John Devorick

Mr. Llewellyn

June 12, 2023

I came across this writing prompt a few days ago: “Write something about someone who has inspired or influenced you.” Naturally, I thought about Mr. Llewelyn.

Rees Llewellyn (what an terrific name) was my band director from seventh grade through tenth grade at Camp Hill High School, near Harrisburg, PA. Since this was a very long time ago (I’m old), you have to imagine what life was like in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. No TikTok, no Facebook, no video games or cell phones. In other words, it was the age of the dinosaurs. What we had was a tradition of a unique approach to band, both during marching season and during the rest of the school year. You see, our marching band marched fast, about 120 beats per minute. We played LOUD. And in the momentous year of 1969, our band was invited to participate in the Orange Bowl Parade in Miami, Florida, on New Year’s Eve. And although I was only thirteen years old and in the eighth grade, I was going to Florida with my trombone and wool uniform in tow.

This was before the days when just about every school band takes impressive trips quite frequently, flying off to Disney World without a second thought. This was a BIG deal, especially in our little town of Camp Hill. A fund-raising scheme was put into motion. Most of the businesses in the area contributed (and those that did not joined an ignominious list of evil capitalists to be boycotted). I believe the original plan was to fly to Miami, but when this was deemed impossible, we decided to go there on school buses. Yes, you heard that correctly. Not the ultra-luxurious rolling mansions we have today, but school buses: no air conditioning, no bathrooms, etc. Google Maps says this is about an eighteen and a half hour ride.

In a strange way, I remember this as being fun. The cool thing was that we obviously could not travel non-stop, so we took our time getting there, staying over three nights in various locations on the way. Although my memory is hazy about this, it was probably something like a first night in the Carolinas, a night somewhere in eastern Georgia, and one in northern Florida. Along the way, we visited Kennedy Space Center, as it was called then, and the Everglades. Each new motel was an adventure.

Suffice it to say, this trip was the highlight of my high school years. But I want to say more about Mr. Llewellyn. He was young, he had long-ish hair, he was rumored to have been to Woodstock. We worshipped him. For concert band, our repertoire was nearly all symphonic transcriptions. The music he chose was like it had been picked by an algorhythm designed to appeal to teenage boys: Shostakovich Festive Overture, Wagner Lohengrin (Prelude to Act III), Beethoven Fifth Symphony (yes, the whole thing), and our all-time favorite, The Pines of the Appian Way by Respighi. These heroic pieces grabbed us by our pubescent ears, and forced us to pay attention to classical music. What it lacked in subtlety it more than made up for with drama, angst, and power. We loved playing it.

There were two years during which we made recordings, later distributed on vinyl LP records. A few years ago, someone digitized these recordings, and I was able to listen to them again. I was half expecting that the passing decades had made me idealize our performances, that the records would expose that we weren’t really all that good. But precisely the opposite happened. The tempos were crisp, the clarinets flew through parts written for violins, and the brass and percussion provided power and drama. We really did capture lightning in a musical bottle.

I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without Mr. Llewellyn’s passion for music, and although I have not picked up a trombone in over forty years, it was my passport to a whole world. In 2019 we held a fiftieth reunion of the people who had been on the Orange Bowl trip. Mr. Llewellyn, who lives in Virginia, was able to attend. I got to tell him in person how grateful I am for what he brought into my life.

One of our Camp Hill Band record albums, circa 1969. Mr. Llewellyn is pictured in the upper left.
Mr. Llewellyn and me in October, 2019
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