By Linda Greer
Globe Staff Writer
Two local high-school band directors who each kept their halls alive with the sound of music for more than two decades will lay down their batons this month.
James Kelso of Neosho and Bill Punch of Webb City knew at young ages they wanted to make their living doing something musical. Neither dreamed they would be fortunate enough to actually do it.
Now both say it is time for the next generation to have fun leading the band.
“I feel truly blessed to have made my living my whole adult life in music,” said Kelso, who equates music to magic. “There is no music in that room until we breathe life into it.”
Punch, whose parents were educators, said, “A lot of kids go to college not knowing what they want to do, but I did.”
For Punch, teaching and music were his greatest academic interests. To teach music was the ultimate. From the time he first picked up his father’s old trumpet in the fifth grade, after acknowledging he did not get along with the piano, he was hooked on jazz.
“I thought the jazz band was the greatest thing in the world,” said Punch, who led the Webb City High School jazz band to many first-place trophies.
Fifteen miles to the south, Kelso was leading Neosho’s jazz band to award after award.
Yet both directors speak humbly of their accomplishments, preferring instead to commend the strong support of their communities and school administrators and the discipline of their students.
Kelso, who in 1978, at age 28, became the youngest ever band director in Neosho, credits much of the band’s successes to the community.
“The community support in Neosho has been phenomenal,” he said. “I never intended (being a band director) to be anything but a career, but I never dreamed it would be 28 years.”
By Linda Greer
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