MME: Catching Up With Mr. Birch
As marching season comes to an end and the end of an era begins with the
retirement of Band Director, Mr. Turner, later this year, we decided it would be a great time to catch up with longtime director and Turner's predecessor, Mr. Chuck Birch, who retired in 1996. Mr. Birch talks retirement, both his own and how he feels about Mr. Turner stepping down. A compelling Q&A with Mr. Birch starts... NOW!
1. Formalities: How are you? How is Mrs. Birch? WHERE are you? Still in Michigan or did you move out of state? How have you been spending your retirement?
We are in Kalamazoo and not fully retired. I enjoyed selling band uniforms and accessories for 11 years after retiring and moving here in 2002.
At present we help with our two local grandchildren. [Our daughter,] Sue works very long and irregular hours so we pick up the slack with dinner and homework help, and lately, with trumpet and flute lessons.
Our other daughter, Julie, married Scott Harris from Lennon (Tuba at DAHS) and they have three children; one on French Horn, one on Cello and an 8 year old.
Douglas and Lynn live in Howell and have an 8 and 6 year old.
2. Do you keep up with high school marching band/Durand band happenings?
The Durand Marching Band Web Site has been a wonderful way for the students and us to keep in touch. Many of them attended our 50th Anniversary party last year.
3. Do you ever talk to Mr. Turner? Do the conversations involve band happenings or issues?
Ed and I have a unique friendship. He was one of my students, as were his sisters. His father chaperoned band camp and Ed and his class transitioned with me from junior high to high school, so he had me as a teacher for 8 years. I was very proud when he joined me as a director at DAHS. I am proud of the job he has done.
4. What do you think of the Durand bands after your retirement versus while you were director?
The Band program in Durand was already strong when I came in 1964. I had spent my first year and a half after college at Fowler and was looking for a larger school district. The Concert and Marching bands in Durand were strong and I was lucky enough to be hired. I was the Junior High Director when the band won the Disney trip to the Rose Bowl in 1966. I moved to the high school in 1969. We went through many changes, the most significant and painful for the senior class, was when we went from high stepping to competitive corp style marching in 1976.
Through all the changes and challenges, the parents and administration of Durand have always been very supportive. My daughters have children in bands in Mattawan and Saline and are experiencing the time required to have successful programs. They constantly remind me of the sacrifices I asked of students and their parents.
5. Has there ever been a time since your retirement that you missed your role as director of Durand bands, or wished you were still directing?
I miss the interaction with the kids, but I have that now with my grandchildren in bands. I do miss directing the challenging pieces we played. I certainly do not miss the pressure.
6. Have you lifted a baton since your retirement?
No. I retired because of problems with my shoulders.
7. You knew Mr. Turner's abilities upon your retirement since he had been assistant director for so long while you were director, but times have changed and there has been no assistant to Mr. Turner for nearly a decade. Now that he is planning to retire and there is no telling who will replace him, or even what the school will do with the program, how does that affect you? Are you concerned?
During my time selling band uniforms/accessories, I was able to observe many directors around the state. Living over here in WMU territory I see many potentially great directors graduating. Any of them that truly want to work hard and accept the challenge of Durand’s band history will do so, but the Birch/Turner tradition is now over and that saddens me. It is like watching your last child go off to college knowing nothing will be the same.
8. What is your hope for the band program in Durand?
Durand parents and former band students know the benefits of a great band program to the students, school and community. A look at the conversations on the Marching Band Web Site proves that.
Ed and I had to face different challenges. I think he has done a great job. Times and society continue to change and you cannot compare how it was to how it will be in the future. Bands will be affected by societal changes. Who knows how the band will look with it’s next director; but I am confident that the community will not let Durand’s great band program die.
9.What advice do you have for the band as it prepares for this time of great change?
All I can say is "give the new band director all the help you can." The goal should be to keep the program at the high level it has been for decades no matter what changes he/she may want to make. Durand did a great job of welcoming us when we came to Durand in 1964 and I'm sure they will do the same for the new director.
10. What advice do you have for Mr. and Mrs. Turner heading into retirement?
Every retiree will have a different journey. You don't necessarily slow down, but find or follow other areas you are interested in. Our retirement has been some traveling, the birthing and caring of grandchildren and the t-ball, baseball, football, and soccer games, Grandparents days at school, band and orchestra concerts, marching band competitions, band and Solo and Ensemble festivals and wonderful new family traditions created. Oh, I forgot - more doctor appointments.
Chuck Birch came to Durand in 1964. Ed Turner was with him throughout his tenure, first as a student and then as his assistant. In 1996 Birch retired and Turner took over as head director. The end of the 2013 school year will mark 48 years of Birch and Turner at the helm of the Durand bands. Turner's exit, indeed, marks the end of an era at Durand.
Many thanks to Mr. Birch for his time and candor. We would be remiss in not mentioning that Mrs. Birch worked in the high school office for years, even past Mr. Birch's retirement, and we offer our thanks to her for her help with this interview. GO BLUE!
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