Sunday, December 16, 2007

Harold Pixley Remembered

Hard to believe that it has only been seven years since Harold Pixley died. This is the column that ran in December of 2000. Like many of the old columns about people, I run this to give him a little bit of presence on the web. Who knows who might be looking for some little cyber-trace of him.

Harold Pixley died this week. I know I'm not the only person in Franklin who will miss him.

Pix came to Franklin in the summer of 1943 when the school district was looking to fill the gap left by the departure of Richard Stocker. Pix came originally from Centralia, Illinois. He graduated from Oberlin College and had played first chair clarinet with the New Philadelphia Ohio Symphony Orchestra. The school district selected him from a field of ten applicants; he was thirty-one years old.

Those of us who come to teaching with even a small amount of idealism dream of becoming the kind of teacher that Pix was. His influence in Venango County is beyond measuring.

He built up the Franklin High School Stage Band. This may not seem like a particularly radical notion, but it was the forties and a teacher who tried to bring swing music into the schools was viewed about as a teacher who wanted to start a school rap ensemble. That's they were called "stage" bands-- "swing" was too naughty.

With both the stage band and the full bands at Franklin, Pix was a master at selecting music that audiences would enjoy. Pix was not the kind of musician who believed in "pure" music, music that musicians and academics would love but which would give average audiences headaches. Pix never played the national anthem too slowly. One standard Pix saying was, "Give the audience a treat, not a treatment."

Pix could push students without insulting them. And he was not the stereotypical band director who required his students to make him proud, to make him look good. He wasn't all warm and mooshy and fuzzy, but he was always a gentleman. "Practice at home" was another standard Pix saying.

Pix set the regular format for the annual Musical Broadcast, the FHS variety/talent show. Pix's Broadcasts were legendary for their length-- Pix gave every performer an encore, whether they deserved it or not. And even in the last years of his teaching career, Pix never became hidebond and set in his ways. He really didn't get rock music, but he knew "the kids" did and that was okay.

Pix's influence went beyond the high school. He was the first director of the Franklin Silver Cornet Band to have actual formal musical training. In the years when the band nearly died for lack of members, Pix helped bring high school students into the fold, including students who broke the great gender barrier (women in town band---gasp!!)

Pix was for years the music director at the First United Methodist Church. It was Pix who conned Steve Anderson and me into singing in the youth choir there, with absolutely no reason to suspect that either one of us had a hint of vocal skill before he recruited us (and precious little afterwards, either), but it was Pix's way to keep building. "He may not be good for the band," he once said about a student. "But the band will be good for him."

It was Pix who handed over the reins at church to a new young guy, just back in the area, so that John McConnell could begin his many productive years of making that church into a musical leader in the community. And it was Pix who recruited Ed Frye for town band, where he began the longest tenure in band history as director. Pix was not one to jealously guard his turf.

I've never seen anybody who could work so hard and look so relaxed at the same time. I never saw Pix look harried or stressed or under the gun. I can remember him sitting next to me in board meetings for town band, hard of hearing and not quite catching what was said. He'd just smile and turn to me and say, "What's he talking about, Pietro?"

And I can remember the long hard years of his wife's illness, the medical prognoses that gave her a few months to live. Those months stretched to years, and caring for her became a full-time difficult task; we didn't see him out and about often.

He told me once in that time that he supposed he could put her in a home, but he didn't think that was right. She was his wife, and he had made a promise that he would always take care of her, and so he did, although he was not a young man. I wouldn't have thought any less of him if he had felt trapped, or regretted giving up so much of his own life to care for her, but he explained it all in the same simple way that a man explains why he eats and breathes.

I will always admire Pix. He was kind, gentle, dedicated, and quietly strong. He was a man who found a place for himself and filled that place without flinching or complaining. He made thousands of friends who always loved him, and touched thousands of lives for the better. All of us will miss him.

1 comment:

Umhangträger said...

Yup, I remember Mr. Pixley. He was a great guy. When I started band at Franklin Mr. Fry was just getting his feet wet and Mr. Pixley still wielded the baton on a fairly regular basis.

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