Long ago (sometime in 1952), but not terribly far away (Springfield, MA), I began my life-long avocation as a percussionist. Around the age of 11 or 12, I fell in love with classical music. I credit this largely to my first music mentor, Lee Crabtree, Director of Music Education for the City of Springfield, and his wife Mary. They were also neighbors, and their kids became my best friends.
Many of my musician friends were
members of the Western
Young People’s Symphony
Orchestra, and I
let it be known that I
wanted to do that, too. I
wasn’t really ready, but
Mr. Crabtree persuaded
my second music mentor,
(who, at age 94, has recently
memoir, Witness to
Spirit: My Life with
Cowboys, Mozart & Indians), conductor of
both the Springfield
Symphony and the YPS Orchestra, to
give me a shot, perhaps based on my enthusiasm.
My experience with the Springfield
YPS Orchestra was phenomenal.
Playing under Mr. Staffanson was such a
joy partly because he treated the kids like
adults. It was there that I really began to
learn what it meant to be a musician.
Sometime before high school, an audition
for some ensemble or other introduced me
to my third youthful music mentor, Warren
Myers, who was in his first few years as a
percussionist with the Springfield Symphony
and Band Director at the high school
that I would eventually attend, in no small
part because he was there.
Sometime early in my junior year in
high school, I told Mr. Myers that I wanted
to audition for the Massachusetts All-State Orchestra. “Diamond,”
he said, “the only way you will ever get
into All-State is to become the best cymbal
player in the state.” And he offered to
teach me to crash cymbals every day after
school until the auditions. And he did. I
auditioned with the understanding that I
wanted to be the cymbal player...and I
played cymbals in the Massachusetts All-
State Orchestra in my last two years in
high school, 1960 and 1961.
The All-State program was a wonderful
experience, but perhaps the best part was
that, back then, all the members of the Orchestra
had the opportunity to play a children’s
concert with the Boston Symphony
Orchestra during the spring before the All-
State festival, which took place in May.
We would play with the BSO one of the
pieces we had been preparing for the All-
State program. What follows is an amalgam
of the two concerts that I played with
the BSO because I can’t remember exactly
what happened each year.
The conductor of the BSO children’s
concerts in those days was Harry Ellis
Dickson, who was also the All-State conductor
in one of my two years. Mr. Dickson
had a very unusual conducting stroke
in that the beat was at the top rather than
the bottom. This would not have been a
problem for me if I did not have to play
the first note of a piece. On the program
the year Mr. Dickson conducted All-State
was the Prelude to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger
von Nürnberg. The part that I
had been sent, unlike the BSO copy, did
not show a cymbal crash on the first beat.
To make matters worse, the members of
the BSO percussion section had decided
to double a couple of the parts, including
the crash cymbals. You can guess the rest.
Cymbal player Harold “Tommy” Thompson
knew exactly where Mr. Dickson’s
beat was. I didn’t: two crashes. Mr. Dickson
remembered me the following May.
Upon my arrival one of those years,
Tommy said to me,
“Kid, we’re a man
short. We need you to
play the whole concert.”
That’s right … I
sight-read a concert
with the BSO. On the
program that day was
Ravel’s Bolero. That
may have been junior
year, because in my
senior year I played the
snare drum solo with
my high school band.
In any case, at the time
of the BSO concert, I
was not yet familiar
with the piece. The snare drum plays from
beginning to the end, but the bass drum,
cymbals and tam-tam don’t come in until
the last six measures. The part for those
instruments has a long rest at the top,
marked “tacet bis” (silent until) and then
the last measures are written out. Someone
had written “5,123” (measures rest)
as a joke, I’m sure. I said to myself, “I’ll
just sit here until the other guys stand up...
and then I won’t have a problem because
there is no cymbal crash on the first beat
of the passage.” So I waited…until Tommy
whispered to me, “Hey, kid, I’m lost!”
After a few seconds, I realized that he was
kidding, and everything went as planned.
This all happened nine years before I
joined the Concord Band, but my musical
adventures—and my love of music—continue
as I begin my 47th year as a member.
Dan Diamond is the senior member of the Concord Band, having joined the ensemble in January, 1970. He is a percussionist who began his lifelong love affair with the snare drum 63 years ago. His is also the founder/ editor of our newsletter, Notes from the Concord Band.