It is with a pensive, nostalgic heart that I write this post. Last week, I received news that my former Director of Bands, Ronald J. Sarjeant had passed away, as I awaited the showing of The Dark Knight. I was a little surprised, nevertheless I instantly activated my call list, which consisted of my best friend Jacob (freshman roommate) and Shirelda (dear friend). I was still trying to process things myself as I made those phone calls. Since that time, I have participated in a plethora of messages that have been sent on a social networking site. More importantly, I have had time to ponder on the great times that I have shared under his leadership.
Sarj, as he was affectionately called, was not only my band director, but he was my professor as well. I had him for the following classes: Music Theory 2, Scoring and Arranging, and Conducting. It was solely because of him that I changed my conducting pattern in 4/4 time (my 3 curls under, just like his did). I can remember countless episodes of him taking the podium during practice, as we would all give him an ovation, every time.
I marveled at his arrangements, so much so, that I asked him one day, “Mr. Sarjeant, how do you write the way that you do? I mean, it seems like you hear everything.” He replied, “Well, you can hear the top and bottom parts easily. It’s the middle you really have to listen for.” My first exposure to his musical compositions was in the form of a cassette tape. One of the upperclassmen played a tape before rehearsal one day, during high school. The song was called Congratulations, sung by the late Vesta Williams. I listened intently as the cymbals crashed during the fermatas. I can still hear that song in my head, even now. That would only be the beginning.
My first visual exposure to this “Marching 101 Band” that my parents spoke so highly of came about, one day after school (also while in high school). I was over my friend Rashard’s house, when he put on a VHS tape of the band accompanying Levert as they sang their hit song, ABC 123. I still remember the march they came off of the field to (the name escapes me). I observed the 90 -degree leg lift, the snap and drive and instrument swing that the band had become infamous for. With little doubt, I knew that this would be the school I would attend for college.
I remember the first day that I met him. My Pop and I took the trip up to Orangeburg for my audition. I entered the audition room with my Portraits in Rhythm book in tow, as nervous as a cat who swallowed the canary. The details of the audition fade away as the initial meeting between me and Mr. Sarjeant come to light. He was a relatively quiet man, but walked upright (my father describes him as walking like a little tin soldier). After the audition, he thanked me and let me know that the university would be in contact with me soon. That was Spring 1996.
Quantum leaping to 2012, I find the lessons that I have learned from this man resurfacing throughout my daily practice as a middle school choir director. I still study my score, just as he taught me. As a producer, I spend time working on my counter-melodies. I pay attention to my inner harmonies. I listen more intently for tone color (timbre). I keep in mind that “percussion is to be felt, and not heard.” All of these things, I’ve learned as a result of his professorship. He was the capstone of collegiate career and I will miss him dearly.
As I conclude, I would like to dedicate this post to: Mrs. Barbara Sarjeant (wife), Erin & Ryan (children) and the entire Marching 101 Band family. Mr. Sarjeant impacted the world. I know this because my students and I have felt his impact. Rest Peacfully, brother.
My eyes are red, I cannot see; it must be the band from SCSU……
Until Next Time,
Love & Peace.