Marietta Doctor and D.A. Started Out as Band Directors
Posted on Thursday, February 23rd, 2006
Strike Up the Band: Attorney Gary Brown (with saxophone) and physician Larry D. Powell (with euphonium) value their experiences in music education. They posed on the steps of the Love County Courthouse in Marietta. Photo by Barbara Sessions
(Marietta, OK)-- Here’s a key question: Do music students make better doctors and lawyers?
Take note: Two of Marietta’s leading professionals started their careers as band directors.
Gary Brown, the Love County prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office, and Dr. Larry D. Powell, a physician at Mercy Health/Love County Hospital and Clinic, have more than 20 years in their respective fields but specialized in music before turning to law and medicine.
Both continue to be involved in meaningful ways with student bands or performing groups.
The two men agreed to strike up a conversation (instead of a band) recently to consider whether music instruction and training helps students’ academic performance in other areas.
Brown, who spent more than 14 years on the bench in Seminole County before moving to southern Oklahoma in 1995, has been a judge of musical talent even longer.
Television viewers from around the world will see for themselves on January 1 when the Oklahoma Centennial All*Star Band performs the opening show of the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, CA.
Brown served as one of three audition judges for the 150-member band, made up of high school students from across Oklahoma.
More than 400 million people in at least 125 countries will see the Rose Parade on television. About 800,000 people will line the 5.5 mile parade route, according to Paul Holman, Tournament of Roses president.
After hearing the band rehearse in Oklahoma City in September, Holman called it one of the best he’s ever heard. He praised the directors for finding “the very best musicians.”
“These kids are all at the top of their game. They’re as good as it gets,” he added.
The All*Star Band led the Parade of the Century in Tulsa on November 18, the opening event in the yearlong celebration of Oklahoma’s 100th anniversary.
The band has scheduled 10 more appearances in Oklahoma during 2007, capped by the Statehood Day Parade in Guthrie, the Territorial Capitol and original State Capitol, on November 16, 2007.
Brown and his wife, Jo Ellen, who live at Falconhead, will take in the Rose Bowl Parade.
Jo Ellen Brown is one of numerous “sponsors” for every band performance. “Each sponsor chaperones eight kids during the trips and we keep in touch with them between trips,” she said.
Two of the students in her care are from the area. They are Kyle Jolliff, who plays tenor sax in the band and is from Lone Grove High School, and Jamie Estep, a snare drummer from Ardmore High School.
Auditions for the band took place last spring and the Browns also attended several of the band’s practices during the summer. “This has been an exciting experience for both Gary and me,” Jo Ellen Brown said.
Gary Brown also served as an audition judge for the State Fair of Oklahoma High School Honor Band during the 1980’s. This was the model for the Oklahoma Centennial All*Star Band.
Brown credited a former colleague, Charles Jones, with the idea for both bands.
“Charles Jones and I met as band directors in Norman. One of my students had played one summer as a trombonist in the Disney Band that marches everyday down Main Street USA at Disneyland. That gave Charles the idea to create a band every year made up of Oklahoma high school students to give performances and see what it would be like to be professional musicians.
“Later, Charles joined the Walt Disney Company and then formed a performance entertainment company. He was engaged by the Oklahoma Centennial Commission to produce the All*Star Band,” Brown said.
“Charles followed me into law school, but he didn’t follow me out,” Brown added with a smile.
Brown said he had always aspired to be a lawyer and changed careers after 14 years as a band director in the Erick, Thomas, and Norman school systems. A saxophonist, Brown played in the Oklahoma National Guard band as part of his military obligation during some of this period.
He credits music performance and training with providing preparation skills for other endeavors like law school and trying cases.
“When I was a judge I had former band members appear before me as lawyers. Others became doctors or entered other professions. I think music studies helped them like they helped me,” Brown said.
Like Brown, Dr. Powell’s primary interest as a youth lay in music. “I started playing trumpet in sixth grade, moved to tuba in eighth grade, then in my junior and senior years in high school, I added bassoon and alto saxophone. I planned to become a band director,” he said
Another early influence was Hank Williams Sr. The legendary country singer and songwriter lived for a time in Powell’s Bossier City, LA neighborhood (think "Jambalaya On the Bayou”) while appearing regularly on the famed Louisiana Hayride radio show in nearby Shreveport.
“I had polio as a young child and required a brace on my right leg until I fully recovered. Williams took a special interest in me and became a family friend,” Powell said.
Powell entered a Louisiana college on a music scholarship and, upon graduation in 1970, accepted a job as director of bands at Satsuma High School in Mobile County, Alabama.
After five years, Powell decided to pursue a long-standing interest in the sciences. He completed a degree in chemistry at Centenary College in Shreveport, and then followed up with an M.D. degree from LSU-Shreveport in 1982.
Professional engagements helped pay for graduate school. He played tuba in the Shreveport Symphony, the Shreveport Opera Orchestra, the Shreveport Brass Quintet and for events as diverse as rodeos, circuses and 4th of July celebrations.
For the past 25 years, Powell has been a devoted fan of youth drum and bugle corps.
Attending and supporting competitions has put him back in touch with young people (all performers are ages 16-21), and he describes the experience of seeing a top show as “almost too perfect for anyone trained in music to bear.”
During the competitive season, June through August, corps from around the world perform on the Drum Corps International (DCI) circuit. Powell regularly schedules his vacation to take in the finals.
Performances take place on football fields before crowds of up to 35,000 spectators. Each corps consists of brass, percussion, and color guard, and may have upwards of 135 members.
The brass and percussion provide the music, while the color guard handles the flags and other props that enhance a performance. It is not just straight-line marching they do. To the contrary, the creative combination of music, movement, color, and dance during a typical 11-minute show makes the high-level entertainment.
Each corps is a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching young people life skills including discipline, teamwork, and leadership. The top 24 units have many college music majors involved in the activity. These are the groups Powell follows.
“After seeing my first show in 1983, I was hooked. The live experience just can’t be duplicated . . . .The sound pressure drills into you. There are so many visuals on the field, it’s a feat for the eyes to try to see it all. The formations, the absolutely precise movements of musicians and instruments, the flags twirling and being tossed, rifles being spun and tossed -- almost impossible to take it all in. Insofar as the musical performance, it’s as professional as anyone would hear anywhere in the world.
“These kids are talented to begin with, and with three months of honing every movement and every note in 4-6 hours per day of rehearsals, the sound really is perfect,” he said.
Over the years, he has been part of a group of DCI supporters that provides scholarships to drum corps members who need help paying participation fees.
And it’s in thinking about the total immersion skills required for drum corps that Powell finds evidence that musical training makes good students.
“If you have practiced the concentration and focus required in musical performance, you can do biology, chemistry, law, anything requiring thinking in a sophisticated way,” he said. “Much of reading and playing music is actually math,” Powell added.
The family practitioner joined Mercy Health/Love County in 2002, and is one of four physicians on the staff. He lives at Overbrook.
Neither he nor Brown is currently involved in playing an instrument, but both perked up when talk of forming a community “Big Band” began to emanate from Ardmore. If it happens, count the doctor and the lawyer among the likely performers.
Editor’s Note: For more on the Oklahoma Centennial All*Star Band, go to www.okcentennialband.com. For more on Drum Corps International, go to www.dci.org.