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Comments by Douglas Yeo
Given before members of the New England Brass Band
On the occasion of his retirement as Music Director of the NEBB (1998-2008)

June 1, 2008
In concert at
Hope Church, Lenox, Massachusetts

In the fall of 1997, I began discussions with the New England Brass Band Board of Directors about the possibility of my taking over the position of Music Director with the Band from William Rollins who had led the band since its founding in 1988. Little did I know where those discussions would go and how they would forever change my life.

In the last few months I have said many words to you about my years with the band. But there are a few more things to be said - and things that can only be said on this day, the day of our last concert together.

Since last October, when I announced my decision to put down my baton after this evening's concert, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the thousands of hours we have shared together. I have sat in my favorite chair in my living room with a file folder full of NEBB programs in it, examining every program, recalling every piece, and thinking about every person who has come through the NEBB over the last 10 years. Some of that reflection has made me smile, even laugh. Some of it has brought tears. Just think of the sheer amount of time we have spent together. On nearly every Monday night from September until June, we have spent several hours in rehearsal. Add to that five to 10 concerts each season all over New England. Trips together to the NABBA Championships in Washington DC, Little Rock, Charleston and Louisville. Concerts in Montclair and New York City. Band Board of Directors meetings each month. 10 Recording sessions in Symphony Hall. Auditions. It has added up to a great deal of shared time during which I have gotten to know each of you in some measure beyond what you bring to the NEBB with your mouthpiece or mallets in hand.

As you know, I first came to know of the NEBB in 1996 when I was preparing to record my first solo compact disc, Proclamation, with the Black Dyke Mills Band. Bill Rollins graciously gave me part of two rehearsals to read through the music I would be recording with Black Dyke. I was very grateful for those rehearsals although I had no idea that those hours together would lead to a much deeper involvement with the band. After I was named music director in the spring of 1998 - to take effect that fall - I conducted the band in an all day clinic at Waterville Valley, New Hampshire in May of that year, the first time I stood in front of the band with a baton in hand.

My first rehearsal with the NEBB was on September 14, 1998. How could I remember that date? Because when I got home from that rehearsal, there was a message waiting for me in my email "IN" box. It was from Bill Rollins. Bill wrote, in part,

I trust that your first official rehearsal tonight with NEBB was productive. I couldn't help but feel excited that they are beginning a new venture for a higher level of proficiency. HAVE A BLAST!!!!!

I think we have.

In what is one of the most remarkable things I have reflected on in recent months, there are 15 of you here today who played in my first concert with the NEBB. December 5, 1998 at the Wilmington Congrgational Church. Half of that band is still with us - 10 years later. Think about it.

Stan Whitlock. Dennis Caron. Charlene Piercey. Randy LaRosa. John Bassett. Isabel Tappan-deFrees. Peter Wiberg. Leanna Conant. Ken Griffin. John Procter. Steve Piercey. Pat Yeo. Don Kittle. Bill Conant. Dora Kastanas.

You have stuck with the NEBB through my entire tenure with the band. A few of you - Leanna, Ken, Don and Bill - actually have been with the NEBB since its first days in 1988 - and even further back as members of the Cambridge Corps Silver Band, the band from which the idea of the New England Brass Band was formed.

To paraphrase someone much wiser than me, "You I have had always." As I look at that first concert program from December 1998, I am also struck with the names of those who are were in the band when I first began conducting it but are no longer with the band, each of whom has a story to tell and who have a piece in the history of the NEBB. Some of you will remember them: John Appleby. Ken McCance. Gary Perrett. Robin Yeo. Leigh Burns. Chester and David Schmitz. Drew Currie, Hugh Wiberg. Dave Begnoche. Tom Milne. Bob Stoll. Scott Bullock. Colin Chambers. Justin Hadley. Several others.

Those names bring back strong memories - most very pleasant and some less so - as do the names of the many others who have come in and out of the NEBB over the years. People like Don Lucas and Kevin Maloney. Linda Millenbach. Keith Elder. Rob Hardy. Armen Dohanian. Mark Mashburn. Mark Fabulich. Stephanie Watts and Elizabeth Jewell. Ruth Hayes. Rachel Hockenberry. Brad Kerns. Linda Yeo. Pete Sexauer. John Parillo and Jeff Smith.

And over the years we've had a number of substitute players who have also left an imprint. Joe Foley. Mike Roylance. Ken Amis. Terry Everson's dad, Terry. John Stubbings. And numerous others.

And then there are those of you here tonight who joined the NEBB since my first concert with the band: Dave Hall. Terry Martin. Roy Miller. Jen Whitlock. John Collins. Spencer Aston. Rick Castillo. Leif Reslow. Rachel Paczkowski. Al Stickland. Steve Noel. Lee Jacobs. Bill Gray. Stephen Lee.

Finally, there are those who have been so supportive of the band - friends and family members who have helped us in innumerable ways: Beth Tappan-deFrees, Barbara Wiberg, Stan Kastanas, Alison Hardy, John W. and Matthew Spillane, and our many friends in the Symphony Hall Stage and House Crews.

Each of these people - and each of you - are part of this band's story. And what a story it has been.

Before I came on as Music Director in 1998, I laid out my agenda for leading the band in a lengthy email message to the NEBB board. It was still many months before I would actually stand in front of the band as its conductor, but I wanted to lay out some of my vision for the band so the board - and the band - would know what they would be getting with me. As I look back on that email message, I have to smile. Does any of this sound familiar to you? I quote, in part:

My desire would be to help the band members, individually and as a group, attain the highest level of musicianship they can consistent with the desire the band has to have the group always remain fun to play in...

There are two kinds of conductors in the world: conductors who make the group play well and conductors who make the group WANT to play well. I hope to be in the latter category, modeling by my actions and voice what I hope others would do, while at the same time having a good time together. I do not rule with an iron rod nor with a piece of cooked spaghetti. We will all be friends and will work together toward the mutual goals of the band...

I would like to see the NEBB become more connected with other like groups around the country; we have much we can learn from them and much we can offer as well. Hence, I would want the band to join the North American Brass Band Association so we can benefit from that association...

The Band Board will determine the direction of the band, but I certainly see it within the realm of possibility that the NEBB may want to at some point consider competing in, or at least attending, brass band festivals, in addition to making a recording, attracting top level soloists, and embarking on new kinds of concerts...

I have a limitless supply of ideas and I will propose them for the consideration of the board. I will not "push" any agenda on the group, but rather hope that after a few months of being together, we will all see that we are all working together toward similar goals. Big plans require money, fund raising, personal sacrifice of time and money, and much more. If we all agree to work toward a particular goal, I am with you all. I will feel free to propose ideas to the board for their consideration. I never wish to have, "we've always done it a different way way" or "we've never done that way" be the sole reason we don't undertake something new. We will work together to discuss pros and cons of any reasonable thought or idea and together decide what is the best way for the band to proceed...

Ten years after writing those words, I think we can say we did a pretty good job together. I cast a vision and the band members embraced it. I do remember the first board meeting in 1998, when I proposed that we make our first recording in Symphony Hall in January 1999. There were those who were skeptical of how we could make it work. But we did. And we did it again. And again. And again. And again. Those five recordings we made - Christmas Joy!, Honour and Glory, The Light of the World, This is Christmas and Be Glad Then America - stand as tangible proof of a musical time shared together. Those 69 pieces we recorded show a tremendous breadth of brass band repertoire. Christmas music, sacred music, contest test pieces, popular music, solos, movie music, world premiere recordings.

Our recordings came together because all of you - and those who came before you - embraced the work needed to make them. NEBB players brought their very best to recording sessions. We had one of the best recording engineers and editors in the business - Brad Michel (and let us not forget Tony DiBartolo who also served as engineer on a few sessions when Brad was not available). Tom Daly at Crooked Cove Records helped shepherd them through the production phase. Together we were able to work out how to pay for making the recordings so we could reap the tremendous financial windfall that the sales of those CDs would bring to the band.

Many of you were in the band when we had that first recording session on January 16, 1999. Could we ever forget the feeling we had when I cut off the last chord of our first warmup piece in that historic concert hall - the sound of the NEBB going on, and on, and on, sounding like we never knew it sounded. And then the quiet. Nobody spoke. We just savored the moment. There were a few sniffles, and a number of you told me later of the lump you had in your throat. And then it was on to record, "Christmas Joy!" Brad said, "We're rolling," and we were. That our newest recording, Be Glad Then America won the North American Brass Band Association's 2007 "Recording of the Year" award is a tremendous crown on this sucessful period of time in the band's history.

And then there were those NABBA Championships. While the New England Brass Band had not done much contesting before I came on as conductor, I felt that being part of the NABBA experience would reap great rewards for the band. Those rewards go far beyond trophies and banners. We have learned so much in the preparation that led up to our six NABBA Championships performances. Those experiences led us to play music that we might never had considered playing. "Isaiah 40." "Spectrum." "Images In Brass." "The Year of the Dragon." "Journey Into Freedom." We know every possible emotion that a band competing at a NABBA contest can feel. We know what it is like to come in fifth place. And fourth. And third. And second. And first. Twice. Members of the band have competed in the solo and small ensemble contests. All have distinguished themselves beyond the plaques some of them have won. To me, a highlight of the NABBA experience has always been seeing the NEBB members, dressed in our grey polo shirts and black trousers, moving en masse from room to room, supporting our friends who are playing in the solo and small ensemble contest. The support and love shown in those moments are, to me, unforgettable.

Going to the NABBA Championships has required me to push all of you. You have worked hard every time we have gone to the contest. I also know that sometimes the music has been a stretch for some of our players. And sometimes I've pushed a little too hard. I have deeply appreciated your willingness to try to play over your head on occasion. You have always made me very proud at the NABBA Championships - no matter what the result - and those Championships have been a very big part of the "continuous improvement" that we have experienced in recent years.

Yet as important as all of these accomplishments have been - and they have been many, they have been significant, and they have been very rewarding - it is the people who make up the NEBB who are its crown and glory. Each of you present tonight are individually valued by me and by the other members of the band. Whether you have been here for 10 years - or longer - or only for a few months, you need to know how much I appreciate all you have done for the New England Brass Band. We are a group of people with widely divergent levels of musical accomplishment. Each of you has brought the best of what you have to the table. In this, we have been able to do some tremendous things on the musical level. Some of you have served on the NEBB Board of Directors. You deserve special thanks from me. You have willingly served in order to implement the vision I have cast for the band. As the band moves forward, your work continues to be critical for the future success of the NEBB and you have my deep, deep gratitude.

Others of you help with a "merry heart" in other ways. Some of you have been regulars in helping to move our percussion equipment to concert venues. This is hard work, takes up a great deal of time, and may seemingly go unnoticed. I assure you it is not unnoticed. I appreciate your willingness to do this and I know all of our band members appreciate this as well.

There are still others who faithfully arrive at the Wilmington Congregational Church (where we rehearse each week) and our concert venues early each week to help set up, and others who stay late after rehearsal to put away equipment and re-set the room. Again, you do this work quietly and without any fanfare. But you have my thanks.

That so many members of the band have helped in these tangible ways is an indication of the most important aspect of what the NEBB is all about - we are a group of people who come together to make music at the highest level our abilities will allow us, who, at the same time, enjoy each other's company and work together on the many tasks that are required to keep the band moving forward.

While I appreciate each of you in unique ways, and I could speak for another hour about the particular gifts, talents and personality each of you bring to the NEBB, I do want to thank several people in particular. I know you will not begrudge my singling out these people for special thanks because I am confident you share many of my thoughts and much of my appreciation as well.

First, I thank Bill Rollins. Bill served the NEBB faithfully as its music director for its first nine seasons. I have rarely met such a gentle, kind and well-mannered person as Bill. He is also a fine musician - a conductor, a performer, a leader and an administrator. The labor of love that was his vision in being the founding conductor of the NEBB will always be with this band. Since 1998, he has been the model of a music director emeritus. Bill has never - not once - tried to interfere with my leadership of the band. Rather, when the baton was passed to me, he offered his support and waited for me to call. And I have called him. When I did, for advice, or to ask for his help, he was always ready to do all he could for me. He is a model of Christian love and kindness and I count it a privilege to call him "brother." Bill was a good steward of the NEBB when it was entrusted to his care. I can only hope that 10 years from now, people might look back on my time working with the band the way I look at Bill's tenure, and can appreciate it in the way that I appreciate Bill's work in handing such a fine group over to me.

Ken Griffin, you have been the band's President for most of my time with the NEBB. You have become a friend and a confidant, a trusted ear and a co-laborer in all we have done together. I have come to you for advice on many occasions; you have an important historical perspective about the NEBB and many of the people who have been a part of it. As the band's principal euphonium when I came to the band, we shared many special musical moments together. When, several years ago, you left the band for a time so you and your wife could care for your grandchildren - an heroic deed that continues to have my admiration - you kept the NEBB close to you. When events led you to be able to rejoin the band, we had since filled your euphonium chair with the very capable Leif Reslow, and when I suggested we would have a spot for you if you played trombone, you bought a trombone, taught yourself to play it, and came back to us in a new role. Thank you, Dr. Watson, for your humor, your friendship, your playing, and your work in leading the band board of directors for so many years.

Peter Wiberg is one of the most intriguing people I have ever met. The Peter I know today is not the Peter that was known before I came to the band. Most of you are aware of the head injury Peter sustained when a tree fell on him shortly before I came to the band. Peter's life changed forever. I am told that there are aspects of Peter's personality that changed as a result. I don't know - I have only known the Peter I see today. And this Peter is someone I love and care about very much. Pete, while you may not always be able to find the right word, I learned very early in my tenure with the band that if I was patient with you, I would often get sound advice and good counsel. In the NEBB's dark days in 2003, when former members of the band sued the band , nobody suffered more than you. Yet you stuck with the band - your musical "family" - and have worked tirelessly as our personnel manager, board member and helper in so many ways. You have always called me, "Professor," and I am glad that that I can call you, "friend."

Concerts are the life-blood of any musical organization. We love to rehearse and enjoy time together in fellowship, but to put ourselves before an audience allows us to experience that white-hot crucible that requires us to put our very best forward. For as long as I have been with the NEBB - and for many years before I arrived - John Bassett has been the band's engagement coordinator. Our concerts do not just mysteriously appear on our calendar. They happen because John has tirelessly worked to cultivate relationships with concert venues all around New England. He has put together a great many churches, schools and concert halls where we have been able to perform, and that we get asked to return to many of them is a testament to John's personal interaction with those who host our concerts. John, you have performed this task admirably, and you have the thanks of every band member. Your cheerful manner has been a bright spot for me and I treasure the interactions we have had on many subjects of mutual interest that go beyond the band. Shalom, my friend.

A brass band without music to play is mute - like a painting of instrumentalists who look active and full of passion but who can make no sound. And in order to have music, you need a librarian. Stan Whitlock, you have been a tremendous help to me in these 10 years as you have served so ably as the band's keeper of music. Each season, dozens of pieces of music have come through the folders of each band member. It is easy for us to take for granted the fact that new music appears on our stands from time to time, as if it mysteriously fell from the sky. But we know better. We know that you spend countless hours each season organizing, distributing and collecting the music we play. You have always responded to my last minute requests with a cheerful, "can do" attitude. And as if this was not enough, you have generously supported the band in special ways that have blessed us with new equipment such as our extraordinary rack of Deagan/Yamaha chimes, the envy of any brass band in the world. And while it is clear that when it comes to the band's music, you are, "He who must be obeyed," I want you to know how much I have appreciated your dedicated service as our librarian, sitting, as you do, atop the band, with your little soprano cornet in hand.

Every group has a person that is the one that really allows it to work. We have Isabel Tappan-deFrees. Izzy is a fine horn player - a person who has high standards and works and works and works to improve. We all appreciate that. But Izzy's work as treasurer of the NEBB for the last nine years has been more than exemplary. You have made budgets, filed paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service, secured insurance, organized audits, paid our bills, challenged us when we needed to raise more money and single-handedly organized our financial house to the point that we could do all that we did with fiduciary responsibility. You've organized our NABBA trips, fought with hotels, rented the van, moved percussion equipment and so much more. I do not wish to embarrass you but I can say with confidence that you have done more to help the band keep its organizational ship afloat during my 10 years here than any other single member. Quietly and behind the scenes you have managed us and kept us moving forward. This has not always been easy for you, but you have served us cheerfully and with the merriest of hearts. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

It is difficult to find the words I wish to say to Terry Everson. Terry came to the NEBB in my third season. In 1999, he came to Boston to be professor of trumpet at Boston University. I had heard he was coming and that he had played principal cornet in the Lexington (Kentucky) Brass Band. While I was disappointed when Terry said he would not be able to join the NEBB during his first year at BU (this was, on his part, an eminently sensible decision), I kept in touch with him and - yes, I twisted his arm a little - he came to the NEBB in 2000. For the first few years Terry could only come to half of each rehearsal but we were happy to have him. The impact Terry's arrival had on the band is impossible to explain. In Terry, we had - and I do not exaggerate - the finest principal cornet player of any brass band in North America. Bar none. Here, in the NEBB! Anything I would ever ask of the band, Terry would be able to model instantly. He had the immediate respect of every member of the band. More than that, all of you have loved him. His solo playing has been inspiring - even overwhelming at times. I shall never, ever forget his playing, "I'd Rather Have Jesus" at the NABBA Championships in Little Rock in 2003 - both of us were overcome with emotion at the end of it and was a moment that I shall always cherish. Terry, your leadership of the cornet section has been exemplary. You are a rare person. I can think of no other person of your standing that would come to work with a group such as the NEBB with such love, care, understanding and patience. You are a fine arranger as well, and that we have recorded two of your pieces gives me particular pleasure - you are not just ours, but with your music and fine playing, we have shared you with others. Your Christian faith informs the way you interact with every man and woman and you have been a model of kindness in how you have dealt with each member of the band. That we go out tonight together is both touching and memorable, and there are not words yet invented that can adequately express my gratitude to you - and to God - for the fact that our paths have intersected in the last eight years of our lives.

There is one other person I must single out. By now you certainly know who it is, for who could I save for last other than the one who is the most important person to me - my wife, Pat. Most of you know that my coming to the NEBB was conditional on Pat being able to play in the band. The board agreed to this (Pat has played second baritone in the NEBB for these last 10 years) and together, we have shared something very special. Nobody but Pat knows what I have done for the NEBB in these 10 years. Nobody knows my deepest feelings - my unbounded joy, my deep and dark lows, my frustrations, my passions, my satisfaction. We have shared nearly one-third of our married life together in the NEBB. It became an extension of our "Yeo Family Brass," our family brass quartet we had along with our daughters, Linda and Robin. We have had so much fun with this. And during the few times when it was not fun - and no time had more challenges than the early months of 2003 - Pat was the one who gave me the strength to give strength to all of you. At one particularly difficult time, I came to my desk to find a scrap of paper on which Pat had written a Bible verse, Hebrews 12:3 - "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart." I still keep that slip of paper in my Bible; it is a tangible reminder of one who loves and supports me so much, and who accepts my very imperfect love in return. When I have been inclined to grow weary, when I would get discouraged and wonder how the band would be able to move forward, Pat was always there to encourage me and right my ship. In a few months we will celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary. I am a blessed man far beyond measure, and to you, Pat, I can say nothing more meaningful and grateful than, "I love you."

And, so, here we are. In a few minutes we will take the platform here at Hope Church and will play our final concert together. Ken has often reminded me that tonight is not a farewell, it is a celebration. Of course, he is right. But only half right. As we are assembled together tonight, my thoughts will be of each one of you, and of those who have come before you in the New England Brass Band during my 10 years as the band's conductor. I chose the particular pieces on this program because they have special meaning to me and to the band's history. So, together we are celebrating a moment in the band's time, and we should play tonight as if we are trumpeting - whoops, sorry, I mean, "corneting" - an important message to all the world. But we also know that tonight does, in fact, draw closed a curtain on a moment in time. I will never again stand on the platform as your music director. That chapter of our shared life is ending. But it is OK. It is not really a farewell. It is simply a passing from one room to another. The NEBB decorated a beautiful room from 1988-1997 under Bill Rollins's leadership. When he retired as music director, I came on and together we crossed the hallway into a new room. That room took on a different look and we have enjoyed 10 years of an "extreme makover." After tonight, all of you who are continuing with the band will hold hands and walk across the hallway again, to a room that will be decorated with your new music director, Stephen Bulla. You shared an exciting time with Bill. We have shared an exciting time together. And another exciting time awaits.

So we move forward. Know this: the New England Brass Band will always be a very special and important part of my life. The NEBB stand banner that is in my office will not come down tomorrow. It will remain as a reminder not only of "the band" but of each of those individuals who have come to embody our collective ethos. I leave knowing that I have not led you perfectly, but I have tried to give you my best. When working with the NEBB - indeed, in my interactions with any person or persons - I have tried to keep in my mind a memorable axiom that I learned long ago when I was a Boy Scout:

If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

I shall not pass this way again. Not as your music director, at least. But you will still see me. We leave after tonight as friends. Know that as the New England Brass Band goes forward into its third decade, I will join Bill Rollins as one of the band's most enthusiastic supporters, and will always hold in my heart gratitude to God for bringing all of you to me. Thank you my friends, for this, your greatest gift.

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