Posted in Personal Journal Blog

The Leader of the Band


I had many music teachers who touched my life and influenced me but none more so than Merrill Jerome Edwards. Jerome was my marching, symphonic, and jazz band director, instrumental studies teacher, church choir director, role model, and at one point, my rock.

I remember my freshman year, sitting in the back of the band room on the last row with my clarinet, which I didn’t play very well (hence the last row). I was in marching band only because I wanted to be the lead singer for the high school jazz band, which I had spent three years in middle school preparing for with my then band director Harold Moyer (also a dedicated teacher who introduced me to the whole idea of singing with a jazz band or any band for that matter). You see, if you weren’t in the marching band, you couldn’t be in the jazz band, so there I was, one of the last chair clarinet players (a small price to pay for high school stardom).

Mr. Edwards quite frankly scared me! He was an ex-marine who had the features of our school mascot, the Golden Eagle. His steel-blue piercing eyes were deep-set on either side of his strong nose, his head set atop squared-off shoulders, a flat top military haircut, and high forehead. When he spoke, his voice boomed and rattled the bass drums lined up at the back of the room. He took his position as the Golden Eagle Marching band leader very seriously and expected his students to take pride in their involvement and do the same. Mr. Edwards disciplined us to through a military demerit system displayed on the wall behind the music chalkboard. If you were late, demerit, if you talked when he talked, demerit, if your uniform was in disarray when it came time to perform, demerit. Mr. Edwards wasn’t just there to bark orders and give demerits, though; he inspired us with his cheesy whit and stories of overcoming adversity, having integrity, and showing initiative. He detested apathy and spelled out the damaging long-term effects of being apathetic to his class regularly; as you can imagine, he was dealing with 13-18-year-old students who were in their most apathetic stage of life.

Mr. Edwards and the Golden Eagle Mascot

Mr. Edwards nurtured with strength and always laid it on the line. My first encounters with him included auditioning for the jazz band (I was the lead singer for four years) and asking if I could go to his office to purchase new reeds or cork grease for my instrument. Every time I approached to speak to him up on his conductor’s riser, I felt intimidated. I had no father figure at home, and men were bad in my mind. He would look down at me as I asked him my question and say, “look me in the eyes when you talk to me, Jeri Moore.” My eyes would have rolled out of my head before I’d have the nerve to follow that simple order. He said, “no one will ever take you seriously if you don’t look them in the eye.” It took me a good year and a half before I could stand eye to eye with him and feel confident. He was strengthening me, and I didn’t even know it.

It was clear very early in my freshman year that I had to drop my marching band instrument and twirl a baton to stay in the marching band to stay in jazz band. We live in Florida, and I don’t know who thought WOOL marching band uniforms in 90-degree heat with 78 percent humidity was a good idea, but we had to wear them, and it was murder. On top of the smothering comfort of the uniform, I was and still am very allergic to wool. As a result, I passed out at one of the first football games we marched in, and my body swelled all over. Of course, we didn’t know I was allergic to wool because I never had to wear it growing up in the Deep South. We needed a solution to this problem, or I would have to quit the band. Mr. Edwards quickly introduced me to Arianne Crawford, the captain of the majorette squad, who gave me express lessons on how to twirl, chose an audition song with me, and taught me a routine. By the end of the marching season, I was ready to try out and made the squad, never having to put on that nasty hot navy blue uniform again. My teacher’s tenacity taught me to overcome problems if I could come up with a solution. Not always something taught in school. I was also encouraged to use my common sense. Mr. Edwards made me accountable in many ways. For instance, by having to be in the marching band and on the majorette squad to be in the jazz band, my teacher developed this network of projects and people I had to report to who made me take ownership of the function I was there to perform. He was very clever.

Me! In the white keds and skimpy uniform to the right of the drum major front row center.

I needed the discipline I received from being a part of Mr. Edwards classes. I grew up in a household with a single mother, and as the youngest child of 5, my siblings had moved on in their own lives, and there was not a great deal of continuity and stability at home. Things were pretty fluid and inconsistent when it came to parental discipline during my high school years, and I needed just the kind of strict leadership Mr. Edwards had to offer. The lessons I learned as his student are valuable ones I have used repeatedly as a college student, employee, lead singer in pop bands, mother, and wife.

There was a point in my high school years when Mr. Edwards became more than the formative figure of leadership and musical power in my life. Around the end of my 10th-grade year, and as I got to know his sons in the youth group at our local church where we all attended youth choir with him as our leader, he became Jerome or Burr. (I’m not sure if we ever called him Burr to his face or not, but we thought it was funny either way). Jerome became a person who joked with us between songs and conducted our music sessions more casually. He made me feel welcome and treated me with respect as a musician while praising my abilities and encouraging me to solo often. I appreciated this so much. It was one thing to have applause from an audience or praise from your mom or family for your accomplishments but, it meant everything and had so much more value from a respected musician in the community who just happened to be somewhat of a father figure. I can’t imagine how many people felt this way about this man. He has touched so many lives throughout his career, and I know many of them admired him. Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Edwards was not a perfect person; everyone has their flaws, but he cared about his students, and he knew how to get the most out of us, and that was his superpower.

Me! Second second person standing in the back.

The defining moment in our student-teacher friendship came when I was in a moment of crisis. I struggled with some weighty boy issues and was doing everything I could to keep it to myself. Jerome could see I was hurting, though. My emotion came through when I sang or as I played the piano, and he could see me sinking into myself in class. I’m not sure if anyone else noticed me silently begging for a lifeline or not at that point. Still, he pulled me aside after class one day and let me know I wasn’t alone, that he would stand by me if I ever needed an adult to confide in, and assured me I would be ok. Our conversation wasn’t prolific, and his actions weren’t superb; he simply gave me a moment of assurance and safety. He said, “I see you, I got you,” in the only way Burr knew how and that gave me strength.

I was gifted with a voice but got lost in the shuffle of home and out-of-control teen issues. This teacher, bandleader, father and faith leader was an adult who seemed never changing, stable, and someone that I could trust. For as long as I can remember, he believed in me not just as a student who could be a success someday but as a human being. He could see the good in me even when I didn’t feel good enough. And in those times when I wasn’t good enough, Mr. Edwards, Jerome, Burr inspired me to be better, not because it mattered what others thought of me but because having integrity was essential and it mattered what I thought of me.

So, I dedicate this story to Merrill Jerome Edwards and hope that my words will reach and touch him the way his presence in my life reached me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I learned to at bassoon to be symphonic band. Mr. Edwards told me I could learn to at it quickly so I did.

Author:

I have had a wonderfully colorful life, rich with varied experiences. My ability as a singer and career as an administrative assistant/marketing communications manager; have presented me with a wide range of opportunities. I have been fortunate to work with and learn from some accomplished and intelligent business owners, executives and artists. I have explored the world, markets and non-profits I would have never dreamed of exploring. I started out performing in community theater then professionally in night clubs and working as a studio vocalist at the age of 12 in Naples Florida, my home town. My vocal studies began at the age of 8 with my mother who gave me my first vocal lessons. I have had the opportunity to learn with some talented vocal coaches since those lessons with my mother. With them I developed the ability to sing Classical, Jazz and Pop; which allowed me to make a living in the music industry for over 30 years, in America, Europe and NZ. I became proficient in handling the business end of performing and teaching and developed administrative skills that would be used more prominently later on in my life, which I cover further down in this piece. I managed all my own performance bookings and began promoting myself as an up and coming singer, beating the pavement in Nashville TN and learned how to sell my talents in a place where everyone and their mother can sing. Performing in front of large audiences has forced me to be more than skilled at holding my own. I have also been a studio singer and voice over artist, taught choir and private lessons and was the president of a local non-profit music school in NZ for 3 years. Once my husband and I began a family, my career focus shifted more to assisting others in their businesses, along with marketing and often selling their products. I took on the roles of Sales, Marketing Communications and Administrative Assistant full time. Environments where I have worked in these capacities have varied. The most joy I find in my career is having the ability to tap into my creative side where I have been encouraged to indulge in my love for creative and copy writing, both personally and for professionally. I worked in our own residential and commercial playground company and for a Website development/social media management company and cherished watching the birth of our new products become known to the public and seeing our client base grow. I have developed the skill for marketing and promoting products and services through the written word, but I am also a strong and persuasive sales person face to face. We moved from NZ where we had been for 12 yrs, back to Naples Florida in 2015. I took the position as the Administrative Assistant to the Pastor, at the church I grew up in. In my position there I used every skilled I had acquired over my lifetime, from administrative to performing as a vocalist/worship leader. I am a passionate employee and business woman and find it easy to fully immerse myself in my work while still finding joy in the day to day, what I do and the people in my life. My passions are still singing, promoting, creative writing, encouraging others to pursue their dreams while achieve their goals and being outdoors. I love my hometown of Naples and take advantage of all the beauty and outdoor opportunities it has to offer on a regular basis. Being an active person I work best when on the move and busy, socializing and intellectually stimulated. I also thrive in a situation where I have the opportunity to continue learning new skills. I work on being the best version of myself and strive to give it my best shot every day.

3 thoughts on “The Leader of the Band

  1. How fortunate we are to have those mentors in our young lives Jeri. Those who can see beyond the exterior and encourage us to be the best version of ourselves. My childhood was not easy and I often got picked on. But now I allow my self to sing at the top of my lungs and dance like no one is watching. A big thank you to those who care enough to share our journey and walk alongside of us towards our dreams.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an amazing story. I know many including myself wish we could go back in time and talk to Burr before he passed. You however did and I hope he read it. The last time I saw Jerome I was running through Baker Park and by the time I realized it was him and his wife, I had already passed them and figured I’d either catch up another time or see him on my return. I never saw him again. While I ran I thought about all the things I would say. I was in Mrs Edward’s 2nd grade class and even at 7, knew I wanted to be in the NHS band and was on my best behavior in her class so maybe she would tell her husband that I was an ok kid. At the point I saw them in the park, the community band I was playing with was working on Basie Straight Ahead. All of those old arrangements especially the ones that we took to state are still burned in my mind and 35 years later those NHS jazz band songs seem easy. They come back as if I just finished a 1986 rehearsal. I just wish I had turned around that day to share that with him. I also realize that I am the only one bothered by that. What I mean is I know that there must be 100’s of former students that have approached him over the years with their stories. I’m sure in his last days his head was full of the memories of the lives that he changed or at least made a little better. Love your story and hope if you are not singing now you start back.

    David Gray

    Liked by 1 person

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