Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Day I Played For The President

Last night, Barack Obama, President of the United States, came to Roanoke.

It was the first time in 35 years that a sitting president had made a stop in Roanoke. We've had a few land at the airport to be shuttled off to other venues, but not since Jimmy Carter had a president spoken directly to Roanokers.

I was at that event in 1977. It was September 23, 1977, to be exact, and President Jimmy Carter was here to stump for Henry Howell, candidate in the Virginia governor's race.

In 1977, I was 14 years old. I can't say that, as a freshman in high school, I cared very much about politics. That would have changed by the time I was a senior, but that would be in four more years. And even then it would be 1984 before I could vote in a presidential election. By then the damage was done.

For some reason, the Lord Botetourt High School band was chosen to play at this 1977 political event.

In front of the sitting president, Jimmy Carter.

President Carter spoke at the Roanoke Civic Center, which, as I recall, was packed.

I started playing in band in sixth grade. I was a flute player, and I was always either first or second chair. First chair meant you were the best, but that could change. Our band director, Mr. Lowe, tested us every six weeks, and whoever did the best took first chair. For years I rotated in and out of that seat, vying with Angie C. for the sweet spot.

First chair meant you played the most difficult parts in the music. You also played the piccolo if the music called for it. We all loved the piccolo.

We went to the Civic Center in a bus, and I remember we had to leave our instrument cases on the bus for security reasons. We also could not take in hats or pocketbooks. The bus driver assured us he would keep our things safe.

Then it was a matter of playing when the president came in. Only I don't remember what we played for him.

The Star Spangled Banner, maybe.

Here is a picture from my freshman yearbook of the band at the event:

That dour-looking girl with the yellow circle around her is me.

Apparently I was not as thrilled as the two seniors in front of me to be seeing the president.

Looking back, I am really glad that I was able to participate in this. What a fine thing to have done, eh?

To have played my flute for a sitting president.


  1. My daughter played the flute in high school band and at UCLA. But never first chair, so good on you, as they say in New Zealand! And for a president...pretty special!

    1. Thanks! I hadn't given it much thought but this recent presidential visit reminded me.

  2. That is indeed special, Anita. Not too many people can say that. Do you still play the flute?

    1. No, I'm afraid not. I haven't picked one up probably since I married.

  3. What a wonderful experience to have. President Obama is coming to Oakland next week and there's a good chance his motorcade will go up our street. I'm jazzed even without being able to perform for him. I hope you still play the flute.

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  5. That would be a neat experience. Senator Obama was here twice while campaigning for president, but I missed him both times--the first because I was sick, the second because I had to work. I did see John Kerry during his presidential campaign, though, and that was pretty cool (not to mention that Bruce Springsteen opened for him).


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