The Band Plays On (An interview with author Rick Niece)

All right everybody, this is Chase March and I have an author on the phone, Rick Niece. You can listen to the podcast of this interview with the player below, or you can download it for free to listen to at your leisure.

So, how’s it going Rick?”

Rick: “It’s going well, Chase. What a honour to be able to talk to you.”
Chase: “I first heard about your book when I was approached by your management and it seemed like it would be right up my alley. It’s called ‘The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man’s Encore.’ You wrote it about your father who is the director of a marching band and how people were coming back to this small town to pay tribute to him upon his retirement.”
Rick: “Exactly. My dad was the band director, in fact, he was the whole music show in this small school in a very small town in Ohio, a town of 900. We had about 150 in the highschool and my dad taught everything, first grade through 12th grade if it had to do with music. He taught chorus, concert band, marching band, and music appreciation courses. At one point in this small school of 150 people, there were 80 people in band and 100 people in chorus. So he’s a much beloved individual.
The book starts out in the present. I got a call from one of my classmates. I had not been back to my home town in quite some time. They were trying to put together a band alumni of 16 years of classes that my dad had taught, have a parade through town, and play at half time of the football game with the current band. It was an exciting project to get us all back together and honour my father.”
Chase: “Too often, I don’t think we pay tribute to inspiring people until they are dead. That kind of thing would come afterwards. ‘Oh, he was such a great conductor. We loved him.’ That’s why it’s great to see that much love and support and an event being thrown while he is still alive and able to appreciate it.”
Rick: “It was amazing to see how many people came back and the love that they still had for my dad and the idea that there still is appreciation for music. My dad wasn’t never an elitist about music, be it chorus or instrumental. ‘Come participate.’ was his whole plan. And while we had very good choruses and very good bands, it wasn’t an elitist group. A lot of people were not only influenced by him as an individual, as a teacher, as a teacher of music, but also by his ethics and values.
A lot of the book, as well, is not particularly about the music, but it’s about my dad primarily and also, for me, the influence that a small town has on a young boy growing up there.”
Chase: “Well, that leads me in to the one criticism I do have of the book. I really wanted to experience more of your dad, the music, and the coming together of the alumni band. But it’s written more like a memoir of your days of growing up in this small town. That’s where the bulk of the book takes place.”
Rick: “I think that’s a fair criticism. You always hate to disappoint a reader who thinks they’ll be getting something else. It’s not a biography and, in fact,  it’s a term I thought I created by I didn’t, it’s an automythography, which is like a memoir or an autobiography. I think about half to sixty percent of the book deals directly with my dad, and probably thirty-five to forty percent deals with music itself, and of course the book culminates with the actual event itself. But I understand that you think it should have been more about him and about the music. That’s fair.”
Chase: “I hate to be so critical of it but once everyone got into town, I thought that was where the book should have started, but that was fairly late in the book. I thought it would have been neat to make it, not so much automythography, but maybe do a little more research and interviews with some of the other band members there past and present and tell more of a cohesive story of what your dad meant to the town and all these kids playing music and marching together.”
Rick: “I hear you. That’s a different book, and this is the second book in a series. There will be a third book. They all start in the present, going into the past, and end up back in the present. That certainly would be another book, and I think it would be a worthwhile book as well. But the story arc really is music and my dad.”
Chase: “I guess, it’s the musician in me. We’re both educators and I love music and I love being able to share that passion with my students but I teach primary school so I do it through choir and rap music. It’s amazing how well kids respond to music and how important it is. I think we really need to pay focus to that, how important the arts are in education these days.”
Rick: “I can’t argue with you. Here in the states, we continue to face some real financial issues within our public school systems. The first thing to go has anything to do with the fine arts, with music, dance, and theatre, and I think that’s tragic. Part of what I was trying to capture was how important music was to us as we were growing up. That was the catch in the book, to get me back to that hometown and talk about other things within that hometown as well. I hear what you’re saying, but that would have been a different book. I can definitely hear your passion and your love for music and getting that love across to students.”
Chase: “And like you said, the budget isn’t there all the times for the schools. That’s why it’s really nice to see that sales from this book are going to support Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.
Rick: “I really appreciate you mentioning that. Yes, one dollar from each book sold goes to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. That was by Henry Mancini’s daughter, and anybody who knows much about music certainly knows the name Henry Mancini. Felice Mancini has a foundation for schools to apply for grants who might not have enough money to buy instruments or other things that have to do with music. It’s a wonderfully terrific foundation. If nothing more, if people purchase the book knowing a dollar is going towards that foundation. I also have a Facebook page and for everyone who likes that Facebook page, I’ll donate another dollar to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. Terrifically worthy, as you well know.”
Chase: “That’s awesome. I played in band starting in middle school, Grade 7 all the way through highschool, and then I was also in a marching band in the army, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, but never once did I own my own instrument. It was always the school’s or the army’s. But, at least, if we can get kids access to instruments, even if they don’t own them. that is a great thing. I still had a great time and I wouldn’t have traded that for the world playing in any of those bands.”
Rick: “What did you play, Chase?”
Chase: “I played the French Horn.”
Rick: “Oh, I’m envious. I love the French Horn. You had to have a real good embrasure. A lot of the tones really come from the pressure you put on the mouthpiece, and it’s a small mouthpiece. I love the sound of a French Horn.”
Chase: “I love it too. You started out playing a trumpet and a trumpet is very similar to a French Horn, at least in fingering positions.”
Rick: “Yes, and because I started on the trumpet, I read Treble Clef and not Bass Clef. Did you read Treble clef for the French Horn as well?”
Chase: “It’s Treble Clef, but I read both at the same time because I also play accordion and when you play that, you are playing treble and bass at the same time.”
Rick: “How cool is that? How did you get on the accordion?”
Chase: “My parents go me into it when I was a kid, so I played it before I actually had music instruction in school. It was amazing because my music teacher also taught us theory. By the time I got to highschool and we were learning the theory there, I already knew it all. I didn’t learn a single new thing theory-wise in school because I already knew it from accordion lessons.”
Rick: “That’s very cool. I went from Trumpet to Baritone. I went from playing a lot of melodies on the trumpet to baritone where it’s lower brass and played a lot of counter-melodies. And in a lot of way, the French Horn and Baritone are similar. You had some a lot of melodies that you played as well, but you also had some good counter-melodies.”
Chase: “I want to share a passage from the book right now because you have a Baritone and in preparation for the alumni band, you had it repaired and the quote reads. . .
I choked up when I opened the case and saw my reconditioned baritone looking up at me. She was new when dad entrusted her to me as a kid, and now she looked new again.
Rick: “Well read. I get emotional even when I hear that or read about it because she had been so abused. Just to hold that baritone again, I now own it. It had been so damaged that the school didn’t feel they had the funds to repair it so they literally gave it to me. It cost a ton of money to have it fixed but I still find myself playing it. My embrasure has weakened over the years and I’m amazed at how quickly my lips get tired. But just having that baritone with me, helps me relive a whole lot of those days of being in the marching band and the concert band and how important that was to me.”
Chase: “Your dad switched you to baritone because he didn’t have enough baritones at the time.”
Rick: “That’s right. I was in fifth grade at the time and ended up being in the marching band when I was in the sixth grade. The big kids accepted me pretty well. He didn’t have any baritones and he needed a baritone. And fortunately over the years, my hat was too big and the baritone was almost as big as I was, but eventually I grew into my hat and into my baritone as well.”
Chase: ‘Very cool. Your dad’s name is-”
Rick: “Is Lewis Niece. He’ll be 89 this coming September. He has now memorized seven different piano programs of thirty-four numbers each of music from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. And since my mother has passed away, my dad’s new mission is to play at nursing homes and retirement centres to play the music he was raised on and to play the music the people of his generation love to hear.”
Chase: “He sounds like an amazing man. I know that he was in the military, he was an educator, he painted houses in the summer, he conducted the church choir, and he even started a bowling alley because you didn’t have one in your small town.”
The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man’s Encore is a heartfelt tribute to small town DeGraff, Ohio, and its beloved band director, Lewis Niece. The book is written by his son and we’ve been talking with the author today in this interview and podcast.
Please come back tomorrow to read the rest of thetranscript. If you don’t want to wait until then, you can stream the entire podcast right now with the player below, or download it for free to listen o whenever you like.

Thanks for tuning in.

Read Part 2

If you cannot see the audio controls, listen/download the audio file here