit stops along the way. One was a true pit stop.
Around 3:30 AM, we stopped at Washington, PA. Some 40 steps led down to underground restrooms.
The steps were wide enough only for a single file down and a single file up. By that time, we were all
weary, whether we had slept or not. Climbing back up those 40 steps was not easy for some of us.
We arrived in Washington in the morning and headed straight for our hotel. We were grouped
into pods, each with a chaperone. I don’t recall whether there were 4 or 6 boys in my pod. I do recall that
Mr. Nippert was our chaperone. A band from South Carolina was staying in our hotel. We tried to be
social. However, I couldn’t understand a word they spoke, unaccustomed as I was to the southern accent.
Perhaps others did better with that barrier.

Quickly, we reboarded our buses for sight-seeing. We hit the big stops around the Capitol. As I
recall we drove out to Mt Vernon. I dozed through most of that, utterly fatigued from the sleepless night
on the bus.

Our chaperones were responsible for supervising our eating and handling the finances. In one
restaurant, the service was horrendous. In fact, it was so bad that the management took off half of the
charge for our food. In that moment, I learned a “life lesson” from Mr. Nippert. Even when the food is
discounted, you still tip the server on the full, original amount.

That first evening, we were allowed to go out and walk around on our own. Several of us
discovered that the Embassy of the Soviet Union was behind an iron-bar fence a block or two from our
hotel. We kept walking back and forth out front observing movement around the embassy grounds.
Our second evening in Washington was the occasion for the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. We
all moved to the staging area and took our places in the procession. I don’t recall how long the parade
route was. Pretty much on schedule, the bands and floats ahead of us began in motion. We followed. Jim
Yockey was our star and most exuberant snare drummer. In the very first block of the parade, he split his
head (that is the drum’s skin). His drum sounded like a tom-tom after that, not the sound we needed to

The bands kept marching, but didn’t play continuously. When you spied the block up ahead that
was lit up by TV lights, you knew that it was time to play. My memory of this event does not include the
names of selections we played. Of course, “Stand Up And Cheer….” was high on our list. Did we play
that before the TV audience?

Mr. Ritter left M-F after only those two years. As stated, I continued in the band through football
season our senior year. I dropped out in the second semester that year. I had already decided that in
college I would focus on choral music. Therefore, the switchover was made in February. At that time, I
came under the vocal music man, Mr. Schick, who as an alumnus of Capital University helped prepare me
for what lay ahead.

One more tale… One year Trick or Treat Night fell on a Friday night when we had a home
football game. The night was unseasonably warm. Mother stayed home to pass out candy to the little ones
coming around in their costumes. (Dad went to the game.) Because it was so warm, mother sat out on the
front stoop with her supply of candy. At game time, she said that she heard the National Anthem coming
from the direction of Marion-Franklin High School, more than a mile away as the crow flies. All she
could hear was one clarinet and a drum. She was sure it was me she heard on the clarinet. Mothers say
things like that.

Those two years under Mr. Ritter were unique for all of us. The directors who followed him were
gifted but lacked the inspiration and organization to maintain the level Mr. Ritter had achieved.
Kurt Meyers
Christmas, 2015



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© Anita Wesney 2015