A Music Man’s Encore (An Interview with author Rick Niece)

Today, we continue the interview I did with author Rick D. Niece. His latest book The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man’s Encore is now available at bookstores everywhere.

If you missed Part 1, you can go back and read the transcript from the very beginning.

Chase: “Your father 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.”

Rick: “My dad never liked any idle time. He decided that the town needed a bowling alley. It was called The Duck Inn. He ran that for about five or six years. It was a good experience too. We didn’t have automatic pin-setters. We teenagers would jump down in the pits and set the pins and get up out of the way after the person had bowled. My dad continues to be such an amazing role model for me.

Part of the theme too, Chase, and you probably picked this up, is the theme of echoes. The introduction talks about a specific Memorial Day when the band marched to our hometown cemetery. We always ended every concert with John Philip Sousa’s ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ But then, there was a point near the end of the ceremony when I would leave the ranks of the band and go over to the single hill in the cemetery. My dad would play ‘Taps’ in front of the veterans who were under a canopy tent. At the time. there were still World War I Veterans alive, Over the hill, I would play the echo.

I can remember, as a little kid, how nervous I was. I would just pace little boy circles as my dad was playing. My dad always played perfectly and the title of that chapter is called ‘Echoes can Make No Mistakes.’ That idea that I’m his echo and I can’t make any mistakes.
I think that my whole life, I have been my father’s echo, not that I can’t make mistakes, but I like being his echo because what I echo, then, are also remnants of his echo. Part of the theme of the book is generational as well and how the echoes are so important and that we need to listen to them and sponge them up. We, in time, become the echoes for the generation prior.”
Chase: “That’s really touching, but at the same time, did you ever feel that you were trapped in the shadow of this great man and it would be hard for you to live up?”
Rick: “This is something that I don’t think I’ve told many other people before, so you get a scoop on it. Two things to answer your question. Number 1, I fought going in to education because I knew I could never be as good a teacher as my dad. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year in college that I decided that I wanted to teach. The thing I haven’t told many people is that I started college as a music major.
I went to Ohio State University, tried out for the marching band there, I was an alternate and really ended up being in the Grey Band. They had a Scarlet band with people who were primarily music majors and really tough to compete with. So I wasn’t as great as I thought I was and ended up in the Grey Band. I realized then, I had the passion for music that you have, but I didn’t think I had that passion to teach it, so I ended up being an English major and teaching English.
My dad was so revered and so respected, that there was a shadow. This is in no way to sound negative. It was not negative. But I decided I could be a good teacher and really learn from my dad. If there was one lesson that I learned from my dad about teaching, and it’s the simplest lesson. You’ve been an educator for nine years, you’ll know exactly what I’m saying because I think some people forget this lesson, is that students always come first.
Students are the purpose for schools and education. Chase, I’m amazed at how many people, including teachers, forget that.”
Chase: “I understand that, but I also understand that there is a bit of a battle going on against teachers. Right now in Ontario, the government is trying to take away some of our gains.
I totally agree with you, but at the same time, teachers overall, especially elementary school teachers are kind of looked down upon, like we are not important. I think we really need to give our teachers more. We need to give them the tools to do the job and make sure that we can put them first, so in turn, we can put students first. I know that sounds complicated but it’s not.”
Rick: “I’m the president of a university. Faculty members have a great job but I think we forget that it’s not a hierarchy. It isn’t vertical with the kindergarten teacher at the bottom and a full-tenured professor is at the top. It’s not vertical. We all play our parts on a student’s education on a horizontal plane. Every one of those teachers is important, but if you don’t have the resources and build at the second or third grade, it becomes difficult as students progress.
I’m also amazed that teaching is such hard work. You’re tired at the end of the day, and then you go home and prepare for the next day, you prepare lessons, and you grade papers. I’m not complaining about it, not at all. I just don’t think people realize how difficult it is to be a teacher.
Part of what I want in this series of books, is to try to get people to understand how important our education is, that it follows us, and that teachers do amazing work.

When I was a kid, being raised in a small town in Ohio, I had four support systems that were watching out for me all the time. I had my family. I had my school. I had my church. And I had my small town community, that in a sense was like a second set of parents. Unfortunately, there are some kids today who don’t have any of those, and it becomes all the more important for us as educators to try and provide all those things for students.

And I’m guessing that’s what wears you out as well as the students come in with such a variety of needs, and sometimes the only place they get that need is in your classroom.
Chase: “That’s what’s nice about this series of books because it focuses on small town life. It’s cliche to say, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ but I think we do need strong communities of like-minded individuals and whether it’s a small town, a school, an extra-curricular activity, or whether it’s Boy Scouts or Girl Guides, the youth really need things like that. We need to create a culture where they can feel safe in our own classrooms and in our bigger circles of what we do extra-curricular as well.”
Rick: “I absolutely agree. You’ve probably got some elementary school kids that have experienced things that we never did until we reached high school or maybe even now. In terms of family situations or home situations or need situations. It’s a different time.
One of the things I tried to do is capture that, not only for people like me who lived through it but also for people who didn’t know a time like that existed.”
Chase: “Some of the stories in here people might not be able to relate to, but we can think back of how that might have been. I would have no idea what a bowling alley would be like without automatic pin-setters and having to stand back there with pins flying up, getting hit on the shins, and doing that kind of a part-time job.
You also have a nice scene about the movie theatre. . .
Today, a small box of movie popcorn costs more than it used to cost to take a date to The Roxy and buy the whole refreshment works.
Rick: “Yeah, and there’s one part about the variety store we had downtown. I was about five years old and hadn’t realized that I’d stolen this candy bar but somehow I had it and hadn’t paid for it. Those were five cent candy bars that were much bigger than the bars that cost at least a dollar now. I don’t mean to sound like an old fogey, but that was a time of innocence.
In book one, Side-Yard Superhero, I wrote about my paper route. I was speaking to a college class last February and my wife was with me and I said, ‘I was a paperboy.’ And, she seldom interrupts me but she did and said that I needed to explain to them what a paperboy was. I hadn’t thought about that, that most of them wouldn’t have the concept of someone riding a bicycle and delivering papers to houses.
Chase: “Yeah, that’s really changed. We still had paperboys when I was a kid but now older people deliver the papers because you get them really early in the morning instead of after school.”
Rick: “And I think there are a lot of kids who wouldn’t want to deliver papers. But that was one of my life’s best lessons because if you had a paper route, you had people who depended on you getting than paper to them, you had responsibility, you had fiscal responsibility because you had to collect so much money because you had to pay the paper for the newspapers for that week. Plus it really taught me how to deal with people, some who were difficult. It taught me how to treat customers and how to treat people and that has followed me into being a university president.
I have a strong belief in servant leadership and being a servant leader, which means you’re not embarrassed to be seen carrying a chair or anything like that. In our workroom here at the university we have coffee, hot chocolate and tea. Anybody can come in and get a cup of coffee for free. Students come in and it breaks down that pretense of the president’s office and students.
The kids see me making a cup of coffee for them. That’s a good thing. The idea of being a servant leader is not beneath anybody.
Chase: “I agree with that as well. I find myself agreeing with you a lot today.”
Rick: “Even though the book wasn’t quite what you though it would be, at least you agree with the author.”
Chase: “I love the concept  of it but I was expecting more than a small town story, which I think would appeal to a lot of people. You are going home for a specific purpose but as you are doing that you are remembering your childhood and sharing these stories, while at the same time, celebrating the town of DeGraff and honouring your dad. It really is a sweet story that I think a lot of people will enjoy. You don’t need to be an educator or a musician, like we both are, to appreciate that.”
Rick: “My website is RickNieceBooks.com. The books are available at any bookstores or online retailers. They are books that grandparents wouldn’t be embarrassed to give to grandchildren or vice versa. The content is something they can share and enjoy.”
Chase: “There’s a mini-photo album in the back of the book entitled ‘Captured Memories’ and they can see pictures of the high school band from back in the day, they can see you as a Cub Scout beside your dad in his Bandmaster’s uniform-“
Rick: “And I’m kind of in my dad’s shadow there to go back to what you had said earlier. It’s interesting.”
Chase: “It certainly is. We call also see the Alumni Band uniforms. You all had t-shirts that read ‘Lewie’s Alumni Band’ and on the back it had the year you graduated.”
Rick: “I still have my shirt. That’s a very valuable thing for me.”
Chase: “The book is called The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man’s Encore and we’ve been talking to the author Rick D. Niece. It’s been very nice talking to you.”
Rick: “I tell you what, Chase, I’ve done a lot of interviews. I don’t know if I’ve had one that I’ve enjoyed more than this, on two levels. Number one, I really appreciate your honesty. That means a lot to me as a writer. Number two, how I know you’re continuing to have your passion for music, your passion for teaching and education. You are instilling that in your students every day. And to know what a difference you are making with your class. Some day there are going to be students talking about you saying, ‘Remember him? And remember what a difference he made in our lives?”
Chase: “Thanks a lot. That’s really nice to say.”
Rick: “It’s been such a joy talking to you. And good luck with your writing.”
Chase: “Thanks, send my love to your dad.”
Rick: “I will relay what you said about him and what a delightful time I had talking with you.”

* there are a few parts of this interview that I have not transcribed (due to some time constraints) so if you listen to the interview with the player below, you will hear bonus content. You can also download the podcast for free. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview, my very first one with an author. * 

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