William Clark and Jim Shearer

Recorded January 15, 2016 Archived January 15, 2016 41:06 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby014402


Jim Shearer (51) interviews his friend and mentor, William Clark (78) about his career in music, his time as a band director, and his legacy.

Subject Log / Time Code

William Clark (78) talks to his friend, Jim Shearer (51) about the first time they met when JS was auditioning.
WC tells that his first experience with music started with Gospel music.
WC remembers coming home from church in Sunday's, having dinner, and sitting around the piano singing and playing.
WC on finishing his degree in Southern MS and at that time he also had two kids.
WC talks about the music program at the University, when he started it was at 41 players and when he left there were 100 plus players.
WC talks about the music education program at the university in New Mexico and compared it to the one in MS.
WC talks about his legacy and the great number of students he has influenced.
WC tells who his biggest influence in music was.


  • William Clark
  • Jim Shearer

Recording Location

Las Cruces Museum of Art


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00:02 I am damn sure. I am 51 years old and I today is January 15th, 2016 and where in Las Cruces New Mexico. I'm talking with Bill Clark. Dr. William Clark who was my teacher and Mentor in Mississippi and then later at New Mexico State University here in Las Cruces, and I am William Clark Bill Clark, January 15th 2016, Las Cruces, New Mexico.

00:33 So the reason I wanted to put this together is you know, we were discussing this earlier. I have known you since I was an early teenager since I had just started playing music and you have been with me through my whole career. I have been a student of yours. I have been a colleague of yours and I got to thinking when storycorps came to town. My story with you is the same story that thousands of other students have had with you and I know bits and pieces of these stories have been told but nobody's ever really sit down and talk to you and kind of got in your side of the story from the very beginning. So I kind of want to do that. Well in theaters yet just be one of the most Creek for things that I've done many years and our relationship did start when you were in the eighth grade in Water Valley, Mississippi as I recall relaxing and Wynonna wasn't why don't you do right?

01:32 But I remember your dad coming to see me because a clinician for that clinic that you all didn't North Mississippi that time their condition conductor got sick or something. And so he wanted me to come to it that I could do it and we went we went back to do Wynonna and we did that clinic and I had heard you're playing though first as an audition need for the for the honor honor before the honor band at Delta State before I replace I did I did I 55 Clinic be at this is not are you a mutual admiration Society but there have been five or ten people throughout the 60 years of teaching.

02:31 That I knew when I heard the first play and you did a head Silver Lining over that and I said, then this guy will make it if he wants to he's going to be world-class if he chooses. So I knew I had a career in Arkadelphia Arkansas for 11 years as the high school band director, of course, we can go into that is deeply if you want to with that was that was quite an experience. I started in music.

03:10 Yeah, I was a 10th grade in high school. I was 14. I believe can you play trumpet for a play trumpet and and at 14 you have no idea what you're going to do tomorrow much less for the rest of your life. But I did and did part of this is apocryphal. I want to put that to it and then that's for sure but it makes a good story and the essence is exactly true. I was a football player and I was late about a hundred and ten pounds and all I could do was run real fast. And so I was out there and they were I was catching punts and running them back. What I was doing was letting them practiced Akron and I was laying there beneath those all those sweaty guys, you know, and it was only on that late August day and I heard the band practicing out there and I just made up my mind that music was my life and son.

04:10 Hand in my pants and wouldn't join the band. So you haven't played before they know from Sports too bad. You weren't doing band before. Yes did it, you know, it was such an exciting thing and it is as mundane as this may sound to this day when I walk into an old band room, you know, and I start opening cases and you smell that valve oil. Well, you know what I'm talking about. There's a very it is an absolute message to my brain if this is going to be fun and this is going to be enjoyable and it took me some years to decide and Define the difference between fun and enjoyment and there's a everyone's right brain was left brain, you know fun is playing softball and fun is going swimming enjoyment is something you get something out of that last you forever and that's what the music began to mean to me. But but my first my first experiences with music

05:10 50s and 60s as that is this is weird and many of the of the really big time people started with gospel music and in the south at that point in time, that wasn't a big deal and that's what we did and some of my aunt who was a wonderful bit as she was she was really wonderful musician great teachers. You were taught in a Little Rock schools for many many years until she retired me, but she played piano for the Blackwood brothers. That's that's when that that's where I learned to read music actually before I could read words and I wish I was able to read music when I was about four years old. Did you take piano?

06:10 Piano cook me and my mom wasted a lot of time and money on me for piano. But at that point in time and some of this will be almost to four to one side to believe but in Arkansas at this time when I was growing up we lived in the country and we did not have electricity. And so all we had was piano televisions that would have done much good without electric battery operated operated radio. We did have it with a car battery and I but we can only watch it so many hours per day or per week because those batteries didn't last very long and they were expensive. So I got to watch the I got to listen to the the Firestone Opera and then after that would be the Paul Lavelle in the city service band of America on a tree

07:10 Yeah, that was a great band. That was a wonderful performing group and it's good as most I've ever heard and they had a program that was weekly and and had a big big are out of Little Rock or Memphis know that was a nice little thing and I'm not sure I think it was out of Washington Washington DC and the Paul about wasn't what you were listening to it on the local station, you know, you better very low and then we finally we got running water and electricity. You know, what I was about ready to go out of the college, but my mom and dad particularly my mom she was cutting edge person because we have to go way back when she and my dad they were five days apart and in but they they were met each other and she became a teacher because when you finished high school then you could you required to be a

08:10 So she was it became a teacher where my dad was a senior in high school and he fell in love with his teacher in the end and she fell in love with a student and they got married after he graduated and then my mom then went to she she was at a elementary teacher after that and she went to she drove to Arkadelphia the long way. In fact that one time she took a train from where they were to Conway Arkansas so she can get her master's degree. That was that's that's nothing but not really big deal. But back then that was pretty big thing for our for a woman to even get a degree much less get a master's degree do it on her own. And and so they that I came from some stock that made you do some things like that and then my dad was a registered civil engineer and I only have a high school education, but he built Bridges and Roads that are still being you.

09:10 Is that was in that setting?

09:16 We would we would go to church every Sunday and then when we came in from church, we would eat Sunday dinner as we call it and it still is and then we would we would my aunt play the piano with say it was a wonderful time. Once you got in high school were playing trumpet. Did you do all state did you do those sort of experience? They wouldn't even tell us we all state met you realize that it was a it was a little town music in college. I just wanted to go to college and I needed some help and so I auditioned and I played pretty well. You know what I auditioned at Henderson State and and got a full scholarship, but tuition, you know where Massapequa $75 a semester. I got a full tuition scholarship and then I got a job at the local movie run at being a projection this time.

10:16 How old is 16 years old when I started college and I couldn't drive so I had to walk two miles to go to work. And then then I would walk home and in somebody's house in the dorm. What are two semesters marching band did jazz band at the whole thing. I got up at 2 to get up about 5 every morning to go practice because that was the only time I had to practice and I did I would go to class all day and then go to bed jazz band in the afternoon and then go to work at night to teach a student out in Hope, Arkansas. So you went back to her folks lived in Prescott, but at the time they had just moved hope that 16 miles apart and that a student tough day with a and Italian conductor band director and John bar burrata, and he was just wonderful out.

11:16 Still remember so many things I learned and most of it was italian-based and the Italian bands, you know, we're quite good and he was he knew about all of those things a wonderful player and dad. That was a that's part of the Serendipity. I think that though I know my life has been such a wonderful Rich recipient all that. I didn't have to have him as I could have gotten, you know, somebody like a wonderful way to get start until after that. Where did you that I got to got to check the job in Arkadelphia? We write Arkadelphia. I did first first gig I had and I was 18 when I got the job and when I turned twenty before before I started teaching

12:16 The program when you went there about thirty in the high school band and about 40 or 50 in the in the defeater band and you were doing at all. You would do it at all and it's a how big was it when you left but had 580 in the complete program. So if so what led you use when you obviously had a very successful program what led you to leave that in pursue college. Do you know it is a that's that's quite a good question gym because I could have comfortably stayed right there the rest of my life and then done as many times as many people we both know. That's right, and I just I just decided that I really wanted to kind of move

13:10 And see what was out there because after 11 years in Arkadelphia. I had we had 20 to 30 kids make All-State every year, you know, and we were the honor band in Arkansas for two or three years and we had went to to national conventions. We're guests groups at that and with all of that going on I had plenty to do and but I could see the same thing occurring every year and I did that the town itself in the area was not really growing but just stay up.

13:51 Something I did I filled almost compelled to say and in Arkadelphia. There was Henderson State at the time. It was just Henderson college and then Ouachita Baptist University right across the street from one another and those were two after this many years of doing what I and what you and I do not run across to better school than those scoots. They are wonderful school and Henderson that the the higher education philosophy was teaching critical thinking everything you did from if you took swimming or if you took calculus, it was critical thinking everything was geared to that and I'll never be able to repay them for what for for that because that that has served me so well in every area of my life not just music but in playing

14:51 Administration and in even injured in my spiritual life. Do you run across things that you have taken for granted and you because you hurt him and you've never really thought about it just the way it is. And yeah, that's right a little later that nobody else has been it's been since I've just always been so thankful for that warranty. I feel that way about Bell State and and you're right. You're right. It would that's the way it was something I did from from Arkadelphia straight to Southern Mississippi. And in finish the degree, I had two children at the time and one was in the second grade and one was in was 4 years old. And yeah, it's so I had to do it quick.

15:51 Very powerful program in Tampa. Skee-lo who has been there since Heat player in the in the bed and into the wonderful player. But anyway from from I just went to Southern Mississippi because I had seen Joe Barry Mullins work and I really enjoyed the intensity with which approach to the art of music and it just and I used that every every day and I had experiences with him later and I finally learned he was a really nice guy. LOL You just wasn't always nice on the phone. That was a guest. You. Couldn't get my breath he would he was stopped and he was safe drivers. I'm going to come back there and beat you up sounds about right. That's exactly what it is.

16:51 And he was 5ft 3in wait about a hundred and ten thousand, but but then they finally knew he's not really going to do that. But he really is thinking that so I better think something else and it would it was very effective. So you didn't know that was your final thesis. That was the final piece that was published right away because this University press which I guess is still probably is no longer in existence, but at that time they had a big market for conducting books because nobody else had written them except it had been written on that level. This was for beginning conductors and nobody had to add a book for that. So they sold a few copies.

17:51 And I made dozens of dollars you literally turned about and it was right out of your doctor into a director Bandstand pure did no assistant work. And how big was at 41 and the reason I know that is because we went to Troy State University. That was our trip for sure we will and we could go on one bus.

18:24 But I but I but I had I found out because I knew I had heard of Troy and I do have known John long for some time. Just I knew him. He didn't know me who was the director of an tooth at Freddy's Rector bands at that time at Troy saved, but I wasn't about to go on one bus. So I we already two buses just two other people because he travel donate buses, you know, it's going to come into the story because I I first played for you at the VA Clinic. The first one that was the hell is Jackson State and then I audition for you for the Delta State honor band and that was all eighth-grade and you know, I've known you ever since he's not long after that you hired Bart Cummings great, very famous, tuba player and interesting guy in the business, but I started taking lessons with him and I was over Delta State every weekend.

19:24 Cleveland Mississippi right now and I just always had that connection to Delta State and I saw that program from the time I started working over there till the time. I became a student there get bigger and bigger and more successful. Yeah, we we had 41 that first year, but after about six or eight years we had closer to a hundred and fifty I guess not all I'm wearing the marching band, but they we had a hundred 50 players by the time you left. It was over 200 major. Oh, yeah, and you know there we were sitting right in the middle of Little Italy, Cleveland, Mississippi and in the delta, Mississippi Delta for the topsoil is 40 ft deep and actually is 40 ft.

20:24 Black gumbo and yet in the the county just north of us isn't in Tunica the poorest county in the nation, which is the richest county is Tino's. Of course, that's just my right except I've taken into a couple now don't tell anybody that I need to edit that part out of it and it's just soy beans cotton soybean cotton cotton Casino. There's this huge Vegas casino sitting out in the middle of nowhere and it's not a casino that looks like a seven of them is a casino that's 30 stories high is driving across

21:24 That poor deltas and darity. How did you do that? How did you build a program literally almost in the middle of nowhere when students could go to the University of Mississippi go to Mississippi State go to Southern go to Memphis State University of Memphis now or some of these other big schools. How did you get kids to come to Cleveland, Mississippi? The only way that I was successful doing was we recruited every weekend and we need in there. We are told the staff this and we all agreed on this we're never going to tell a kid Ally we're never going to tell his parents are alive. We're going to tell him exactly what we have here and we'll tell them if they would like to come here. This is what they leave with I've had Parents many times come in my office at Delta State and in course, there's always been this bizarre to me connection between players and athletes. So the parents would walk in.

22:24 With this up, I'll be good player. I'm not even talk about that. Okay? Well, what can you give us and I say we offer is the best music education you can get and we'll see that you get everything that you need to go out of here and be successful. That's what we have to offer and that's all we did and we got a bunch of kids from Grenada MS from Jackson and from the Gulf Coast, you know, we re lot of kids from the Gulf Coast and they drove right past University of Southern Mississippi to come downstairs. I think of that to go to Delta State you had to be coming there there other ways to get the message and if that's the way it does the way it happened and that's the way of I believed in that and that and everybody we had their did the same thing even Bart Cummings who was about is

23:24 About is that you know, he had about as much a couth as a little coup that anyone I've ever been around but he has passed now we can stay the night but the man had PS Lambert, you know, you kind of hit that same juncture in your life again as you did in Arkadelphia because you built a magnificent program itself State and there's no reason you could have stayed there and that beautiful career for the rest of your life, but you didn't you chose to come out here and do it all again and the the prime mover for that was I saw this job. In fact, I didn't even if I would even looking for job somebody sent that to the job announcement to me and it was the director of bands job and to assistant band directors, and I thought he was a school for your

24:17 I can see if I can do it again in a totally different culture and I will have a head start because I can hire two people to work with me. That will be the same place and I think I'm right about this at the time. You came here New Mexico state of graduated for music majors in The Last 5 Years have they were right. It was very small at that. I don't know that that's his number six in my head. It was really small really smoke. The band was a big band music there was nothing there was pretty much zero, but the people that were here Warner Hutchinson was the department head for him wonderful wonderful composer and he knew what we were after and he and I saw we had a vision that was exactly the same that was right when they built

25:17 Exactly. We had a brand new at the time a brand new facility. That's what I was afraid of. That was the first year of the building when I when I moved here in 1985 and you had just started your honor band program. You would just started the same kind of recruiting you were talking about without State and you did it. All again. Was it different with a different out here in New Mexico? Not really? No, not really. I never want to argue with anybody that says

25:50 Will kids are different nowadays because I couldn't be a teacher nowadays because kids are different judge and I'm not going to argue with him. But from my standpoint kids are no different than they were in 1960 when I started and they not many people play euphonium because they're the band directors hand out a little sheet that says what do you want to play and nothing a 6th grade kid can't spell euphonium and then spell cleric clearing it and make it spell trumpet make you spell to but they spell drum and drum and the kids are no different and the only the only thing that you have to deal with that makes a difference is they they come up through the 10 seconds and then you got to hit me again with something to keep my attention and that Sesame Street.

26:50 All of the the things that the end there's nothing wrong with that. That's just what we have to deal with.

26:56 Well, I know one difference from the time I was here when I came as the TA in 86 and we were doing the honor band recruiting and you and I both talked about this when we were dealt State. We went out and traveling recruited. We were real lucky. I'll stay we had an aviation program and we get on these Niceville airplanes are flying around the state of New Mexico of Mississippi, which it in that big estate. We're out here in New Mexico. There's no airplane to be found. We were driving for a day at the Hobbs to get a tan Farmington to go and recruit. I just remember we were doing the same recruiting as we did, Mississippi and we were in the car instead of a airplane and it's a lot bigger staked a lot bigger state with a lot less in it. But we had you know at Delta State we had that the president's pilot Wright State University pilot was our pilot off and on Friday night, we get to take six people on this nice airplane. We can go to the football game this ball game of that. Ballgame C6 band halftime recruit him and come back up and get back home be home button in bed by ten.

27:56 And it was that it was just again Serendipity of having you can't wipe there. Is it believed in the band throw gravity bleed and what we were doing and if it was that that part of it was really more of a challenge in New Mexico just a little play just be a graphic. Oh, yes, and the only thing that I had to get a custom to hear and had to determine a way to deal with was there is there is there is a type of mentality and if I called if bibbie bibbie her so was it at 4, I just met some time before supper. You never change that change then within a month or no different people are no different. Well at this point we saw New Mexico state

28:56 About 235 240 major I try and that was really more than we can handle. Of course it is that program really is we've talked about can be about 200 students. And after that we don't have the faculty of the facilities to weigh 200. Music Majors is a lot cuz that's usually 300 in the marching band and a lot of other students who you're serving who aren't music Majors that building as it stands now was pretty good for about a hundred and ten music made anything above that became begin just to stretch you a little bit and there were some things that probably I should have asked you to Fat Lou's different Vision then I didn't I didn't I never killed it. I never never counted number. So I just qualities on every County but poor quality with yourself and look at all the students you turned out of I mean I one of my big questions for you and I I'll just read this cuz I wrote it down as it you've had a positive impact on the lives at this point of thousands of students over the years.

29:56 And you touch the lives of many many more when you think about your guest clinician work when you think about all the travel in the judging that you've done that's hundreds of thousands of young musicians in to work with all over United States, but it would you say that your greatest Legacy is that the thing you're most proud of probably is and it's also the most frightening thing that is that is frightening up. In fact, we have a I have a student here in town that she just got back from she made the All American Army Band that they they pick students from all over and when she interview cheat sheet use my name saying I was the moment that this is certain influence on her laughing all that, you know, that's frightening experience at this point to and I have you had to experience or years later former student who you hardly remember or they'll tell you who they are and they'll tell you that you were the greatest influence they ever had that

30:56 Life wherever he doesn't make you feel when they opened. I've had a lot of those and probably some of borderline. I was doing my thing. I wish yeah. Yeah, and it does though. I go back to that. It is such an awesome responsibility and yet that's what that's why you're in the business. It's like getting the getting to the point where you could play for a championship, but you decide not to do it because you're too much pressure. I still want to do it but and I died in the end. I'm so blessed to have had that relationship with people but it is a frightening what we got just a few minutes left and I have a couple of questions about your life. I wanted to talk about who would you say was the biggest influence on you several people but as you would imagine

31:56 Just like you and whatever in my mouth, my father was was was one of those huge influences on my life. And he was he was a person who was not a religious quote person, but he was a person that had an immense respect for Ryan Reynold Eddie. There's some things that are there some things that are wrong and he taught me that respect for that because of what it did for in into other people. Well and I will tell you that look at what happened because my work ethic come from my father and you came from your father and so I can tell you that there are thousands of other students that would tell you that I do what I do how I do it because that's how. To parked on me. Yeah, but you know that

32:56 Did that just really just I just feel great when I when I hear this and I have heard it from from a lot of people a lot of people but are all of us have a lot of help getting where we are. And in the music world. Who would you say was your biggest influence? Probably window Levinson. He's not the biggest name. But Mr. Evenson is probably the best teacher on the podium that I have ever seen and I will tell you you're not the first person that told me that you can take Leonard Bernstein you take all all of the people that have watched and been around window Levinson can teach on the podium better than anybody I have and that's what that's the key to a wonderful performance. Don't know y'all were very special friend is very very special friend for people listening to

33:56 Tons of other stuff that doesn't get played enough. That's right. That's right. And he came to Arkadelphia as band record Washtenaw college at the same time. I became I was still in in college is Henderson, but he and I met each other and we became fast friends and we actually grew up together. He was he never was a high school band director. He came straight from Eastman to to washta did the experiences we had at. Yeah, that's a big chain. That's a huge and the first year he was I make this a short story but that dick in that line. The first year was why should I eat it have anybody to bed and so he started going to the to the dorm seating knocked on doors in the door. If you're trying to find people that would come play in the bed and it he got the ROTC people to come play in the horn and while he was over there.

34:56 He was a black powder rifle person beauty shops black powder rifle never hunted with a buddy is Target just like this and what are the ROTC instructor gave him a canister. I like a black a gallon can of coffee. Can you tow full of black powder but it was Grand you learn about the size of a sheet of ice cream song and so is that it said around his house for you. I wasn't there but he and mr. Evenson we're sitting over there and I think they were drinking beer and I wouldn't want that. But anyway, it was a pretty late at night and they decided they would have some fun with it. If you like next door neighbor old cowboy movies where they take the the powder you don't go out knew they would make a little line, you know, and then he poured the rest of it out then line and then we would like that Lucy Had lit up the night tonight and so bad when he said he said when I lift the little trailer he knew this was a bit.

35:56 Show me any good and when it hit that little pile of black powder. He said it was in Fireball about the size of a five-bedroom house with about 40 feet in the air police sirens game on you know, it all this stuff and they hid under the bushes until the police left, but it was such a funny story. And that was that was precious Macbeth Francis McBeth then was a genius musician of the highest level 7 guy I've ever been around and going places with him. I've done things with him at work at the same place as he did and all that and it was just a just a wonderful relationship. I remember in college he was doing stuff they are being when I was a student college, right and I was kind of helping him move in move out and I actually opened his truck and I can

36:56 The case of beer is it was almost a bad tooth cause you what it was a State University, but it wouldn't slow sweet and then later he came out here and we did those first tournament of bands broadcast with him as commentator, right and Yalta interaction. There was just fantastic. I always enjoyed the two of you and how you talked. And then how you carried on you. Remember that first one that we did was on PBS and it got higher ratings than the Civil War. We were in 72 Market about 34 State. That's right. And it ran it rain on Christmas Day Thanksgiving New Year's Day a lot of Publications because we put it up for free a lot of publication carried it and people we started getting calls from all over the country. I want to know what about how do I go to New Mexico State? Why are you calling us from Connecticut that we saw you on TV?

37:56 And that year I did a clinic in Seattle and I was in the field and I was down in the restaurant eating by myself and I saw this family over there and I noticed they were looking at me and I just kept eating and I thought maybe I and I didn't end so well in a few minutes finally that the manager of the house came over and he said that were you on television show PBS Las Cruces, New Mexico, and I said, yep, I sure was you don't they had seen that and it's amazing what PBS does for things that like that that don't get the the big the big headlines channel before we run out of time out probably the most apocryphal story about you and I want everybody likes to tell us Utah President Bill Clinton how to play the saxophone store is not quite true. Why don't you we got the time set the record straight?

38:56 Delphia is in the account of the south-central with Southwest central part of Arkansas and hot springs is 28 miles away with Bill Clinton grew up in Hot Springs and he's about 7 or 8 years younger than I am. Now. How do I know I look a lot younger. He was a tenor sax player in Virgil's Berlin High School band in her first year of things and he would come to Henderson and the University of Arkansas to band camp every summer and that's where I got to know him and I didn't get to know him that well at the time he was

39:36 Well, I'm glad that I'm not going to tell that story but he wasn't he was a great player and a and a really good good person and very likable and everybody liking but he was kind of hard to Corral at times. You know, you were conducting in summer camp. That's what that's what I thought Bill Clinton Christmas card for a while. He was here during when he was running the first time he was here when the after I came here has your life been different than what you imagined. It would be know if what a great question know it hasn't been but that's because I had no idea what was going to happen.

40:36 I took everything as it came and moved from their trying to take take the good things and not doing them or the bad thing. Well, I will say on behalf of every student you ever touched and talk. Thank you for all that you did cuz we wouldn't be doing what we're doing if you had been there for us. It's been quite a ride quite a ride. Thank you, sir. Thank you.