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Final hurrah helps band teacher figure out what matters

This year’s Memorial Day parade will be the last time Chris Revett marches with the Quaker Marching Band as they trumpet and drum through a triumphal “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

The Orchard Park High School band director will walk the curb alongside the band with new knowledge about what he’s done right all these years.

Revett figured it out two weeks ago, when a drum line made up of 125 current and former students burst through the auditorium doors after finale of the spring concert.

After he announced that he was leaving the district in July after 29 years to lead the Erie County Music Educators Association, a band member’s mother started a secret “Celebrate Mr. Revett” Facebook page.

During the next three months, 538 people joined the page and messaged each other quietly. They arranged to buy plane tickets and record video messages for a tribute that overwhelmed Revett after the last notes were played at the “Music In May” concert.

“I didn’t want him to leave without knowing how much everyone cared about him,” said Amy Powell, booster club president and mother of three students who played in Revett’s marching band.

“I think what I learned is, what you put into things, you get back. It was something that he loved to do. When you love something, it shows, and it affects the people around you. It came back to him in the end,” she said.

The tribute took place in the Orchard Park High School auditorium on a recent rainy Monday evening. After the concert’s final crescendo of horns and drum rolls, Chris Revett was thinking that his career at the school was over.

Up to that point, he was pretty happy – and relieved – about how things had gone. The kids sounded great. They had listened to each other. They had mastered the “Garage Band” medley of old rock ‘n’ roll songs with the modern addition of an iPad playing drum and guitar sounds.

He thought he knew what would come next: Acknowledgement from his colleagues. A restaurant gift certificate. He’d thank them and look forward to an Italian dinner with his wife.

Instead, Revett heard drums the auditorium. He could hear “rim shot” clacks of sticks hitting drum edges and skins at once. It was a drum line.

The doors flew open. Former students poured in, 125 of them, blaring out “The Battle Hymn” on drums, trumpets and clarinets. They filled the side aisles and crowded in the back. They’d flown in from California, Utah and New York City – from 10 states and Canada all together. They wore their old band T-shirts. One smiling snare drummer had a sweatshirt with big fuzzy letters on the front: QMB, for Quaker Marching Band.

They beamed. He beamed.

This was Revett’s “Mr. Hollard’s Opus” moment.

Alone on the stage in his tuxedo, with gray hair and a light scruff of a beard, he could have been a tall, thin Richard Dreyfuss. Like the title character in the movie about the transformative power of high school bands, Revett was overcome. He took off his glasses and wiped at his eyes. He turned red. He smiled.

“These faces,” he said scanning the auditorium. “This is just amazing.”

There was the now-professional drummer from Los Angeles. A former flute player and high school band director came from Atlanta. The little girl who used to play clarinet drove in from Toronto. A long-ago booster president and her husband flew in from Alabama.

The crowd watched, rapt. Revett, looking a little awkward sitting in a rocking chair someone had pulled onto the stage for him, laughed.

Administrators spoke. A now-retired principal said he used to head over to the music department on bad days for some cheer, the merry cacophony of band practice melding with the smell of coffee Revett was known for brewing in his office.

“You’ll never see that in a test score,” said Bob Farwell, the former principal. “Your legacy is much more than those trophies out there in those glass cases.”

On a big screen on stage, a video montage played. One alum after another said, “Gooood evening, Mr. Revett” in formal and funny voices, the way he used to greet them every day at school.

An alumna talked from a New York City street wearing a makeshift band uniform.

“It has meant the world to me to be able to do that, to be able to say I did this in high school and it’s part of me still,” said Tracey Wilson in her video clip. One summer, Revett had persuaded Wilson to learn the saxophone after all the other sax players had graduated. She was intimidated, but he told her she could do it. And she did.

Wilson, now a working actor, wore epaulets on an old band T-shirt in the clip.

“I had fun getting dressed up to say, ‘Thank you’, and to say, ‘congratulations,’ and what an impact you have made on my life and so many others and I’m just proud to know you, proud to have been part of QMB.”

An embarrassed Revett was remembering stories of his former students. He could still see Wilson wearing real epaulets to conduct the band in their first-ever competition, in Jamestown in the rain.

“Her makeup was running … She just had the biggest smile on her face,” he said. “She just squeezed my hand so tight.”

As he prepared for his final parade as the director of the Quaker Marching Band, Revett had figured something out.

He is still proud QMB was the highest-scoring band in the state championships in 2007. But he gets busy and involved and sometimes forgets how important the small things are.

Like saying, “Gooood Morning!” Or fixing a drum skin that got pierced with a stick just before a show. Or putting a flute player with a spark of ambition in charge of something new.

That’s the stuff that somebody has taken to heart.

“It’s all those little things,” Revett said, “that you did for these guys along the way that they remember.”

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The Orchard Park Memorial Day Parade begins at 9 a.m. Monday at the library, 4570 South Buffalo St., and continues to West Quaker Street and Veterans Park.

email: mkearns@buffnews.com