Editor's Note: The following is a reflection from Brazil Concert Band Director Matt Huber regarding the band's recent trip to Memphis, Tenn.
The Brazil Concert Band chose Memphis, Tenn., for its tour for this year.
Memphis drew a great deal of interest from the musicians and one of the largest entourages, both in musicians and "groupies," left for Memphis July 7.
We arrived at the Heartbreak Hotel on Elvis Presley Blvd., around 3 p.m. Melanie (Huber, Matt's wife) is the trip coordinator and, as always, does a superb job of securing our lodging, tours and performance venues.
The Heartbreak Hotel was very clean with a nice breakfast buffet and several Elvis style restaurants in the area across from the Graceland Mansion. No one went hungry. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches, a favorite of Elvis himself, were munched by many.
The Heartbreak also offered a heart-shaped swimming pool and continuous Elvis music and evening videos in the dining room. It should be noted that our group included 110 with a band of 53. Apparently a lot of folks wanted to see Graceland. Lots of Elvis fans in our band.
The Memphis people rank among the best we ever had to deal with in setting up lodging, the tour and performances. Special thanks goes to Nina Morris of the Graceland complex for making sure everything was in p lace and all our requests honored. Ken Hall of the W.C. Handy Park also was wonderful to work with making sure parking was available for all of us and for securing the covered stage and local publicity. We were on two Memphis TV stations and mentioned in the local newspaper.
Our first concert was set for 11 a.m., Thursday morning, at the Graceland venue in front of the Rockabilly Restaurant. As promised, chairs were provided and our people had to just walk from the Heartbreak Hotel over to the playing site. Those who brought caps were glad they did as the sun was hot and high. Our groupies and tourists awaiting tickets to Graceland were treated to a very fine concert, 45 minutes in duration, of "The Fourth of July," "The Blue and the Gray," "JTCB on Parade," a parade of Sousa, Fillmore and Jewell marches and of course a medley of Elvis hits "All Shook Up."
Each musician received a gold record Elvis pin as a special souvenir of the event. The pins are a BCB tradition dating back to our Washington D.C., adventure in 1998. Marilyn Trout had special programs printed by The Brazil Times to hand out to the spectators. Band president and librarian Darlene Shepard once again took care of making sure all the music folders were ready to play.
Our concert was very well-received with Nina Morris congratulating us for a professional performance and the presentation of an official Graceland certificate of which each band member is to receive a copy as a keepsake. Our musicians played so very well and were joined by former BCB members Francis Massinon who is now Professor of French Horn at Austin Peay University in Tennessee along with his wife Bonnie and son Gabriel and also Phil Zent and his wife Ruth from northern Indiana. Phil is a retired band teacher who started his career in Brazil. He taught Francis, Bill McDonald, Darla Scherb and I way back in the 1960s. Sally Russell who now lives near Orlando, Fla., also joined us.
After the concert, we were divided into three groups to tour Graceland. The groups were scheduled eight minutes apart starting at 1 p.m. Naturally, each couple or small group got their photo taken in front of a big poster of Graceland before boarding the shuttle bus, which simply crossed the street and drove up the lane to deposit us at the front door of this fine home which more than one exclaimed did not appear as big as they had in mind. Similar thoughts were expressed when we toured the White House.
Each of us received a headset with a recorded self-guided tour discussing the mansion and each of its distinctly different rooms. Among the rooms were a highly ornate formal dining room, a guest suite, the kitchen and the Jungle Room, all located on the main floor. We were told nothing much had changed since Elvis died Aug. 16, 1977. It was, for sure, 1970s décor, which many of us grew up in. The basement contained two large rooms; the yellow and blue television room with three TVs built into the wall, high tech for its time period and the billiard room with its cloth walls and ceiling. A three-corner tear on the pool table was the result of a misguided pool cue stick made by one of Elvis' friends. No one is allowed to enter the second story since Elvis never allowed visitors on that floor.
Upon exiting the mansion, we walked the grounds to Vernon Presley's private office and the smokehouse where Elvis used to target shoot. From there, we went to the fabulous trophy room. It was here where one learned to appreciate what a great artist Elvis was with hundreds of gold records and several platinum records. We also learned more of his incredible generosity to the people of Memphis with plaques recognizing his charitable contributions through the years.
A special treat for us was the area with Elvis' clothing including outlandish jumpsuits, his wedding attire, movie wardrobe and his army uniform. Upon leaving this awesome display, we went to see not only his grave, but the graves of his parents, grandmother and a monument to his brother who died at birth. This is solemn ground for any Elvis fan and another testimony to his short but extraordinary life. At the head of Elvis' ground cover is an eternal flame.
At this point, we filed to awaiting tour buses which took us back across Elvis Presley Blvd to continue our tour.
Both of our concerts in Memphis were at 11 a.m., and as we were told by the Memphis staff many months ago "Y'all are not used to our heat" was probably good advice although we all agree the hottest concert ever was on the West Steps of the U.S. Capitol Building in '98. Ken Hall, our W.C. Handy Park host, had us all set to play under the shaded pavilion on the park grounds. This was a much more comfortable setting than on Thursday although the venue at Graceland was closer to the audience.
At the Handy Park venue, we were advertised on the marquee but it missed the words "one of" prior to nation's oldest band. We can claim 1858 as our founding date but a handful of east coast bands still in continuous operation go back a few years before us. We played essentially the same concert here and included W. C. (William Christopher) Handy's "Saint Louis Blues March," "Standard Pop Favorites" and "Memories of Stephen Foster" in addition to the Graceland play list. W.C. Handy was the first composer to put the blues down on paper and his Memphis home was just two blocks from the park named in his honor. A statue of W.C. Handy, with trumpet in hand, graces the entrance to the park.
Many of our musicians had solo parts in a variety of selections including Steve Steppe and Martin Dixon, trumpets, Julie Dugger, oboe, Diana Joslin, alto saxophone, Francis Massinon and Darla Scherb, horns, John Huber, euphonium, Evan Deal and Chris Taylor, percussion.
Trombonists Duane Caperton, Buz Burgess, Rick Buehler and Phil Zent were featured in "Lassus Trombone" and Shelley Criss, Janelle Huber and Amy Chandler thrilled the crowd with the famous piccolo obbligato in "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
Our band included: Shelley Criss, Janelle Huber, Jean Penry, Marcia Boswell, Amy Chandler (flutes), Julie Dugger (oboe), Rhonda Hine (bassoon), Alice Greenburg, Marcia Meurer, Jack Malone, John Boruff, Cathy Thompson, Lucy Neal, Joyce Stone, John Penry, Heidi Ellison, Sally Russell (clarinets), Diana Joslin, Matt Balensuela, Jim Deal, Bob Pell (saxophones), Steve Steppe, Martin Dixon, David Brinson, Schuyler Brinson, Andy Whittington, Chris Swearingen, Taylor Criss (trumpets), Francis Massinon, Darla Scherb, Darlene Shepard, Kelley Hall, Betty Niswonger-Green, Brianne Steppe, Miranda Goodale, Bridgett Hofmann (horns), Duane Caperton, Buz Burgess, Rick Buehler, Phil Zent (trombones), John Philip Huber, Chuck Dugger (euphoniums), Wayne Parkins, Chris Sanders, Bill McDonald, Bob Shobe, David Wallen (basses), T.J. Sneddon, Susan Sneddon, Evan Deal, Chris Taylor, David Swearingen (percussion), Melanie Huber (trip coordinator) and Matthew S. Huber (band director).
Our faithful non-players applauded and cheered vigorously for us and we played for well over an hour. We had access to the private musicians' room of the pavilion and noted that many musical artists had signed their names on the wall of the "blue room" through the years. Dr. Duane Caperton, trombonist, made sure we are also immortalized with the fine drawing of a palm tree and Brazil Concert Band etched in permanent black ink.
Friday was the last day for Memphis and everyone made one last trip to Beale Street, the great downtown restaurants and to the shops in the vicinity of Graceland. Judging from the Elvis souvenirs, items of all sort from Beale Street, the hotel bill and restaurants frequented, the BCB and friends contributed highly to the Memphis economy. It was a super trip and the sixth such musical tour planned by Melanie for the Brazil Concert Band since 1998.