The Band Plays On (Book Review)

The Band Plays On is filled with important ideas from reading Robert Frost poetry to playing in a band. I know as a teacher I need inspiration sometimes and this book supplies a truck-load.

I recently read The Band Plays On, (Going Home for a Music Man’s Encore) and found it inspiring and motivational. The author is Rick D. Niece, Ph.D and the book is published by Five Star Publications Inc. It is the second book in a series about Niece’s hometown. I have also reviewed Niece’s first book, Side-Yard Superhero here on my blog. This second installment, The Band Plays On, is filled with powerful memories from reading Robert Frost poetry to playing in the school band. Since I am always happy to recall such things, it was a first-class journey for me. I felt honored to be on it. The framework of the book is a tribute to his music-teaching father and that aspect is quite touching. I read many inspiring vignettes that made me want to continue teaching with gusto. Since I teach in the day and teach guitar after school, I am sometimes spent. It can get hard to see the larger vision. Rick Niece, Ph.D is a writer of Americana and teaching and his work helped center me while reading. His books also remind me of what’s important in just plain being human.

GOOD NEWS TO SHARE! In preparation for this review, I had the distinct pleasure of corresponding with the author himself. I did a QnA with him which I’ve pasted below. He provided some great insight to my questions and I thank him for the time he took to do so:

Damien Riley: Hello Dr. Niece, since I am a blogger, I truly appreciate the term you use in your book “automythography.” I think most bloggers struggle with the line between history and fiction. Your term is helpful to me in understanding what I do. How does this genre free you up to expand on your own perceptions and/or limit you to what really occurred?

Rick Niece: I thought that I created the term “automythography,” but then found out it has been around, primarily used in art and dance, since the 1980s. However, I have defined it for literature. An automythography is a work of non-fiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember it. It is an iridescent memory based upon the author’s truth and personal narrative.

Most of the autobiographies and memoirs I have read are presented as factual and accurate. I do not doubt their veracity, but I am leery when the author quotes dialogue and describes specific scenes from decades past. I do that as well, but with the caveat that they are how I remember what was said or is being described. Time alters our memories. My favorite part of the term automythography is the “myth,” but not in the sense of something being made up. Myths are also stories that are true and repeated from one generation to the next. Each telling and retelling is slightly different—and that is no doubt the case for me and my stories—but the tellings are based upon true and real incidents. The stories are not made up.

Finally, in my definition for automythography I use the word “iridescent.” I like that word and what it connotes. Soap bubbles are iridescent. As they float away from us, they change shapes and colors. But they are the same soap bubbles. That is true for memories as well. Over the years, as our memories float away from us, they change shapes and colors. But they are the same memories—they are our automythographies.

Damien Riley: My 3 kids attend a school where I teach 4th grade and guitar after school. My kids seem to enjoy having dad at school with them but I imagine they might prefer anonymity. Were there ever times you felt you couldn’t measure up?

Rick Niece: Oh my goodness, yes, there were times when I felt it was difficult to “measure up” on a variety of levels. In Side-Yard Superhero, Book 1 in my series, Fanfare for a Hometown, I describe how I was repeatedly warned not to embarrass my father in front of the superintendent and the other teachers. Although I thought I was a “typical” kid, it was difficult to remain typical when my father was the school’s only music teacher and the superintendent lived across the street from me and my family. There was no anonymity for me, and as a consequence, I was a relatively good kid and student.

My father was one of those teachers students could go to with their problems, big and small. He always had time for students before school, after school, and at home. Because of that, I sometimes felt that I had to wait in line. That is not a complaint, but simply my fact of life. I admired my father even more because of the respect students had for him and that he had for them. I was proud that my parents were a second set of parents for many students.

My father was an exceptional teacher, and because he was so good at what he did and how he did it, I was hesitant to go into education myself. In fact, I did not seek acceptance into Ohio State University’s education program until the end of my sophomore year. I was afraid that, as a teacher, it would be difficult for me to emerge from the long shadow of my father and his success.

Through it all, I felt special and was proud to be in the school where my father taught. I am certain that your children feel that same sense of pride—and pressure—with you being a teacher in the school they attend. In time, we all adjust.

Damien Riley: Do you think it is possible for children today to enjoy the same sort of upbringing as you? Why or why not?

Rick Niece: I hope that children growing up today enjoy the same type of upbringing I did. I do not want to sound too optimistic naively when I say that I think they are experiencing the same joys today that I did decades ago.

However, I also have to be realistic. When I was a boy, four environments provided a positive influence on children: home, school, church, and community. My fear is that far too many youngsters may actually experience none of those today. How sad is that?

Damien Riley: Whom do you think will most enjoy The Band Plays On? What makes it so appealing?

Rick Niece: I think the same readers who enjoyed Side-Yard Superhero will also like The Band Plays On. The writing is vivid and flows easily, and the characters are endearing, interesting, and quite unique. Within the humor and the life lessons, there is also a sad, poignant reality that comes through because of the deaths of close friends.

The books are universally appealing, I believe, because readers like a story with descriptive writing, strong narrative, and appealing characters. I think that readers also enjoy stepping back in time to an age they either lived themselves or wish they had experienced.

The Band Plays On, however, will definitely be enjoyed by anyone who has been a member of a marching band or who has played a musical instrument. We have a shared camaraderie that comes through loud and clear—and in tune—throughout the book.

My (Damien Riley) final word: Again, I thank Rick for his insightful and empathetic words. Educators and musical educators will be first in line to enjoy this masterpiece but all who enjoy great narrative Americana will be moved as well. I want to thank Rick for answering my questions for this review. I’m a bigger fan of his than ever. As of time of posting, I have been informed of something that makes this book yet even more cool please check it out below

Long term Dr. Rick Niece is supporting music education by donating $1 of every book copy of The Band Plays On sold to an organization called Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which donates new and refurbished instruments to school music programs lacking the resources to purchase them. It was inspired by the acclaimed motion picture Mr. Holland’s Opus (the story of the profound effect a dedicated music teacher had on generations of students).

Via this direct link you can read more about and/or purchase The Band Plays on.

Author: Damien Riley

Having been a public school teacher since 1997, I've gained valuable classroom experience. Sometimes a great tool is a dynamite lesson plan. These posts are from a real teaching journey. I hope they inspire you. Thanks for reading!

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