The Music Man Died
My heart is saddened as I think about losing someone as dear as Charlie Sanders.
My five siblings and I were all in chorus at Central High School, spanning a period of seventeen years. Though we were taught a love for music at home, Charlie expanded that love as he exposed us to different genres of music. We learned music theory, diction, and how to crescendo and decrescendo, among other elements of vocal presentation.
To sit under his tutelage was like unto learning to paint from Picasso. Mixed Chorus, meaning boys and girls, met during the first class period of the day. What a way to start the day! We warmed up doing scales. The first sopranos climbed the scales to a B flat and sometimes higher, though we started coughing and squeaking at about that range.
We learned every type of music, music that often contained eight part harmony. He taught us to listen to each other as we sang, so that we could learn to blend our voices. This is what produced such a rich sound.
Our high school auditorium was large, but not big enough to seat all the people who wanted to hear our concerts, so Charlie had to rent the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, which seats more than a thousand people. We sold out every night we performed!
Every year, at our Christmas concert, we sang two songs in partictular. “The Little Drummer Boy”, and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” For those numbers, he put some of us in the balcony, for surround sound effect. I recall how he would get teary eyed as he relayed how the little drummer boy would have felt to play for the Christ child. He made us feel like we were that child, so that when we performed the song, it really came from the heart. He had that gift to pull music out of your soul.
His teaching produced many successful musicians. One of the girls in my class has owned an Opera House in New York City for twenty-five years.
Sometimes he would get mad at us and break his baton on the music stand or break a pencil in two. That usually settled us down. Mixed Chorus was my first period class. I hadn’t completed an assignment for Mr. Douglas’s Civics class so I was working on it during chorus. Mr. Sanders stopped the choir, pointed at me and said, “Pamela, whose class are you doing homework for?”. I was mortified, but I answered, “Mr. Douglas’ Civics Class.” to which he replied, “Well, since you have been doing Civics in Chorus, you can sing a solo in Civics.” My face was still burning red when the bell rang. He marched me down to Mr. Dougalas’ class and stood there while I sang for the class. It was one of the most embarrassing moments in my life! LOL I never did homework during Chorus or any other class after that!
He was a guest at our dinner table on several occasions before I was old enough to go to CHS. About three years ago, I was visiting my sister Donna, in Knoxville. She had invited Charlie over that night. I hadn’t seen him since high school, but he hadn’t changed a bit. We laughed as I recounted the incident regarding my homework. What a blessing and honor it was to stand beside him and sing, as my sister played the piano. That night he shared with us about the cantatas he had written. He loved his church choir, too. He had planned to retire at 70, but was still going strong until five weeks ago. He slipped away peacefully this morning.
Memories of CHS and chorus flooded my mind. My mind’s eye can still visualize the people in that room. I remember the musical Carnival that we did with Modern Dance Troupe, and what a thrill it was for all of us to sing in the Knoxville Civic Auditorium. No other high school choirs could compare to those of Charlie Sanders.
A couple of years ago I took the album we made in 1967 and had it put on CD. It’s a bit scratchy here and there, but The Little Drummer boy is still clear as a bell. I worked for hours this morning trying to apply it to this post, but I am not computer savvy enough to do it.
Charlie will be missed here on earth, but we know that he will live forever in heaven, about which he sang nearly all of his life.
At this holiday season, he would be the first to say, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
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