For those who attended Swansboro schools back in the 1960s, you know we were blessed to have known the music teacher Mr. Les Edmonds. He was a one-of-a-kind teacher and he left a lasting impression on every student that experienced his music lessons or got involved in singing of some type.
A forgotten chapter of our past, perhaps, was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Back in 1962, when the nation’s mood was a mixture of fear, rumors and in some cases impending doom, some of us had no one with whom to discuss it.
We were faced with TV commercials that demonstrated what to do in case of an atomic bomb explosion; that was something none of us had ever seen before. These TV segments showed young school students kneeling under their desks and covering their eyes. So what were kids supposed to think? Yes, it was a hard transition for second and third graders to go from watching “The Flintstones” to watching the instruction on how to survive a nuclear attack.
I remember the knock on our elementary classroom door and as our teacher opened the door in walked Mr. Edmonds. As he came in our teacher told us that we were going to have a class on music and she left us with the music teacher for about an hour. He began by talking about the history of music and how the drum was considered one of the first instruments.
Soon we became totally captivated by the new school subject and before we knew it he had us singing some of the old songs that were a mixture of spiritual, folk and legends.
Now this was all taking place about the time the Russians – the USSR is how we referred to the country back then – was attempting to send nuclear armaments to Cuba. Their plan was set up a base on the little island only a handful of miles from the tip of Florida. In response, our military was setting up a blockade. We now know that if someone hadn’t blinked in the fall of 1962, there could have been wholesale annihilation. But even though we youngsters were not privy to any of that, it was terrifying!
Yet during our music lesson – which usually started by saying the Pledge of Allegiance – we would become transformed: from worried little classmates to carefree, laughing little folk singers.
Mr. Edmonds didn’t tell us it was going to be fun, I guess because we wouldn’t have believed him anyway, but he played a trick on us. He divided up our class into three parts and he would signal each section when to start singing, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” He also divided us up in singing “Jonah and the Whale” and “Frère Jacques.” We also sang another song called “Old Faithful,” which was an old west prairie song that was sung a long time ago by Gene Autry.
It was a simple classroom exercise that brought about a positive change in our psyches, where we were more focused afterward and had forgotten about the impending doom of Cuba launching nuclear missiles on our elementary school. The songs Mr. Edmonds taught us became our new recess playground song that gave us a common connection that we didn’t have before. Music is an amazing social connection tool and I’m glad that someone was there to add that to our lives.
Mr. Edmonds was also instrumental in the formation of the Swansboro High School Marching Band and went the extra mile to give individual attention to the band students. One of his most impressive challenges that he took on was to facilitate the project of making sure all the band members had band uniforms. He wanted the band looking professional when they played and marched in parades and he succeeded on that mission.
He even gave instructions on marching and keeping in step with everyone else.
Mr. Edmonds later became a school principal and was regarded as a great teacher and communicator.
The whole experience of the early 60s, the singing and the memories of Mr. Edmonds came back fresh and clear while watching the movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” The lead actor was Richard Dreyfus and the movie covered students whose lives had been changed by one man. The movie made me think of all the time and energy that goes into making a difference in life. So, if you never got to meet Mr. Edmonds, please watch the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and it will give you a sense of how the Swansboro students felt about their music teacher.
I’m grateful to have had Mr. Edmonds for a teacher and I am certain many others feel the same way.
For the kids of Swansboro Elementary School, the songs Mr. Edmonds taught us got our minds off of worry and put the bounce back in our step.
Thanks Mr. Edmonds for all you taught us.
Fred Velez is a Swansboro High School graduate. He is retired and lives in Stella.
For more on this story, purchase a copy of the Aug. 7, 2019, Tideland News.