Granite State of Mind, #65: Band Room, Exeter Junior High School, Exeter
Between seventh and eighth grade I learned how to play the tuba because Mr. Bethel asked me to. He needed more low-end horns, I guess, and you didn't get more low-end than me. I can't claim that I was ever any good (though I did sneak into the 8th grade all-state band, likely a clerical error or a dearth of competent tubas across junior high New Hampshire in 1989). Learning that horn did open up some interesting opportunities later in high school: deciding that Coach Ball was scarier than Melinda Kimball and ducking marching band halftime shows for football halftime speeches, for instance, or putting the horn down to recite the Gettysburg Address at Memorial Day parades in Exeter and Stratham, or dressing up like the Blues Brothers with Nate Oxnard and arranging our own versions of Peter Gunn or the James Bond theme for trumpet and tuba. Getting introduced to a clutch of Hampton Beach tourists by a ponytailed Pee-Wee Herman impersonator is one of the stranger things that can happen to a soul.
But that all came later. I'm thinking today about the band room at the demolished junior high (and then it was truly a junior high and not a middle school) on Linden Street, behind the stage curtains, where Mr. Bethel held sway with his ineffable coolness and versatile musical talents. How he put up with the cast of characters that populated his junior high band escapes me. Just glancing at these images from the end of the school year conjures up a rogue's gallery of musicians with the kind of attitude that only newly-minted teenagers can bring to any endeavor. What a crew.
While I'm sure I disappointed Mr. Bethel with my mediocrity on the tuba, I wasn't disappointed by the fellowship I'd become a part of. There are more stories to come from that building another time, but today I remember the music, and the musicians, a very specific time and place and gang.