Sunday, January 18, 2004

High school band leaders gave a generation self-respect

Cincinnati 101

Cliff Radel

They buried Andy Brady last week.

He died two Saturdays ago, one week after his 89th birthday. And a good-sized piece of Cincinnati's high school heritage went with him.

But the lessons he taught his players remain.

Brady was a music man. From 1945 to 1976, from the big band era to the age of rock 'n' roll, he led the marching bands and symphony orchestras at Western Hills High School.

Those were full-size outfits playing full-strength music. They didn't do watered-down stuff fit for tiny groups of teenagers. There was no dated, cornball music. Brady wrote arrangements of the day's hits for his Friday night halftime shows.

He asked for the best. And got it. At state contests, his groups won dozens of "superior" ratings - tops in Ohio.

If every kid who ever tooted a horn or plucked a string for him had played taps at his funeral, the sound of music would have come from an ensemble big enough to fill Music Hall.

During his years at West Hi, Brady regularly put 100 marchers on the field and 100 orchestra members on stage. And he was not alone.

At one time, when baby boomers were in their teens, every high school in Cincinnati had an Andy Brady. These band leaders taught music in one place for so long and made such an impact they became a living institution.

Withrow's George "Smittie" Smith, Walnut Hills' Ken Welsh and Woodward's W.C. Turner, among others, held that lofty rank.

They tapped into Cincinnati's German tradition of supporting community bands and orchestras. These groups needed people who knew their way around a musical instrument and they learned that route at school.

In the '60s and '70s, vast numbers of parents scrimped and saved to rent or buy their child a trombone or a violin. That was before the state's emphasis on core courses and parental largess - toss a child $125 for some sneakers or a video game, not a horn - conspired to cut the power of music in the schools.

That power ran programs involving more students than the football team. Bands and orchestras let high school kids - who weren't jocks or members of the chess team - be a part of something, giving them a taste of school spirit and self-respect.

If the program belonged to Andy Brady, he had his high school students playing like the pros. That's something prep sports teams can only dream about.

No high school football team comes close to playing on a par with its NFL counterparts. But Brady's bands and orchestras played the same arrangements created for Count Basie's band and the Boston Pops.

That made his players feel special. No kiddie tunes for them. They were playing grown-up pieces and feeling proud about their school and, above all, themselves. Thanks to a music man.


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