Drum Corps International
In Memory of Tam Easterwood

In Memory of Tam Easterwood

by Drum Corps International

Alan Armstrong is a band director in the Coweta County School District in Georgia. He wrote in to inform me that Jan. 31 is the 10th anniversary of the death of Tam Easterwood, whom many in the drum corps community knew through his visual work with Spirit of Atlanta. To many, he was known as part of Spirit's "dynamic trio," working with Scott Chandler and Sal Salas to bring us some of the most intriguing visual programs of the era. Tam was one of those instructors that just about everyone knew. I personally can't put my finger on his magic. I knew him at a time that I had yet to know many others. He just exuded the type of personality that drew people to him. Alan marched in the corps during Tam's tenure, and his wife marched the 1985, 1986 and 1987 guards under Tam's tutelage. Alan then taught the corps along with Tam and later went on to arrange for Tam's East Coweta High School Marching Band. On Monday, Jan. 31, friends of Tam's will be hosting a "Celebration and Memorial" of his life at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts that was completed last year in the county where Tam taught. A link to the Centre is in the middle of the school system's Web page. And now for the recollections of Alan Armstrong, Tam's friend and fellow band director. Ten years ago, we walked up the gravel-covered road of Holly Pond, Ala., a tiny town in Alabama where Tam Easterwood was born, died and was buried. We were following the East Coweta Marching Indian Band as they led the procession from the church to the cemetery where we would lay to rest their beloved director and our beloved friend. A local business paid to send the entire band from Georgia to the funeral in Alabama. Those were the hard times, watching the grieving family members, hearing the band play "Precious Lord" and "Amazing Grace," standing arm-in-arm with our colleagues and friends as we grieved ourselves. Only about 600 people lived in Holly Pond at that time. More than 1,000 mourners showed up at the funeral. The good times transpired in thousands of lives during the 35 years that preceded that horrible time and in thousands of more lives over the last 10 years. Each of us who knew him will cherish the memories of our time with him. He touched the lives of many former students and colleagues. Their success is as much a tribute to Tam as any of the accomplishments of the dozens of the ensembles he worked with while he was with us. As educators, my wife and I try to live by the philosophy that, "There is no success without successors." The greatest gift we could offer the world is to create in those we teach the desire to excel and to be the next generation to lift up others, to inspire in them the desire to be more than they dreamed they could be. Tam did that in spades. Students in every walk of life still give him the credit for turning their lives around. He taught them self-discipline, demanded of them dedication and a level of commitment that wasn't demanded of them anywhere else in their young lives. He made a difference. He is still making a difference 10 years later. The fire he lit inside so many of those he touched still burns bright and is passed on daily in hundreds of different ways. Because of the wonderful things we were all exposed to, those of us who were taught by him, who taught with him, or even just had the chance to witness him teach others, will never be the same. He had a fiery temper, a smile that could light up a room, and a laugh -- an infectious laugh. Anyone that ever spent much time around him got at least a little taste of all three. In the year after his death, my wife, Ginger, and I came to work as one of the band directors and the guard director at East Coweta High School, the school where Tam had built a true dynasty in a tiny Georgia town. We did so in the hopes that we could help ease that transition for those kids and insure that what they had built together wasn't completely torn apart. After a very successful year with that band, I was given the chance to open the new high school in the same county the next June. Ginger stayed at East Coweta temporarily, continuing as their full-time instructor while helping oversee our fledgling guard program. One of her East Coweta guard students (one of Tam's kids) taught for us on a daily basis in those early years, while I built my band staff of Tam's former students whom I had gotten to know. Eventually, Ginger joined me at Northgate and our entire program has been modeled in dozens of ways off of what Tam did just down the road. At the time I took the job at East Coweta, I had known Tam for 12 years and I had been teaching for seven. Obviously, he had influenced me in many positive ways. What I saw, learned and experienced in the year that I spent with "his kids" and "his program" changed me as a teacher forever, and remains a huge part of the daily success we've had here at Northgate. There are dozens of other stories from doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, coaches, pilots -- the list is endless. There was a young man who couldn't afford the expensive leather letter jacket his senior year. After Tam's death, the letter jackets arrived, and there was one for this young man. Tam had bought it for him. That young man went on to play in the all-state band, was selected for the governor's honors program and learned to play baritone bugle and marched two years with Madison Scouts (where Tam had marched). He later went on to a teaching career with Spirit, eventually serving for two years as their visual caption head. There are so many other lives that he touched in similar ways, inspiring them all to live up to their potential. To each of us who knew him, we will always be the richer. To those who didn't know him then, you can still get to know him, at least a little. Order the DCI Legacy DVDs and watch the first world championship guard Spirit produced in 1985, with Tam, Scott Chandler and Sal Salas leading the way. Watch the State Street winter guards from the 1980s with the same talented crew in charge of those productions. Watch the '86 or '87 Spirit productions for which Tam served as program coordinator. Or, watch the 1990 Spirit of Atlanta as they triumphantly returned to finals with a program based on "Gone With the Wind," again with Tam as coordinator. Watch the videos of his championship bands, or listen to the recordings of his concert bands as they played at the Georgia State Music Educators convention. The intensity, the spirit, the joy for life that he brought to everything that he did is evident in every ensemble he touched and every performance he helped create. In 2002, my wife brought in John Gray and Jack Germany -- two of her friends who had marched with her in the 1986 Spirit guard -- to help her teach the winter guard here at our school. John was the designer and coordinated the program. Those three, together with Teresa Woods (another Spirit vet from later years) and a very special group of students, crafted a show that would be named the champions of the Southeastern Color Guard Circuit in only the second year of the guard's existence. Fittingly, it included several young men featured on rifle. It was the staff's own tribute to Tam and their chance to pass on the legacy of love for performance that he had given each of them when they marched under his instruction years ago. The show utilized music from the "Lion King." In closing, I want to share the lyrics from that song in the hope that for each of you that knew him, each of you that were affected by some performance he touched, and most certainly, each of you that he taught that teach others now, will smile as you realize that even so many years later: "He Lives In You." Wait, there's no mountain too great
Hear the words and have faith ...
Have faith He lives in you
He lives in me
He watches over
Everything we see
Into the water
Into the truth
In your reflection
He lives in you ... Following are thoughts from others who knew Tam. From Freddy Martin, founding director of Spirit of Atlanta, the corps Tam worked with from 1983 through 1990: Tam was a wonderful friend and amazing talent. He marched with the Scouts and came to Spirit as an instructor in 1983. He became program coordinator in 1986. That year was one of the corps' most successful competitive years and it was due to Tam's work with Sal Salas, Mike Back, Scott Chandler and Robert Smith that made that year so wonderful. Tam was always a positive influence on everyone around him, but especially young people. He is missed each and every day. From Lynda Martin, Freddy's wife, one of the corps' managers, bookkeepers and on the board of directors from its founding, and in general the "corps mom" to almost everyone -- staff and members alike. There are so many wonderful and happy memories that come to mind when I think of Tam. I can still see that brilliant smile, hear that laugh and see his craziness and fun-loving ways. The corps members, staff and parents alike all loved him. He truly loved and enjoyed life. It was an honor to know him and call him "friend." From Amy Jacobson, one of Tam's guard kids at Spirit. Tam Easterwood brings to mind so many images, it is hard to capture his essence in a few words. A creative, technical, organizational, logistical master with a huge heart, a brilliant sense of humor who inspired those he taught to be better people and to reach beyond their current capabilities. I was extremely lucky to be one of the many who had Tam in my life. To me, he will always be my very own "Mr. Holland." I easily replace Richard Dreyfus with Tam every time I see the movie, as Tam and I joined the Spirit of Atlanta in 1983 and I think we both had our share of misgivings. His was about teaching girls in his rifle line for the first time and mine was struggling to keep up with my more talented peers. Though it was a tough year for the corps in many ways, it is my favorite year, as I learned so much about technique, the activity in general and myself. With no superior training, I know I can achieve anything I put my mind, body and soul into. He also pushed himself within the activity and became our program coordinator in addition to his role as rifle instructor. Under his guidance and organizational skills, the corps was better informed, on time and more productive. His energy was endless as he simultaneously juggled a successful, yet demanding, full-time band director position with East Coweta High School. His tenacity for drilling the basics, encouragement and constant support came at a time when I needed it most in my life and I credit his daily influence over the five summers I spent with Spirit to my overall success in life, for which I'll always be grateful. From Allison Loud, another of Tam's guard kids in the 1980s at Spirit. All teen-agers need someone who believes in them. And in the competitive world of DCI, the long summers can either leave you feeling incompetent or filled with self-confidence. Much of the result comes from the instructors with whom you spend your summers. I was fortunate. I was brimming with confidence at the end of the four summers I spent with the Spirit of Atlanta and an instructor named Tam Easterwood. Tam made me feel I could do anything. During the summer of 1985, we were in contention for the top spot as a color guard. We had the most fun of any color guard that summer, much of it thanks to Tam's terrific sense of humor. I haven't laughed as much or worked as hard at one time. I can remember Tam waking us up in the gym singing, "Good morning, good morning," with his own made-up words. I can see his beaming face the night of finals. He was smiling -- glowing really, and telling us, "Now is your time to shine! Go out there and have fun! Show them who you are! Show them you are the best color guard in the world." He believed it, so we believed it. It was rewarding to receive the top guard honors from DCI that year, but more important to our group was fulfilling the dream Tam (and Scott Chandler) had for us. It was worth it all to see Tam and Scott celebrating. I can still see Tam jumping up and down after we were announced the top spot for color guard that evening. Tam was more than just my color guard instructor; he was my friend and my advocate. His smile will always be with me, and to some degree, so will his expectations that I will always do my best. There are people who come into your life and leave an indelible impression. Tam Easterwood was one of those people. He was always positive, always smiling, full of energy, and ready for life. If you ever met Tam Easterwood, you probably didn't forget it. If you never had the privilege, you missed out on one of God's best works. From Ginger Armstrong, another of Tam's guard kids in the 1980s at Spirit. I often tell my students that my goal is to teach them to love what they do. Tam was instrumental in doing this for me as a performer. When I came to Spirit, he and Scott and Sal were an indescribable team. At the first few camps, those of use who were new were in awe to be working with such outstanding color guard instructors. Very quickly, though, the laughs and acting out silly scenes broke the ice and we all knew we were "home." Tam could definitely be tough -- but we always knew he was doing it for us -- so that we'd know what it was like to shine on the field and have the people in the crowd love our show. He and Scott were masters at playing "good cop/bad cop," with one of them balancing out the moods of the other so that we never got too overwhelmed in tough times. I can't look at a pool cue to this day without hearing Tam's voice while he cleaned our work in 1985. To balance out the hard days, we also had days of hackey-sack tournaments and making friends with the local ice cream man. I don't think any of us will ever forget them doing silly pantomimes while we were warming up for shows, or sitting at a piano in whatever random city on tour, playing by ear and singing old spirituals or just making up our own songs. We did work, but we also had LOTS of fun. The memories are endless, and I'm so grateful I have them. The love they gave us came through in our work. They taught us to love what we were doing and the people we were doing it with, and that's a gift that I consider to be of immeasurable value. To watch my kids playing in a rehearsal or performing on the field -- with that sparkle that comes from the love of performance -- is an incredible joy. As long as there are young kids out there getting the same lessons that Tam taught all of us, he lives on. I'm so blessed to have known him. Finally, from Scott Chandler, Tam's best friend, confidant, colleague, partner-in-crime, etc. I could write a book about Tam. Best friend, teacher, creative innovator. We were college roommates. We taught together at Spirit, State Street and Tate High School. No matter where we were through all those years, we could depend on each other for advice, ideas or just a shoulder. We were a writing team obsessed with the creative process, highly competitive and, because of Sal Salas, well prepared and determined to enjoy the entire journey. I admired Tam's confidence. He had a unique sense for what could work and he absolutely knew it when he saw it. I could throw out any question or idea at Tam and in a flash he could give me an honest response based on his own creative instinct. He had amazing insight and constantly encouraged me. I spoke with Tam at least every other day every week of the year. The creative process was ongoing and exhaustingly nonstop. Tam's work ethic drove any project, whether it was winter guard or his marching band or a flag design. I remember judging East Coweta's drill team tryouts in his first years as band director. He had a vision for what the band could become and we talked about it even in those earliest times. He saw it through and dedicated himself so completely to every project that involved him. And through it all, good times or bad -- we laughed. Fanfare archives Michael Boo has been involved with drum and bugle corps since 1975, when he marched his first of three seasons with the Cavaliers.

He has a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition.
   
He has written about the drum corps activity for over a quarter century for publications such as Drum Corps World, and presently is involved in a variety of projects for Drum Corps International, including souvenir program books, CD liner notes, DCI Update and Web articles, and other endeavors. Michael currently writes music for a variety of idioms, is a church handbell and vocal choir director, an assistant director of a community band, and a licensed Realtor in the state of Indiana. His other writing projects are for numerous publications, and he has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating. His hobbies include TaeKwonDo and hiking the Indiana Dunes. But more than anything, Michael is proud to love drum corps and to be a part of the activity in some small way, chronicling various facets of each season for the enjoyment of others.

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