Strickland continues passing on the joy of music

Posted 1/18/24

The fireplace mantel had not yet been cleared of its Christmas season motif.   As in many homes in Wood County, the Christmas decorations tend to linger well into the new year.  

There …

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Strickland continues passing on the joy of music


The fireplace mantel had not yet been cleared of its Christmas season motif.  As in many homes in Wood County, the Christmas decorations tend to linger well into the new year. 

There is a lot of comfort in that.

Above the mantel at George and Melinda Strickland’s home just northwest of Mineola is a sign across the bricking. It reads, ‘Joy to the World.’

The red letters of the sign dance across a background of musical scores. It had been hand-made by Melinda and perfectly summarizes George Strickland’s career contributions to scholastic music.

At the end of an hour’s interview, Strickland had paused and offered, “I like to think that I have given many of those young musicians their own moment of joy through music.”

In a life dedicated to teaching, organizing and judging music at secondary schools throughout Texas, the number of young musicians impacted by Strickland easily reaches into the thousands. 

And it continues today, as Strickland remains engaged with a number of local schools and their music departments.  

The start of this engagement, however, goes back to the family home in Austin and a decision made by Strickland’s parents to provide piano lessons for him. For a postal worker and a church secretary, those lessons were likely an extravagance, but they developed in George a personal connection with music which has spanned his whole life.   

That however, wasn’t immediately clear to the young man.

“It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school, and found myself in the band (drum major), in the orchestra (bass player) and in the choir (baritone), that I finally admitted it looked like I was destined to earn my livelihood through music,” Strickland explained.   

After investigating options – including the U.S. Navy Band – Strickland came to attend Howard Payne University in Brownwood. 

Strickland described that Howard Payne University has quite a high reputation for their music program. The first year of schooling there was a bit of a ‘weeding-out’ process to identify those new students who were serious about their craft. 

He had been well-prepared through National Piano-playing Guild, playing accompaniment for his sister, Lynda, and his musical work at the Northwest Baptist Church. He easily made the cut.

Twenty-nine years as a band director in public schools followed. He led music programs at Robert Lee (5 years), Comanche (6 years), Henrietta (7 years) and Glen Rose (11 years).

That first job at Robert Lee was close enough to allow him to return to Brownwood occasionally. On one cold November afternoon, he came back to attend the Howard Payne vs. Abilene Christian football game.

It was at that game where he connected with Melinda. “We shared a blanket and have been together ever since,” he explained.

In addition to building highly successful music programs, Strickland introduced a number of innovations which have come to transform scholastic bands throughout the country. Those innovations included incorporating flag corps into performances, use of the glide step, rotational drill and basic elements of what is today considered ‘open class marching.’ 

While Strickland agrees that the sense of creativity in marching band performances is a positive development, he also reiterated that it is the quality of the music which remains most important in any presentation.

He cited Mineola High School as prime example of this. “Regardless of what is happening around them, they sound just terrific,” he noted. 

Strickland retired as an educator in 2002. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Richard Floyd, director of the UIL State Music Office, contacted Strickland with, ‘a job you don’t want to turn down.’ For the next 16 years, Strickland shaped the scholastic music environment in Texas as assistant director of state music activities.

As rewarding as his time bringing the joy of music to young people was, it may be his work with the UIL which has had the most impact. His duties with UIL included completely revamping the state sight-reading program, running the annual state marching band contest, establishing the state Mariachi Festival – first staged in 2012 – starting the State Solo and Ensemble Contest each Memorial Day and launching the State Wind Ensemble Festival as well as the February Honor Band Concert. 

It is easy to get lost in the nomenclature of music when speaking with Strickland. However, it doesn’t matter, as he returns again and again to express just why all these initiatives are important.

As he summarized, “The unique quality of music is that it is the instructional language…music helps develop a well-rounded education. There is much to gain from music as we prepare young people for adulthood.” 

When pressed about rapid growth of scholastic music programs in Texas, Strickland explained that the primary reason for its growth has been the high expectations set by administrators, band directors and the students themselves. 

He offered two examples. It is not uncommon, when gathered at national-level meetings about music administration, that the rest of the nation often defers to whatever course of action Texas has taken. That, Strickland advised, was because Texas is nationally-recognized as having the highest standards for scholastic music.

The second example is illustrative of that quality. One of the premier national ensembles in the nation is the Midwest Clinic of the International Band and Orchestra Conference.  Bands are selected to perform at this conference after having recordings of their music heard by judges. 

Strickland advised that he has seen it come to pass that all of the Texas schools who have submitted entries are first judged separately, then the remainder of the country. 

This past December the Tyler Junior College Apache Band ensemble was selected to perform. It was the first time a junior college had been chosen for the Midwest Clinic.  

Not surprisingly, it was George and Melinda’s son, Jeremy, who leads the Apache band. Now in his ninth year as Director of Bands for Tyler Junior College, he had built the Apache Band into a showpiece of world-class musicians. He has accomplished this through close coordination with high school music programs throughout the state – with many of his musicians coming from East Texas. 

It was certainly fitting and surely a dream come true for George to have directed one piece of music with his son at the Chicago Clinic last month. 

In addition to a very long list of honors from the music world as well as academia, two characteristics of George Strickland’s life stand out. 

His description of his professional work is riddled with references to many people who influenced him along the way. From Billy Harrell at Northwest Baptist Church to choir director Ed Gifford, Strickland is quick to point out how he benefited from the expertise and experience of others. 

The second constant is being grounded in faith. His description of music as “God’s beautiful color palette,” is possibly the best answer to anyone who would question the value of scholastic music programs.  

The Stricklands relocated to Mineola to be close to their grandchildren. Not one prone to idleness, George continues to advise local high schools – primarily Mineola, Lindale and Winona – encouraging young people to ‘make a joyful noise.’

That Lindale band has won four straight state military marching championships, with Jeremy’s son, Kaden, as senior drum major.