December 25, 2013 - After 23 years with the Oxford school district, there was only one thing powerful enough to get band director Pat Parrish to leave his post – love.
Parrish (click for larger version)
Friday was Parrish's last day at the middle school.
He's moving to Grand Haven to be with his wife, Junie, whom he married earlier this year on Valentine's Day.
She's a teacher in Grand Haven, a community on Lake Michigan, so the first 10 months of their marriage have been spent living on opposite sides of the state.
"Right now, we're 180 miles apart and not because we want to be," Parrish said.
Although Parrish is excited to finally be united with his bride under the same roof, he's also sad to leave Oxford, where he currently teaches the fifth through seventh grade band students.
"If it wasn't for her, I'd probably teach here another 10 to 15 years," he said. "This town has been great to me. This district has been great to me. I couldn't have written the script any better."
Things have certainly changed a lot since Parrish landed here in August 1990.
Back then, he was in charge of all band students, from sixth through 12th grade.
"There was one band director and that was me. I had the entire program to myself," he said.
But the program and the district were a lot smaller in those days.
"I walked into a program of 62 kids at the high school," he said. "The middle school numbers were actually higher – probably close to 80."
Today, 80 is just the number of fifth-graders he teaches. Add in the sixth and seventh-graders, and that's another 160 students under his direction.
"It's been fun and interesting to watch (the program) grow," Parrish said. "There are now three of us full-time band directors, plus a string program. I'm really excited to see where (the music program's) going to be 10, 15, 20 years from now because the opportunities and potential is just incredible."
One of Parrish's most memorable moments was directing a class full of girls inside a boys locker room.
That took place at Oxford Elementary School back in the 1990s when it was an intermediate school. Prior to that, it had been a high school. The school had a band room, but because the district was "in a crunch for building space," it was being used as a classroom.
"So, my beginning band class was moved into the boys locker room," Parrish said. "I was teaching a woodwind class, which had a whole lot of girls. So, there they were, sitting right next to the urinals, learning to play their clarinets and flutes."
The thought still makes him chuckle.
For the Parrish, who was the 2003 OMS Teacher of the Year, the most rewarding part of his job has been knowing that former students have gained "an appreciation for music in one form or another."
"It doesn't have to be playing a clarinet or a flute anymore. Maybe they play a banjo in a country band," he said.
Even though he's had former students go on to become teachers and even performers, Parrish said, "Still the ones that I'm the most proud of are the ones that have just come to appreciate music and have a good time with it."
Parrish's proudest moment was directing an OHS Marching Band performance on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in the late 1990s.
"That was phenomenal," he said. "It hit me about halfway through that performance – 'Oh my gosh, I'm directing 'God Bless America' on the steps of the United States Capitol. This may never happen again.'"
His favorite students to teach are beginners.
"Where I really hit my stride and found my strength as a teacher is with the beginners," Parrish said. "I could teach beginning band all day long."
That's because they're so eager to learn.
"They run to the band room everyday," Parrish said. "Older kids, they have greater ability and talent. By that time, they've mastered the skills and they can play more challenging and interesting music, but they'll never match the enthusiasm of a kid that just got his trumpet like two or three weeks ago and learned to play 'Hot Cross Buns.' To me, that's still way cool."
It was the influence and example of Parrish's high school band director, Michael Lutz, that led him to this profession. "He's the guy who inspired me to do this," he said.
Parrish's graduating class consisted of approximately 400 students and 10 of them went into professions involving instrumental music. "(Lutz) produced some really great bands and some pretty enthusiastic kids," Parrish said.
Parrish described Lutz as the epitome of an old school band director. "He was the absolute definition of a tyrant," Parrish said. "He didn't have the best PR skills. He would never survive in today's educational world."
But beneath that gruff exterior beats the heart of a "consummate musician."
"He's one of the best musicians I'll ever meet," Parrish said.
There are a lot of people who believe it's important to incorporate music into children's' education and Parrish is definitely one of them, but for a different reason.
"There's research that shows any kind of study of music . . . stimulates areas of the brain that are going to help you improve your math scores, your science scores. . . But for me, it's fun. It's just fun."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.