Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for September 2022

Remembering Del Eisch, My First Band Director

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Folks, last week, my first truly good band director died. (In all senses.)

Delbert A. Eisch — or Del, as he urged everyone to call him — was eighty-five, and had lived a good, long life. In that life, he’d done many things as a conductor, a trombone player, as an activist for live music, and much, much more. He taught in Racine for thirty-six years, and also conducted over 640 concerts while the conductor of the Racine Concert Band (previously named the Racine Municipal Band).

Much of this information can be gleaned from his obituary, which you can find here, but I wanted to summarize it before I got into what Mr. Eisch meant to me.

As I said, he was the first good band director I’d ever known. When I joined the Racine Municipal Band (not yet called the RCB), I was only fourteen. I played the oboe, then; I hadn’t picked up either the sax or the clarinet as of yet. I’d played in the Kiwanis Youth Symphony as an oboist and had played in my junior high school band and orchestra at Gifford (it’s now a K-8 school, but back then it was solely a junior high — our term for middle school at the time). But the junior high band was limited to what most of the performers were able to play, meaning I didn’t get a chance to play high-level pieces, nor did I get much sense at that time of what good band literature was all about.

Mr. Eisch knew how to program for his band, though. I figured that out immediately. We played marches — John Philip Sousa, Henry Fillmore, etc. — as nearly all bands do, but we also played more. We played show tunes. We played overtures. We played incidental pieces composed to be heard behind ballerinas, or with movies (as we certainly played selections from movie soundtracks). And we played the big pieces for concert band, including the two Gustav Holst Suites for Band, as well.

Mr. Eisch was extremely encouraging to me when I was a young musician. This was essential, as at the time I felt completely lost in my life. I loved music, loved to play, but otherwise I was a misfit. I read too much. I enjoyed talking with people much older than myself. I studied history and geography and some mathematics along with reading everything I could get my hands on, because I’d started to write stories and poems and wanted to be knowledgeable about my chosen subjects.

I loved science fiction and fantasy, of course, even back then. I was fortunate that my local TV station regularly played episodes of Star Trek (now called “The Original Series”), and I was even more fortunate that my junior high’s library had an excellent selection of SF&F books along with copies of Downbeat Magazine and other musically oriented magazines such as Rolling Stone. (That dealt with commercial music, sure. But things were applicable across all disciplines, and I tried to learn whatever I could, wherever I could.)

Anyway, I think Mr. Eisch knew, from all his years teaching at Gilmore School, that I was a bit of an odd duck. (Or at least that I felt like one.) He was gentle, kind, and patient with me as I learned the music — which wasn’t too hard for me, as even then I was quick on the uptake and an excellent sight-reader — and how to get along with the people in the band.

He encouraged my talents, to the point that I played oboe solos in front of the band, then later a clarinet duet, a saxophone solo, and finally a clarinet solo before I was off to my first undergraduate school. (Me being me, and more importantly being married to a guy who was then an Army Reservist and later in the active-duty Army, I needed to go to three different colleges/universities to finish my degree.) He also added in twelve bars for an improvised solo when I played “Harlem Nocturne” with the band, so it sounded a little jazzier and helped to give me a better experience as a musician.

My tale picks back up approximately ten years later, when my then-husband and I were back in Racine after his military service ended. Our marriage was breaking up, which I didn’t know then (but can clearly see now), and I needed music as an outlet. (I always had, so why not then?)

Mr. Eisch warmly welcomed me back to the band. (My soon-to-be-ex-husband also joined the band as a percussionist.) He had a need for an additional clarinetist, so would I mind playing clarinet?

I did not mind.

It was interesting, as I got to hear many of the same pieces in a different way than before. I learned how the various parts interrelated and asked Mr. Eisch many questions about music and conducting that he patiently answered. (At the time, I was hoping to eventually be a conductor myself. This is a dream that didn’t come to fruition, but the knowledge I gained was still invaluable.)

When I finished my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, I started looking for graduate schools. (I wanted to teach in college, and that was the way forward. Plus, I wanted to learn even more about music, harmony, melody, music theory, music history, etc., as I loved everything about music.) I discussed the merits of them with Mr. Eisch, along with several other wonderful musicians in the band; eventually, I decided on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Once I finished my degree there (it took me a few additional years due to family health concerns), Michael and I married. We knew we’d go back to his home in San Francisco sooner or later, so I didn’t rejoin the band at that time.

A few years passed. Michael and I had moved to Iowa. I’d looked into perhaps going to the University of Iowa as a doctoral student, once I qualified for in-state tuition…then Michael died, suddenly and without warning.

I have to include this, to explain the rest.

I didn’t feel like playing my instruments for years. I rarely composed any music, either. It was hard to write. Hard to do anything. I barely even recognized myself in the mirror, I was so upset.

So, because of that, I didn’t attempt to rejoin the band, or even find out if they might have a use for me.

I did, however, rejoin the Parkside Community Band in October of 2011 (not too long before my good friend Jeff Wilson passed away). And doing that led me back to the Racine Concert Band, where Mr. Eisch was now the band’s business manager (and conductor emeritus).

Mr. Eisch and I had several conversations along the way, once I rejoined the band. Some were to do with the band and its need for funding and fund-raising. Others were about life, and about loss, and about faith, as well as music.

Mr. Eisch then retired as business manager, and completely stepped away from the RCB. We did see him at concerts for a few years after that…then COVID hit.

Anyway, the last time I saw Mr. Eisch was earlier this year. I was going into Ascension All-Saints Hospital for an appointment; he was coming out of there, being medically discharged. He was happy to see me, and I was happy to see him; he asked how I was doing, how my family was doing, and asked me to tell my parents that he’d said hi (as he knew them both well, too, especially my Dad as he played in the RCB for ten years, himself, as a drummer).

I didn’t know that would be the last time I ever saw him, or I would’ve told him just how much his kindness and dignity and example had meant to me, along with all of the musical knowledge he’d imparted along the way.

Mr. Eisch was a very kind man. He was also a gentle man, in the best of senses. He loved music, of course he did, but even more so, he loved his family and friends.

Good men, good people, are sometimes hard to find. But when we get a chance to be around them, we hopefully reflect the light they can’t help but give out a little brighter. Then that light goes on, and on, and still on, for as long as people last…or at least as long as our memories do.

I truly hope that his widow, Anne, will be comforted by his memory. Always.

*****

An Addendum: I wrote this today, on the eighteenth anniversary of my beloved husband Michael’s death, because I wanted everyone to know just how much Mr. Eisch meant to me.

Michael only met Mr. Eisch once, I think. We were at the grocery store, or maybe at the mall…anyway, he did meet Mr. Eisch, and told him it was a pleasure to meet one of my formative influences.

I’d like to think that Michael again met with Mr. Eisch in Heaven, Eternity, or whatever The Good Place (TM) truly is, and that Michael has passed on what I’ve just said — as he knew I felt this way, because he knew me extremely well — just in case Mr. Eisch still did not know it.

My Latest Adventure: Tire Repair at Oh-Dark-Thirty (by Good Samaritan)

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Folks, it’s taken me a bit over twenty-four hours to write about this, but I had a bit of an adventure on Wednesday evening.

I was driving back from Mom’s place about a half hour before midnight, and I heard one of my tires go “flap, flap, flap.” This is a very ominous sign; it means the tire has blown out, nine times out of ten.

Anyway, I went to the closest gas station (about a quarter of a mile away), and tried to put air in it, just in case it would hold enough air to get back home, seven miles away.

It didn’t hold air.

At this point, a Good Samaritan (who told me his name, but I was so scattered, it went in one ear and out the other) stopped at this gas station on his two-wheel pedal bike. (Not an e-bike.) I have to admit that I was startled, as I was putting air in the tire at the time. He took over trying to do that, and asked if I had a spare tire.

I’d already looked in the trunk, and I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t in the standard place — at least, not where I usually expect it to be, close to the wheel wells and underneath just about everything else in the trunk. Nope. Instead, this was closer to being underneath the backseat, in the trunk, than anything. (It still was underneath everything else, so I guess that’s something.)

I can hear at least a few of you asking why I didn’t call for roadside assistance. Well, I tried, as I do have AAA. They sent back a link to follow, which would’ve been fine if I used a smartphone; I don’t. This meant I had no way to get a hold of them whatsoever.

Anyway, after nearly an hour, the Good Samaritan (a sixty-year-old Black man) and I found my spare tire and the jack. Within the next twenty-five minutes, he’d gotten the old tire off (yes, it had blown out, and had steel belts sticking out the sides of the tire in a weird, almost retro fashion) and put the “shorty” — also called the doughnut — onto the car.

As some of you might be wondering, the police saw that me and my car were in distress and stopped by. At that time, they also saw that my Good Samaritan had things well in hand, thanked him, and drove off again. (I was happy with that, as by that time we’d found the spare tire and the jack, and the old tire was nearly off.)

I didn’t have much money to give him, but I gave him what I had, plus some of my mom’s good coupons. (Mom is what you might call an extreme coupon clipper. She usually has excellent coupons for $5 off toilet paper or $8.99 off specific brands.) I thanked him profusely (at one point, he told me to get out the baseball bat he’d seen in my trunk, just in case anyone else tried coming along who wasn’t so friendly, so I used my baseball bat as a cane while all this was going on), and then drove off.

The car felt really weird with that doughnut on. The vibrations — which I always notice, being a musician — were wrong. That’s an emergency tire only, which is why I went to get tires on Thursday afternoon…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back to the story.

So, I had called my father to let him know there was a problem right after I’d pulled off into the gas station, which was at least one hour and forty-five minutes before I ventured on back home. My phone decided it didn’t want to call anyone else, thank you, and lost all charge (even though I’d left Mom’s with a full charge; this phone is very strange). Once I was back, I let my father know I was OK, and we talked a little bit about the earlier Brewers game (which they lost to St. Louis).

Because of the emergency — which lasted a little over two hours — I sweated through everything. I managed to take a shower despite muscle cramps in weird places and all sorts of back and leg spasms. This helped somewhat, at least with the pain.

Anyway, I didn’t sleep all that well, or for very long. I knew I couldn’t leave that doughnut on the car, as I said before…so I started calling various places to try to find tires at a price I could afford.

Most of the places quoted two tires of the type I needed as being over $300. (As I have a 2010 Hyundai Accent, this seemed odd. A few years ago, I got tires — I think it was even all four tires — for around $175.) None of the places had these tires in stock but said they could order them.

At this point, I talked with my friend Lika (who also lives in Racine). She had found some good used tires of the same type as I needed and recommended this tire place called Mickey’s LLC on Twelfth and Washington Avenue in Racine. As my car has 130K miles on it, tires that have a good amount of tread but aren’t necessarily new are a whole lot better than having that doughnut on one side and a tire that was nearly as bad on the other. (Worst of all, my car is a front-wheel drive, and the two bad tires — the blown-out one and the other — were both on the front.)

Anyway, I was pleased with the service I received and with the tires. They were affordable, the tire repairman was quite pleasant, and he told me that my Good Samaritan had told the truth. Both tires needed immediate replacement, and one of the two back tires also needed replacement before winter starts. (The other went bad about eight or nine months ago and was replaced at that time.)

With the new-to-me tires on the car, it once again had the vibration it should. The tires were the right size and the right shape, so that made sense.

The tire repairman also told me that probably next spring, I should have someone rotate the tires and do an alignment, considering the aberrant pattern of wear on the old tires. This also made sense to me. (It was also suggested by the Good Samaritan, who said that he could tell I had a lot on my plate with various responsibilities, and that he wished my husband were still alive so this had never happened. Michael was good with cars, in the main, and having two people rather than one person checking the car before going anywhere is a sensible suggestion.)

For the moment, I have the doughnut on the top of the trunk, along with the jack, just in case that back tire goes bad before I can replace it. (The tire repairman said he may have a tire for my car tomorrow, and if not, by Monday. I intend to replace that other tire, which might make it a month or two and that’s all, ASAP. No more blow-outs for me, thanks…not even slow-speed ones.)

So, that was the entirety of the adventure. I met a very kind-hearted man who helped me a great deal in that Good Samaritan. The police came out and were friendly, kind, and made sure I was OK before leaving again. The tire repairman at Mickey’s was also friendly, kind, and helpful.

It was an ordeal nonetheless…but it was much lesser of an ordeal than it could’ve been.

There are indeed good people in this world.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 16, 2022 at 2:45 am

Working, Working…

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Folks, I thought I’d drop in a quick bloglet to let you all know I’m hanging in there.

Mostly, I’ve been editing a few different high-priority projects. (I’m also writing some music, and trying to figure out what comes next in my novel-in-progress Keisha’s Vow with whatever mental bandwidth I have left after editing and dealing with family concerns all day.) One is a nonfiction book. The other two are both anthologies; one is a multiple-author anthology, while the other is a single-author anthology.

Against the backdrop of work, work, and more work (and happy to have it, let me tell you), I’m preparing for the eighteenth anniversary of Michael’s death later this month, AKA “the saddest of sad anniversaries.” I always become more contemplative around this time of year; in addition, I wonder more as to how I’ve managed to live all this time without the love of my life standing beside me in a way everyone can understand.

(I have to put it that way, because I don’t believe Michael’s love went anywhere. I still feel his spirit, even now, almost eighteen years later. Because I knew him so well, and knew how much he loved me, I am able to continue on, though it is very difficult. But I digress.)

I’ve thought long and hard about many things, lately. Mostly, I’ve contemplated mortality, though it’s more along the lines of, “Is there still enough time for me to finish everything I’ve got in train?” (This comprises all editing projects, all musical compositions in progress, and of course all my writing projects.)

I don’t know the answer to that. Not to any of it. But I’ll keep trying, anyway, and hope that by putting one foot in front of the other — and by doing everything I possibly can every day — I’ll make progress.

Now, enough about me…what’s going on in your life? (Tell me about it in the comments, if you feel so kind. I get tired of shouting into the void, as the void never shouts back.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 8, 2022 at 3:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized