Monday, August 11, 2014

Julie Essman Stevens

I am a member of a three-generation OSUMB family. This band has shaped my entire life and now I tell you our story.
My father, Jim Essman, was in band in the unexpanded, unisex era, serving as a squad leader in the baritone section. He was also a member of the trumpet section, I believe, when he first made the band. He loved that group, and has continued friends with many he met then. He is a past president of the board of governors and has marched almost all if not every reunion. He made the band on grit, talent and determination though he will tell you he had very little actual playing ability. That is nonsense, and I grew up listening to him practice – wanting to be just like that. When he returned from service in Vietnam the first thing he did was play Christmas music. The second was to play all his OSUMB recordings. I am told I marched around the living room to Le Reg, but what child can resist? He was very involved in the active band throughout my childhood, and we kids went to all his performances – Park of Roses, Upper Arlington 4th of July Parade, reunion rehearsals. My mom made lifelong friends among the other wives and we all made friends with the other children. My dad was rejuvenated by alumni active band practice, and sometimes I’d take the COTA bus in to Columbus from Pickaway County to go to rehearsal with him. The other members always made me welcome.
I was not expected to make the band. That is a pure truth. My band director, Mark Hosler, had been Most Inspirational in his day and knew what it took. I don’t think he ever really believed I had that, and my family was dreading what would happen when I was cut. Summer sessions are student run and the best way to learn the skills and build endurance. I had never known my shins could sweat – I was a hard working person whose parents expected a lot, but I had never in my life exerted myself like that. My best friend fell to the music audition and we both cried. I was named M-14 – the last name called, and I was delirious! I must have made that band on my own grit and determination, with the dedicated help of Mike Coggins, Jerry Canterberry, and Al Notestine and Lisa Cozad Galvin(though he and she had graduated and were just back to motivate candidates). My squad leaders, Tom Hartman and Greg Schilling, did their best with me and I actually got to march the Patriotic Show three times. The deeply shy and introverted child that made the band was nicknamed “Cindy Brady” and managed to overcome terror and tell a joke to a busload of people who heckled me through it, patted me on the head as I went to sit down, and in general cheerled me into greater confidence. Some of my favorite people were in band with me, and you all know who you are. I was so proud to be part of this greater family, to have done something so closely tied to my dad. Every year I was terrified of being cut and ran miles and miles to prepare. I had my own 5 yard by 5 yard grid laid out on the patio (I know lots of us did that) and practiced 270 spin turns and horn flashes till I was no longer dizzy. The expectations are identical for every candidate – there are no female or male requirements. I can’t emphasize that enough. Why are there fewer women then men in the OSUMB? Because it is hard to make, because everyone completes the same drills and skills and puts in the same time. I play baritone. That bad boy weighs 8 pounds, and we were required to hold it at arm’s length during a horns up drill. Not to abuse us, but to build the strength necessary to complete a flawless halftime show. EVERYONE did this. I used full gallon jugs of milk to build up to holding that horn. Colleen Nutter Kent was my ideal, so musically talented, strong and a wonderful leader. She was one of my squad leaders also and the first female Most Inspirational Bandsman. By my last year I was so much better, so much more confident – I could march an entire tryout drill or series of ramps without missing a note, could march down the field with no horn movement, could march Sloopy with no drifting, could fall out and instruct a candidate whenever asked. As M-7, my dad and I were at one time the only two family members to have marched the same spot. That may be different now, but still fabulous to us!
I met the love of my life in band, Brian Stevens, who has gone on to become one of the best high school band directors in the state in my humble opinion. His cousin had been in the band, so Brian knew he wanted to try out for himself. Although he was cut the first time, he did not let that stop him as he had his own store of determination. When he made the band on his second try, his parents were so incredibly proud of him. That learning experience has allowed him to reach out to students who may experience failure and encourage them to persevere, then succeed with the victory all the sweeter. A member of Trumpet Cheers, he also became a squad leader his last year. We continued attending the TBDBITL alumni reunion together when his fall schedule allowed, and we do so to this day. Also the director of the Brass Band of Columbus, he has many former OSUMB, now TBDBITL alumni members in his band. We share an heritage of pride and excellence. Brian’s high school bands have long marched in the Buckeye Invitational, and he and Jon worked together often to hone and enhance the role the Ohio Music Educator’s Association plays in high school music programs. You have never seen anything more lovely than the look on a student’s face when they come off Ohio Field having marched their competition or exhibition show. A dream come true for many, and a powerful recruitment tool for Ohio State.
My brother, Steve Essman, also made the band. He played sousaphone, has emotional and deeply felt memories of dotting the “i” and was in K-L Row with Jon. He told me at the time what a wonderful person Jon was, and was so incredibly thrilled for him last year when named the head director, at long last. Steve’s five years in band shaped him, also allowing him the chance to grow into the strong, wonderful person he is today. Steve also comes back for reunion every chance he gets.
Three years ago, our son, Dan Stevens, auditioned for the first time, on trombone. There is nothing harder than knowing exactly what your child is facing and having no power to influence the outcome. He wore the same grid into the yard, ran miles and miles, and went to every summer session. Like my dad had done, I asked him what he would do if he were cut. Try again next year, like dad did, he said. Dan is such a bold soul, with a big heart and incredible talent, and I was so scared. He made the band as an alternate, one of only five freshmen to be selected that year. He has done very well and this year is assistant squad leader In Q-Row to his best friend. He plays in Trombone Cheers and has been known to serenade our pastor, my mother, various friends and family if he knows where they are seated in the stadium. Another best friend from high school is also in Q-Row and Dan has never been happier. Brian and I are so proud of him. He was interviewed last year by Channel 6 at the height of the positive hoopla, and again a week ago at the depths of despair, and acquitted himself well. His sister has the talent and strength to make the band, but would choose to be the band PT, providing her insight and wisdom in other ways. His younger brother has expressed a wish to try out when his time comes, as well, so the tradition continues.
I submit this family history to make a point. This is not an institution based on degradation, humiliation and negative practices, nor could it do so and persist for generations. I carry that family connection with me wherever I go, continually meeting people who also have a deep pride in our history. I stand with my band family and the current OSUMB.
I stand with Jon Waters.
Respectfully yours,
Julie Essman Stevens, M-Row 1985-1988

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