The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 2, 2006


O'Halloran reflects on Memorial Day traditions

Ed. note: This year's Memorial Day address was given by Tom O'Halloran, music teacher at the Carlisle School, who will retire this month.

SelectmenTim Hult (left) and Doug Stevenson (right) applaud Tom O' Halloran at the close of his speech. (Photo by Mike Quayle)

To the Memorial Day Celebrations Committee, honored veterans and their families, Selectmen, distinguished clergy, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, parents, students, and friends:

Thank you for asking me to speak to you on this special morning. When Doug Stevenson called me and asked, I was taken aback since I'm not a resident of Carlisle, and I'm not a veteran — but he said not to worry because — beside precedent — I've been around town here long enough now to have accumulated some good stories and maybe some insight into teaching which might be of interest to some of you.

My father was a veteran, and it wasn't until he passed away almost 20 years ago that I found out that he was a Purple Heart recipient and decorated hero in WWII. As many of you either know or can imagine, it is often the case that men and women in that position are not always willing to speak about their experiences for a lot of different reasons, and I certainly wouldn't want to speculate at this point why my dad didn't choose to talk about his role in the military.

But, upon reflection, I think he had his own ways of way of remembering these experiences — one of which was that he spent an unbelievable amount of time building the most amazing models of airplanes and warships. He painted them in the most exquisite detail you can imagine, from the uniforms of the soldiers, to the artillery, to the identifications, and even down to the facial expressions — everything was done exactly as he remembered it.

And, once a year around this time, he would take all the models out of the display cabinet and he would line them up in perfect order all over the floor and my brother, sister and I would sit in the middle of them — with him — and my mother would take a picture. Of course we could never understand why we couldn't play with the models - they stayed in the cabinet from one year to the next — but I'm thinking that this may have been one of his ways of remembering those important and special times.

Tom O'Halloran marches alongside his Junior and Senior Band. (Photo by Mike Quayle)

Honoring memories and traditions

This idea of honoring memories and traditions in personal ways, and not necessarily by way of Hallmark-card expectations, reminded me of an instance this spring with our senior band students at the Massachusetts State Rating Festival in April. One of our adjudicators was Dr. Kenneth Mikkelson, director of bands at Ohio State University, and when he worked with our students after their performance, he recalled a story about what happened when he lost a parent this past December to a particularly fast-moving and unexpected illness: the students in his Ohio State Band asked what they could do to help honor the memory of Dr. Mikkelson's parent, and after thinking about it for awhile, he suggested to the members of the band that they — the band members — on their own individual birthdays, write a letter to their parents thanking them for being there for them and raising them in the best way they knew how. I was afraid to look around at the 100 or more parents who were there to hear that story, because I for one had a tear or two in my eyes, and I imagine I wasn't the only one

When I spoke to Alan Cameron about three weeks ago, and he asked me what I planned to talk about this morning (and by the way, I said that I hadn't put anything together yet, which was, I think, kind of unsettling to him), we got on the topic about traditions, and he said that he believed that people generally moved to Carlisle because of the traditions that the town embraced, and not necessarily because they wanted to be agents of change. I thought about that and I think he was correct — and here's where the somewhat clumsy transition comes in.

Memorial Day traditions

Lauren Tierney prepares to retire the colors, surrounded by members of the Middle School Chorus. In the back row, from left to right, are Selectmen Alan Carpenito, Bill Tice and John Williams. (Photo by Mike Quayle)

When I was hired 23 years ago to be the instrumental music teacher in Carlisle, I was constantly reminded that the town traditions for an event such as this Memorial Day celebration were not — I repeat — not to be tampered with. I said, "Fine, whatever" (I didn't really say "whatever"), and since I came from a highly competitive high school marching band program in Pittsburgh, and had also extinguished myself — I mean distinguished myself — as a member of the trombone section in the Carnegie Mellon University marching Kiltie Band (motto: "Don't ever march too close to bagpipers wearing kilts."), I figured that I would do my best to continue to make the town of Carlisle proud of their marching band. So, for weeks before the Memorial Day Parade, I basically stopped teaching everything except for marching band drills in the Spalding Circle — you know, left face, right face, about face, pick up your feet; etc., all with an eye on continuing the tradition of marching band excellence — and also to make sure my job was secure.

Now I've never considered myself a fast learner, so it actually came as no surprise to me that it took me about four years to figure out that it didn't make one bit of difference to anyone whether or not the students were in a straight line and whether or not they were in step, and even if they could play the music — I mean we're talking some pretty basic stuff here — and the reason it didn't matter, you ask? I finally realized that the vast majority of the Carlisle community participating in the parade basically followed the band. Almost no one heard them or saw whether or not they were in step or in line. It was like a revelation to me — no more drills, and high stepping and left-to-right alignment. Now, my instructions are simple: Stay on the same street as the person driving the car in front of the Selectmen, and whatever you do, don't take a right turn on East Street and end up in Billerica.

I was always told that most speech-makers would likely be on safe ground if their speeches were shorter rather than longer, so I would like to conclude with a couple thoughts about what I've learned about teaching music through instrument instruction in Carlisle.

Reverend Steven Weibley of the Congregational Church (left), wreath carrier Olivia Konuck and Minuteman Scott Evans pause at the grave of Carlisle's most recent veteran. (Photo by Mike Quayle)

First, students of elementary and middle school age can generally do a lot better in just about anything, including music, than most people give them credit. There is absolutely no reason why student in grades 4-8 shouldn't be able to play music "musically," and there is no reason why they shouldn't be held accountable if they don't — hopefully in the kind, gentle, and empathetic way that I always have tried to model.

Second, this program, or any good program of music instruction is much like a five-spoked wheel — where if one of the spokes is missing or is faltering in any way, it will negatively affect the entire wheel or in our case, the entire structure of the program from the top down. These are the five spokes that I think are needed, and need to remain strong in order for a program to succeed:

•Parent support — I have said this since the day I came here: Carlisle is the model of what parent support is all about.

•Administrative support through appropriate and consistent scheduling, and faculty support for the value of instrumental music instruction. Once again, Carlisle has been at the forefront.

•For those students who wish to continue their school music training privately there should be private instruction options that are both convenient and appropriately priced. And I'm proud to say that our self-funded program, known as the Instrumental Music School of Carlisle and Concord (which is under the umbrella of Concord's Adult Community Education program) will be the subject of a featured session at next year's Massachusetts Music Educators All-State conference, again as a model for other school systems.

•An incentive-based ensemble structure in school where students who want to improve themselves can move into more advanced groups of students with like abilities. We have up to four ability-based ensembles here, and there is a place for everyone, both in a musical sense and in a social sense.

•And number five, the in-school instruction must place a premium on quality literature and consistent expectations of excellence. To say it another way: the music is the curriculum.

Finally, one of the great things that I value and appreciate in Carlisle is watching and listening how the younger students are able to work with the older students, sitting side by side, toward the common goal of playing quality music at the highest possible level. And isn't that a great life lesson too? The ability to work with others who may be different than you are in appearance or experience, toward a common goal of excellence. Add to that the younger students also learning about successful traditions (there's that word again) from the older kids so that those traditions can be passed along to another generation coming up from below, and you've got a program to be reckoned with.

I would like to close by saying how grateful and humbled I am to have been able to work with the children, parents, faculty, administration, staff members and the Carlisle Community for these past 23 years. I wish you good luck, and hope that you will support my successor so that the Carlisle School's music department will continue to be a beacon of light and inspiration for future student participants.

Thank you for listening, and have a wonderful and meaningful Memorial Day.


Parade Marshal Scott Evans leads the Memorial Day Parade as it steps off from the school parking lot. (Photo by Mike Quayle)



Scott Evans and Alan Cameron read the names on the WW I, WW II, Korean and Vietnam War memorials. (Photo by Mike Quayle)



Townsfolk line up for the ham and bean luncheon at Union Hall after the Memorial Day exercises conclude. (Photo by Mike Quayle)



Veterans (left to right) Ray Bratton, Max Adams and Richard Ketchen listen to the calling of the roll (Photo by Mike Quayle)

WREATH CARRIERS. Waiting for the start of the Memorial Day Parade are (left to right) Olivia Konuck, Lindsay Ryder, Lauren Rayson and Amandi Li, lining up behind Father Donohoe. (Photo by Mike Quayle)

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito