Humor has served as a constant instrument for Patrick Shamblin in his 37-year role as middle school band director for Spokane Public Schools. His motive, though, is to bring children to music.
Graduating Eastern Washington University to become a music teacher, Shamblin first taught from 1984-2003 at Shaw Middle School. He has led band students the past 18 years at Sacajawea Middle School, where fun resonates for kids ages 12 to 14.
Like telling students since 1984 that he’s 108, a collective of kids’ guesses of his age that year. As students practiced marching and playing music in the nearby South Hill neighborhood for the Junior Lilac Parade, he would ask friends greeting them each year why they never had 186 muffins for all the kids.
Yes, sarcasm with a baton got regular use, Shamblin said. “The rumors of the bodies buried under the gym floor at both Shaw and Sac have been greatly exaggerated.”
“Humor is such a tool for these kids because all they want to do is have fun. If you can get them to have fun playing music, and then they’ll still learn from the fun guy, you win in middle school to do that. Plus, if I’m not having any fun, I don’t want to be here.”
Shamblin is retiring at the end of this school year while the fun is still there. It’s been the plan he and his wife, Angi, had for his real age, 62, to enjoy retirement split between Spokane and Florida, where their son is a marina charter captain.
“We’re a boating family. He took his first boat ride when he was 4 weeks old. We have a boat at Lake Coeur d’Alene, and we’ll have a boat in Florida, as well.”
A trumpet player, Shamblin hits a serious note when describing thousands of musical memories for Shaw and Sacajawea students.
“The cool thing about teaching middle school is you really can take them from some very inexperienced, total beginners, and by the time a school year has ended, we’re really making music,” he said.
“The kids are really playing, and they’re not just playing their instruments. They’re actually being musicians, understanding the music literature and communicating through that language of music. So, that’s just a charge to see them do that.”
Over his career, Shamblin prepared middle school performers for regional music association scoring on whether they met national standards in seven categories of musicianship. Routinely, Shaw and Sacajawea groups took home excellent or superior ratings. Kids learned to play in percussion, extracurricular jazz band and fourth- and fifth-grade bands.
It’s also nearly four decades of having students perform before groups at veteran facilities, nursing homes, retirement communities, elementary schools, First Fridays downtown, shopping malls and Shaw and Sacajawea concerts.
“You start thinking about that during our performances at schools and in the community, our Sacajawea kids are in front of over 3,000 people to do that,” he said. “That doesn’t count the Junior Lilac Parade, where it’s a 30-minute standing ovation.
“When we win in the Junior Lilac Parade, you go to the Lilac Parade, and we see hundreds of thousands of people. Sacajawea has been fortunate to do that a few times. For 37 years in Spokane, that’s tens of thousands of students who have those memories, and they tell those stories.”
“My paradigm shift is that I don’t bring music to kids, I try to bring the kids to music. Anyone can throw a recording of something at a kid, and it doesn’t mean it will impact them, but when you bring them to the music and they play it, then they’re feeling something rather than just passively listening. In all my years, I rarely remember tunes, I just remember what it felt like to play them.”
The daily morning lineup practices during the week before the Junior Lilac Parade gave kids the experience of doing their routines on local streets, past the Harvard Park senior community, Touchmark on South Hill, Jefferson Elementary and Comstock Park. The reception among neighbors was “99% positive,” drawing onlookers and preschool kids who followed along.
“Someone tried to kill us only once,” he quipped. A day sleeper once took issue with the sounds and got in his truck, appearing to head toward the group, but the situation was quickly diffused.
Junior Lilac also meant wearing costumes for parade themes such as zombies in a tribute to Michael Jackson music and playing “Thriller” and hooded Jedi robes for creating “Star Wars” music.
Raised in Coeur d’Alene, Shamblin started playing music in fifth grade at age 10. He was drawn to the trumpet, and “it worked for me.” His first band director was a trumpet player, and he remembers how he’d take Shamblin’s musical instrument to play for class members.
“He was a wounded World War II veteran and a big-band trumpet player, so he’d play stuff for us that was just inspiring and amazing,” he said. Shamblin learned to play other instruments. “They say, if you scratch a trumpet player, you’ll find a drummer. That would probably be the next thing that I do because I teach percussion.”
Percussion leads to another tradition – each year teaching students a routine that his 1984 eighth-graders showed him for a spotlight snare drum performance as part of “The Little Drummer Boy.”
“It’s a Spokane tradition that I believe can be traced back to 1971 beginning at Shaw Middle School and a part written by a band director of the past,” he said, though the name is unconfirmed.
“The eighth-grade drummers were telling me that this is a real point of pride for them and that you’ve got to learn to do this so you can keep passing it onto the generations, and I have. I’ve shared this, and I’ve done it every year as a Christmas concert closer with as few as three and as many as 37 snare drums.”
Drum corps members are lined at elbow-contact distance to perform the part with visuals, “where the drummers are doing things up in the air with their sticks, and they’re playing on each other’s drums. It’s really flashy,” he said. The part matches the melody of the original arrangement. “I did this every year I was teaching that wasn’t impacted by COVID, true to their request. I’m teaching it to my drum class right now in hopes it will continue here.”
His office has award certificates, but also student-presented treasures: a bike helmet with his name after he tripped and got a concussion teaching drum majors a pivot turn and a bandstand with the names of all his eighth-graders who left Sacajawea in 2004, including Gabby, Brenna, Zack, Ryan and Mr. Campbell, so nicknamed in joking about the soup.
It’s the students who stand out. “I’m a pathetic individual with a baton if not for the kids.” Shamblin hopes to play his trumpet a bit in retirement, perhaps in a community band. Other than long-ago playing with the Spokane British Brass Band, there wasn’t time for that. For his career, he credits friends, colleagues and mentors, including his high school band director, John Terris.
“He got the ball rolling, brought the music to me, and I give him credit for instilling a work ethic it takes to strive for excellence in music. And I’ve got to thank my wife for all her years of support and sharing the worries when I didn’t think the kids would make it – and sharing the joys when they did. She listened to every concert I ever had.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.