Photo of me Freshman year HTHS by Jay Kusler?

Walter Nechoda, 1965

Jerry Shipton

Photo of me Freshman year by ?

Photo of me Freshman year by ?

Scot Robinson, 1964

Jim Ruff and Rich DeRosette

The Imperials

Scot's Gretch "Chet Atkins" Guitar

The Viscounts Circa 1965: L to R John Hora, Scot Robinson, Doug Mann, Al Gross, and Steve Meador

Mr. Peterson's Geography class 1962 taken from  Hinsdale Junior High School "Memories" Year Book.

School Band

Early in June of 1962 while sitting very unprepared for surprise quiz in Mr. Peterson's sixth grade geography class, Walter Nechoda burst into the class room.  He announced that anyone who wanted to be in the school band next year needed to come immediately to the band room.  I instantly decided my fate would be better up in the band room rather than suffer Mr. Peterson's geography test. 

Greatly relieved, I was off the hook with Mr. Peterson but now subject to the heavy rule of band director, Walter Nechoda who had a reputation of demanding strict obedience with a fiery temper.  Legend has it that one time he hurled a music stand over the heads of the entire school band when provoked to anger.  

Mr. Nechoda’s assistant  director, fresh out of college Jerry Shipton, distributed plain 3” x 5” cards on which we were instructed to write our names and three musical instruments we’d like to play in order of preference. 

Having never before thought of playing a musical instrument in the school band, I chose drums as first choice figuring that might be easiest, and trumpet as second choice because that seemed to me cool.  I left third choice blank as I had no idea.

We where given a battery of tests of tone, scale, and rhythm to evaluate our musical abilities.  The following school year Scot played trumpet and I played drums in the Junior High band. 

The first day of band in my seventh grade year at Hinsdale Junior High I knew Mr. Nechoda had a difficult job.  The band room was full of about a hundred 12 year olds.  Only a  few of the kids had ever played a musical instrument before.  I couldn’t imagine how Mr. Nechoda was going to transform us into band that could actually play music.  I don’t know what it was like for the others because all 14 of us drummers were quickly relegated to a smaller room accompanied by Jerry Shipton, the new assistant band director.  It was his first day too. 

Though he had recently graduated from college with a degree in band instruction I got the impression that Mr. Shipton was more nervous than we were.  There were three large folding tables set up in a U shape.  Mr. Shipton stood in the middle and showed us how to properly hold our 2B drum sticks.  Then he instructed us to beat the table in a simple left right pattern. 

The sound of fourteen 12 year old wannabe drummers struggling to slowly beat left right left right left right in unison surely sounded crudely imperfect to Mr. Shipton but to me the sound was magical.  Goose bumps flooded my arms as I participated in the simple cadence.  The sound of drummers playing together thrilled me and that very moment I determined to become a great drummer. 

A few of the other drummers had already taken private lessons and knew some of the basic rudiments.  Fourteen drummers was twice the number the band required.  Soon  there would be a cut and some of the drummers moved over to other instruments the band was short on.   Within a few weeks we were offered the option of playing bass violin in the orchestra or tuba in the band.  I didn’t want to play either.  In two weeks there would be the big challenge and seven drummers would be cut.  I only wanted to play drums and worried that I wouldn’t make the cut so I practiced as best I could. 

The big day arrived.  With the entire band was assembled together in the band room, from our position in the rear, each drummer took his turn playing certain rudiments as all ears listened and all eyes watched.  Only the seven best drummers would remain.  Mr. Nechoda  announced the names of the seven to stay...  though in seventh place, I would remain a drummer.  I became even more determined to be a great drummer. 

My parents apparently recognized that I was serious and in the second semester,  paid for weekly private lessons.  Hal Dean was my instructor.  He was a life long professional drummer who played with jazz bands in the evenings.  I looked forward to those half hour sessions of private instruction with Mr. Dean.  Private lessons with Mr. Dean was my first up close and personal exposure to a professional musician.

The Hinsdale School bands and orchestras were highly regarded having won many state championships producing  many career musicians.  Mr. Nechoda was a severe task master requiring strict obedience and all eyes attentive to his.  He was mesmerizing in his power often holding our gaze for long minutes of silence before his baton would strike a downbeat.  

The intensity of Mr. Nechoda’s direction taught me of the great value he placed on the final result.  Though yet foreign to me at 12 years old I envied his passion.  Seeds of excellence were gratefully sowed into my young sprit by his powerful presence.

The seating order in band or orchestra is determined in order of skill with first chair being the best, second chair the next best, etc.  I was last chair.  I practiced regularly challenged by the desire to excel and also to please Mr. Dean who seemed to take a personal interest in teaching me.

Without prior notice, Mr. Nechoda declared a challenge right on the spot to determine the seating order of the drummers.  Being last chair I was the last one to play the required rudiments.  Though I had been practicing diligently I had no serious aspiration of advancing beyond the drummers ahead of me who seemed much more accomplished than me.  Without thinking too much about it I simply played as requested and executed the rudiment confidently with surprising precision.  

Mr. Nechoda was apparently impressed with my performance as he immediately moved me from last chair to first chair!  I was stunned as were the other drummers.  I proudly held first chair throughout my school experience blessed to have been greatly influenced by Walter Nechoda and Mr. Dean. 

I grew up in a music loving household and my sisters and I were exposed to a wide variety of music.  As a family, we saw all of the great musicals of the 50’s and early 60’s such as Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun, Gigi, My Fair Lady, South Pacific, West Side Story, and The Music Man.  Then we’d get the albums and play them over and over.  Dad would often come home from work with the latest Chuck Berry record.  Mom always had her kitchen radio tuned to WFMT, Chicago’s classical radio station.   My sisters and I had our own radios always tuned in to WLS for all the top 40’s hits. 

When I joined the school band I brought along an appreciation for a broad range of music.  At 12 years of age when I started band, my ears were yet unsophisticated when it came to how music was made.  For the first couple of months of band, each section was relegated to individual rehearsal rooms to learn the basic fundamentals of how to play their instruments and read music.

When it was finally time to bring the entire band together I naively thought that every instrument simply played the same melody and the drums added the rhythm.   I was amazed and enraptured as Mr. Nechoda had each section play their part while the other sections were quiet.  Right then and there my appreciation for music took a quantum leap forward.  I was that much more amazed by the infinite complexity, diversity, of music and by how each part supported the others in melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Prior to that moment, I had heard music only as the sum of it’s parts.  Now my ears were being trained to recognize each contributing component.  It was a glorious revelation to my young ears.  From that day forth my love for music grew with my ears trained to identify and appreciate each component part as well as the entire result.

Band was first period in high school which was a great way to start the day I thought... until my first day.  What I wasn’t prepared for was marching band practice outside in the cold and often damp Fall mornings.  I always wondered how the marching band ever learned to play and march in step with intricately choreographed moves they performed at football game half time.  Learning the music was a breeze.  Turning here and there, marching diagonally, counting steps and playing at the same time seemed to require supernatural ability. 

The first morning marching practice was hysterical.  The sun had barely just dawned, it was cold, the grass was wet, and there were a hundred teenagers with band instruments marching every which way tripping over each other as us drummers pounded away.  Within a couple of weeks the work became fun and rewarding.  As we learned and became confident, precision brought forth pride and we were soon working on the finer points.

For thee great years, wearing cumbersome uniforms complete with decorative hats and shiny white spats, I marched with the band onto football fields and in community parades.  It was all the more worth the effort to have a beaming Walter Nechoda proudly marching along side us.

Familiar goose bumps flooded my arms as I marched among strong drummers eagerly pounding out syncopated street beats marching left foot right foot in time with the intoxicating rhythm.  We played like we were the best, marched strong and proud with crashing cymbals raised high, bass drums thundering, and snare drums together beating out the familiar Hinsdale signature "street beat" marching routine in perfect synchronization.  

Little did I know back then that music would so saturate my soul to define what would be one of the most richly rewarding experiences of my life. 

Though we first met in nursery school, Scot and I attended different grade schools.  It was in the seventh grade Junior High band that Scot and I were reacquainted in 1962.   The following year in 8th grade, we formed “The Imperials” Dixieland band with classmates, Barry Kopecky (tenor sax), Jay Kusler (string bass), Brad McDonald (clarinet), Chris Church (trombone), and Steve Meador (piano). 

Stan Meador, Steve's father, was a professional musician who led our rehearsals in the basement of their home.  The basement family room had everything we needed... an upright piano, music stands, chairs, and a huge library of sheet music.  It was great fun for us to have Stan as our band director.  And I suspect even more fun for Stan to have young musicians eager to learn from him. 

Scot's dad was a professional designer and made beautiful signs for "The Imperials" on blue boards with old English script gold leaf lettering and also fabricated matching music stands similar to those used by the "big bands" from the 30's and 40's. 

One Saturday morning Stan Meador drove us all downtown to "Kale Uniforms" on Roosevelt Road in Chicago where we bought used white tuxedo jackets to wear when we played at formal gigs.  Our moms got together and sewed red and white striped vests that we wore with white shirts and red garters on our sleeves and black derby hats when playing at casual engagements. 

For two short years in our youth, we enjoyed playing old standards and Dixieland classics at local ice cream socials and Eight Grade graduations.  While still in eighth grade, the Imperials played one night at an event in the gymnasium auditorium at the old junior high where we attended school.  It was fun for us to provide musical entertainment appearing before several hundred of our peers, their parents, and our teachers.

The following day in Mrs. Kissel's English class I was surprised to have her compliment me on my musical talent after hearing the Imperials the night before.  Academically, I never got good grades and always struggled to just barely get by.  Mrs. Kissel's praise greatly boosted my pride that day and encouraged me to continue pursuing music. 

Scot took up guitar upon entering high school shortly after The Beatles stormed our lives.  At that time the electric guitar was yet still a new, intriguing, unconventional  musical instrument oddity born from the now legendary Les Paul.  Scot couldn’t help but yield to the call and shortly mastered the guitar. 

Robin Robinson was enormously proud of his first born son Scot.  Despite financial hardship, for Scot’s 16th birthday, Robin managed to buy Scot a beautiful Gretch Chet Atkin’s hollow body electric guitar and a Vox Royal Guardsman amp.  This was serious professional grade equipment.  Putting it in perspective, the cost at the time was equal to three or four mortgage payments. 

 Scot’s delight wrestled with pride for his father’s joy in making a gift of those beautiful instruments.  He graciously and proudly received the gifts fully aware of the great sacrifice required to make it all happen.  I get teary having known them both so well. 

Scot and I disbanded the Imperials in favor of playing rock and roll music and formed "The Viscounts" that later evolved into "The Changing Tymes".  We played at local "battle of the bands" contests, dances, and concerts while in our early teens.  Then we met Chris Rhodes and formed the 1010 Balloon Activities Group

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