Posted by: Michelle Knoll | January 16, 2011

The Leader of the Band

Dr. Wayne Pegram died on New Year’s Day.

Most everyone that reads this post does not know who Wayne Pegram was.  He was the band director at the university I attended.

He was my band director.

He and I didn’t communicate with each other, hardly at all.  I can only think of two comments he made to me the entire time I was in college.  The first one scared me silly.  The second one broke my heart.

Let me explain.

My freshman year was a tumultuous year for me.  I wasn’t happy at all, and in my unhappiness I griped about things.  I must have become too vocal about something in the music department once, because in the middle of marching band practice one afternoon, Dr. Pegram decided to address my “attitude.”  He picked up his megaphone, looked straight at me, and said:

“This may not be the way you did it at Holston, but this is the way we do it here!!!”

I was mortified.  I wanted to crawl under the ground.  He had pointed me out in front of the entire marching band.  Ouch.

I didn’t give him a chance to do that a second time.  I changed my major, and decided that I would never be in marching band again.

The next fall, Dr. Pegram crossed my path as I was walking to class one afternoon.  He stopped me and said, “You didn’t sign up for marching band!”  I could tell he was waiting for an explanation, but I was so shocked by him speaking to me I didn’t know what to say.  So I just mumbled something about how I had changed my major, and waited for him to shrug his shoulders and walk on by.

But he didn’t just shrug his shoulders.  He looked as if I had stabbed him through the heart as his mouth dropped open and he asked, “WHY???”

I was so taken back by his reaction, all I could do was… walk away.  But the look on his face was one of pain, and it broke my heart.

As a lowly freshman all those many years ago, I couldn’t see his wisdom, and couldn’t understand his wit.  However, I remember our halftime show that year.  It was amazing.  And truth be told, I was thrilled to be a part of it.  I loved marching band, I really did.  And I knew, like everyone else knew, Wayne Pegram was a fantastic band director.  And through his band directing, he impacted literally THOUSANDS of lives.

As I’ve watched the activity on his Facebook page, and the other pages related to his life’s work, I’ve seen the effects of that impact.  The comments all tell the story of how much he meant to so many people.  As a band director at both the high school and college levels, he taught students from all walks of life, and most of those went on to be band directors themselves.  He wrote tons of arrangements of popular music and other pieces, and worked magic in the marching drills he created.  He had particular phrases that everyone knew, fondly called “Pegram-isms” by some, and many students truly believed that he controlled the weather.

He was amazing.

I just didn’t see it when I was a freshman.

It’s been 34 years since that fateful freshman year.  A little over a year ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Pegram, and tell him how I realized — though way too late — that changing my major was a mistake. At first, he shrugged it off with a gruff, “Eh, no, you probably should have changed your major.”  The look in his eyes?  Pain.  Just like the day he asked me why I wasn’t in marching band.

But I didn’t let it drop.  “No,”  I persisted, “I was wrong.  I should have never changed my major.  I know that now.  And you, sir… you were the best band director I ever had.”

The look on his face then?  Unforgettable.

When I learned he had passed, I was SO thankful I took the time to speak with him back in 2009.  That truly was a moment created by God, for which I will be forever grateful.

How did he impact so many lives?  How did he plant so many seeds in so many people?  He lived the way we all should live.

He lived his passion.

He knew what he was gifted to do, and he did it.  Every single day of his life.  I’m sure it cost him, in some ways.  Dedicating your life to your passion will cost you.  But the rewards?  Totally worth whatever it takes.

A legend has left this earth, and gone on to a better place.  But he has left behind a mark on humanity that will never be forgotten, and I truly believe because he lived his passion, the part of the world he impacted is a better place.

A mutual friend of his and mine, another band member, posted this song on his page soon following Dr. Pegram’s death.  It is quite appropriate, so I will share it here:

I could go on and on concerning Pegram’s accomplishments, and what he’s meant to so many, but instead I think I’ll say what I believe he would say:

Live your life.  Live your PASSION.  Live it well.

Dr. Wayne F. Pegram

1938 – 2011


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