I have known a few great men in my life. A great man teaches by just the way they live each day. Today, the world lost another truly great man, James Streit.
I first remember Mr. Streit when we went to find out about band in the 5th grade. My mother and I were looking at the various instruments and someone asked “What instruments will you need?” and he replied, trombones. And that made my decision. I was going to play the trombone. When my own children began band, I realized how truly patient Mr. Streit was with we beginners. We weren’t nearly as good as we thought, but Mr. Streit always made us feel like we were superior!
As a sixth grader, Mr. Streit was my home room teacher as well as my Texas History teacher. That was the first year that the Crowell Marching Band made all I’s at contest. Our home room class made posters and had a little “coke” party for Mr. Streit that day. I’ll never forget his bashful grin and little laugh when he walked into the room.
Mr. Streit encouraged all of us to go to band tryouts. The first year I went to tryouts, there were only 5 of us. By the time I was a junior in high school, we took 2 school buses to the tryouts. Mr. Streit worked with every student. It didn’t matter if you had a gift for music or if you couldn’t “carry a tune in a bucket”, he treated us all the same.
There are several things that immediately bring Mr. Streit to mind: 1) circles, 2) the songs “Light my Fire” and “Sweet Caroline” and 3) music stands.
We learned so many circle drills during my 6 years in the CHS band. (Yes, 6 years. We started marching as 7th graders.) We did circles with crosses in the middle. We did circles with bands running from one to the other. We did a circle and a square. We did a 4 circle drill. While there were other songs that we used for circle drills, “Light my Fire” is the one that sticks in my mind. When I hear it, I am immediately transported to the practice field with little flags marking our circles and the positions. The time he spent prepping our shows was amazing. We learned several shows through the season, not just one and he always stressed that we were a concert band that marched. And, “Sweet Caroline”. On my, how many times did we play that one as the band sweetheart or the homecoming queen and their courts were walked across the field. I can almost feel the breeze and see the lights of the stadium even now.
One of my favorite memories involved Mr. Streit’s music stand. One of the things that anyone that had Mr. Streit in band will always remember is his temper. Mr. Streit was a very calm, very nice man. But, as the stress level rose, so did his breaking point. We all knew that at some point during marching season, the megaphone would go flying. It was never thrown at anyone in particular, just at the ground in frustration. There would be stomping and yelling. Then, he would regain his composure (and we would try not to snicker) and rehearsal would resume with a new focus. Similarly, during concert season, we came to expect a blowup. When he reached the end of his patience with our antics and/or lack of attention, Mr. Streit would pick up his music stand and band it on the floor. Sometimes, several times to get our attention. There were several of us, including Mr. Streit’s son Scott, that spent our study hall in the band hall. Sometimes, we practiced. Sometimes, we sorted music or ran errands. Usually, we just wanted out of study hall. On this particular day, we knew that Mr. Streit was nearing his breaking point. So, “someone” loosened the screws that held the music stand together. That afternoon during our band period, we went out of our way to be annoying. Finally, Mr. Streit had enough. He picked up the music stand, but this time it fell apart in his hands; the sound of metal pieces falling across the floor. He stood there for a moment and then looked up. For a moment, I thought he might throw the remains at us as tried to hold back the giggles. He blushed, shook his head and laughed with us.
The highest honor that a band could received was to be named the state honor band. In 1975-1976, the Crowell High School Band was the ranking Class A All State Honor Band. In the fall of ’75, we began preparing for the marching season and our TMEA concert. That meant, full rehearsals in the mornings before school started as well as our normal afternoon band period and our Tuesday night rehearsal. We worked hard. There were sectionals in our band hall as well as in Wichita Falls. We had clinicians that came and heard us and made suggestions. The low brass clinician was Mr. Charles Enloe. We went to Wichita Falls several times to rehearse with him. After one session, we were back in our band and we began playing Chorale and Capriccio. There’s a section that was all trombone. Mr. Enloe had taught us to blast that section out. The first time we did it in rehearsal, Mr. Streit stopped us and told us “Not to do that!”. The next time Mr. Enloe was around, he was quite upset when we didn’t play like he had directed. This went on for a few sessions. Finally, Mr. Enloe did a band clinic and we played the section like Mr. Streit had directed. Mr. Enloe landed right in the middle of the trombone section giving us quite a tongue lashing. I can still see Mr. Streit walking around the gym behind Mr. Enloe looking back at me rather sheepishly during this time. He did admit to Mr. Enloe that we were following his directions. We played it Mr. Enloe’s way from then on.
I am so blessed to have had Mr. Streit in my life. I was an adult with kids before many of the things he taught me really came to light. He taught me that people will rise to your expectations. He taught me that you treat everyone as if they are the best. He taught me not to play favorites. There are students that Mr. Streit touched that had never felt important or valuable. He instilled value in his students. He invested his time and energy in building the best students he could and built the best program in the area. I can only try to impart the same things to the people who come across my path. Thank you Mr. Streit. You were more that just a band director. You were an example of goodness and kindness.
Our world is better for having known James Streit. He will be missed.