MY WORD: Saying thanks to a pair of extraordinary music teachers who helped us grow

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By Chris Hauck

NOTE: Chris Hauck, a former resident of Shelby County, was one of the participants in the memorial jam concert on Saturday to honor late former music teachers Ernie Threlkeld, Susie Saunders and Mel Owen. He wrote this on the Facebook after Threlkeld’s passing last fall. Hauck shared it for publication.


I’m usually not one for writing personal & emotional stuff on someone’s wall….The ironic thing now is I don’t have any choice. It just hit me again that he's gone….Trying to avoid getting into a TV show, I had some cable, big-band standards channel playing in the background….And they had to play that song we used to play that had the trombone solo/duo/soli? (“Day in the life of a Fool,” I think).

My first memories of the song were from when [Byron] Cutshaw and Eddie Clark played it…then Eddie and Jimmy Stewart, I think.…Then Stewart and Chris Fawbush all played it, too….Me and Malcolm Howard finally got to harmonize on third trombone by around ’79. Anyway…that’s just one, amongst hundreds of incredible big-band classics, jazz standards, legendary Broadway or classical orchestral pieces that they taught us, day in-day out, music we probably had no business attempting half the time, but they always patiently hung in there until we came up with at least a slightly less painful version than the one we started with.

I guess I knew it deep down, but it just now dawned on me tonight how big of an influence Ernie and Susie were in my life. They were my musical parents. My real parents took a little blonde headed, 9-year-old boy to the basement at the old Shelbyville High School and gave him up for adoption to Mr. Threlkeld and Mrs. Saunders.

I still remember a lot about that night 39 years ago. Everybody from Northside Elementary who had signed up to play in the orchestra met in the basement at the high school, and Ernie and Susie started giving us all these instruments…for free!!! Can you imagine that?? How the hell did they get the schools to make that kind of investment?

What schools are going out now and buying their entire band $2,500 horns? At the time, I’m not

even sure that I knew which instrument I wanted to play…some kind of horn would have been nice, but the fourth-graders were only allowed to play strings. I was too insecure to play violin.

Will Easley had already grabbed the big standup bass (I still don’t think I’m over that). The only thing left was the cello. David Vaughn had his eye on one, and I grabbed the other before anybody else could. It was either that, or I’d have to play viola and that would have been almost as bad as


From that night and for the next 3,285 nights later, I often saw Ernie and Susie more than my own parents. And for those of you who know music teachers now, how many of them are conducting orchestras in the elementary school, middle school and high school all at once?

And whether it was a high school stage band rehearsal that they let me sneak into in the eighth grade….jazz band camp at Morehead…Carnival of Music at the fairgrounds with the late, great Mel Owen, Tommy Newsome and Arnie Lawrence…trips to see the Buddy Rich Band (with Buddy Rich)…the Count Basie Orchestra, with frickin’ Count Basie leading it on the keys!...To a life of 24/7 music when they historically began two incredible years of Artist Residencies with Arnie Lawrence & Mel Owen…and lots of guest appearances from Vinnie DiMartino in between.

Whether it was a late-night party at the lake house after a musical rehearsal or an orchestra trip to Terre Haute or sneaking underage high school kids into Joe’s Palm Room to get “funkified”…rarely did they treat us like kids – unless we deserved a nice knock to the skull with a trombone mouthpiece (Fawbush, right?!).

As we grew up, not only did they teach us music, they provided us our own safe world apart from everything and everyone else. They taught us about life. We had to be some of the luckiest kids on the planet to get all that from two people.

Goodbye, Bear…and you, too, Susie. We miss you.

Thank you for all that you did for us.

I love you both dearly and only wish I could have told you in person.


Chris Hauck is director of ticketing at the King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne, Fla.