“It looks like you are getting ready to play a concert,” Danny Lane recalls saying years ago to a musician setting up to perform with the Spirit of Independence Concert Band at the Bingham-Waggoner Estate.
Looking into the eyes of the inquisitive man he recognized from his student-teaching days in Oak Grove, Brent Edmunds replies that he’s not playing in the community band; he’s conducting it.
Then Brent asks: “You wouldn’t be interested in conducting a band, would you?” explaining that the Spirit band – founded Sept. 22, 1997 – was searching for a full-time conductor and that he was temporarily filling in as director.
So in the fall of 2002, the longtime musician and music educator became the band conductor – a position he held for 12 years.
Then, on July 12, Laura Browning, president/manager of the Spirit band, dropped a proverbial bombshell following the concert at the Bingham-Waggoner Estate. While presenting an Outstanding Service Award plaque to the band’s beloved and faithful conductor, Laura announced Danny’s retirement.
In a personal note presented to band members prior to the final concert of the 2013-14 season, Danny wrote: “Thanks for a great 12 great years. Your hard work and dedication have made conducting this band a high point in my professional career. Being your director has been an honor and a privilege. Please continue making music, and please lend your full support to the new director. Enjoy your break before the start of the band’s 18th season. Danny.”
Who the new conductor will be is anyone’s guess. Laura is still searching for a replacement, hoping someone will step up and accept the challenge. With the 2014-15 season less than a month away, “I just have to talk someone into (taking) it because it’s a commitment.”
Should the season commence without a permanent conductor on Aug. 18 – the start-up date – members need not fret. The band will move forward under the temporary direction of the band’s assistant director, Brent Edmunds.
Danny recalls his last concert as conductor was one of logistical reflections. What went through his mind, he says, was: “OK, next year somebody else can figure out where the sun is going to be and where we can place the chairs (for the concert).”
Then, toward the end of the program, “I could feel the concert was (emotionally) getting to me when we played ‘Irish Tune From County Derry,’” also known as ‘Oh, Danny Boy’ – Danny’s favorite song. “I was thinking, ‘Will this be the last time I will conduct this piece? ...Or is this really going to be the last time I ever direct?’”
To the last question, he replies: “I may not direct anymore, other than a church choir on a Sunday. I don’t expect to have another conducting gig.
A trumpet player for 61 years, the Vietnam War veteran isn’t ready to retire the instrument he has been playing since he was 9 years old.
“I expect to continue playing somewhere, sometime,” he says. But for now, he doesn’t plan on being a regular trumpeter in the Spirit band. However, he might play again – in a pinch.
Why did Danny retire?
“I thought 12 years is a long time. So, 70 seems like a good age to step down. ...I think the biggest (reason) was that I don’t want to be tied down to practice every Monday night. I think that is the main reason. It’s not that I am tired of conducting. ...I still like to conduct.”
Danny’s whole life, you might say, has been centered around music – especially band music. As a freshman at Missouri Valley College, his goal was to teach history – not music. However, midway through the first semester, he changed his mind and decided to follow his heart’s desire of becoming a band director.
After a year at Missouri Valley, he enrolled at the University of Missouri and earned a degree in music education. He played in the Marching Mizzou Band and performed in the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl. He also went with Marching Mizzou on its tour of England.
Though the Vietnam War interrupted his post-graduate education, it didn’t prevent him from becoming band director at Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Mo., for four years.
After more studies, Danny joined the music staff at Oak Grove High School and retired in 2001 after a 26-year stint. Along the way, he became interested in science and persuaded his principal to let him start a geology class.
“I taught some other science classes, so when I retired I was teaching half instrumental music and half science,” he says, adding, “That’s a strange combination.”
As for his legacy, Danny believes he was able to help the band feel like it was a success. “...I feel, for the most part, that the band was pleased and satisfied with what it achieved,” he says, noting the musicians allowed him to perform a wide variety of music, some of which it had never performed.
Any fears as a conductor? You betcha! Lots of ‘em.
For Danny, his greatest fear was the band would be getting ready for a concert and some “absolutely essential people” would not be there to perform, resulting in a cancellation.
“That was always a concern that would happen,” he says.
But, thank goodness, it never did.
Congratulations, Danny Lane, on a very successful career. In “Our Town,” you are “Mr. Music Man,” and you’re going to be greatly missed. May God richly bless you in all future endeavors – music or otherwise.
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.