Behind the Lyre: Rex Jamieson (Part 1)

On 14th October, we had the opportunity to speak with Rex Jamieson from The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and 2nd Marine Division Band. In this interview, Rex shares how he was introduced to music, and military bands!

The second part of this blog will be posted on 13th November. Make sure to keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!


Rex, would you mind just briefly introducing yourself to our readers?

Well, I’m Rex Jamieson, and I’m originally from a small town in Delaware County of New York State. I retired from the army in 1996, where I had been a drummer and a fifer in The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. I was also a member of the 2nd Marine Division Band between 1973 and 1975.

How did you originally get involved with music, Rex?

My dad was the local public school band director, and my mom had been a music major in college, she was a violin player and taught piano lessons. My dad and his older brother both played trombone. They’d grown up on my grandfather’s farm. My grandfather was the third generation on that farm, but because his sons both went into music, and because they didn’t have any sisters, there was no-one to inherit the family farm. During WWII, my grandfather sold the farm to buy a house in town.

I grew up with music and in fact, in 1957 my parents bought out the little old lady that had the music store in my hometown. I don’t know how they got the money because they were raising four children, and dad was on a teacher’s salary. They didn’t have a lot of money, so I think they must have borrowed some somewhere. They bought what they thought they could sell from the little lady that decided to retire and started a music store in our house. So, there were seven of us in a house plus the music store, it was a little crowded! I literally grew up with music, it was part of my life all the while, and has been ever since.

Rex and his Father's High School Band in 1962 (photograph property of Rex Jamieson)
Rex and his Father’s High School Band in 1962 (photograph property of Rex Jamieson)

What kind of music store was it that your parents set up in their house?

Primarily they’ve provided student type band instruments for school aged kids, beginners, intermediate, and high school level mostly. Eventually they discovered the Japanese Suzuki Violin Learning Method through a local newspaper article, and began buying and renting out small-sized violins, beginning with the 1/16th size, and as the child grows, progressing to the 1/10th size, 1/8th, ¼, ½, ¾, and full size.  I started my own daughter on a 1/16th sized violin at three years old, and she played all through high school (14 years).

Of course, my dad being the band director knew all the music teachers around the County, so it spread from there by word of mouth. My nephew has now inherited this store from my brother, so it’s on third generation now. They probably have several hundred of these little violins now. They’re constantly shipping them through the mail and, cleaning up the ones that come back, and sending them out again.

What’s the name of the store, Rex?

Walton Music House.

Amazing, you literally did grow up in a music house then! What instrument did you first start with, Rex?

Well, my dad started me on drums in third grade, but back in those days, you started playing instruments in the fourth grade. We had gotten a brand-new string director for our orchestra, who happened to be a cello major in college. I was given a musical assessment exam, and as soon as he saw my music score, he wanted me to play cello! So that’s what I did in fourth grade, along with one of my classmates.

Were you playing drums and cello all the way through high school?

Yes, I played drums in the band and cello in the orchestra, sang in the chorus, sang in the madrigals… My dad was one of several men that started an all-male sacred men’s chorus. They would start rehearsing in October and go around singing in the churches across the county during the wintertime. I started singing in that in the eighth grade. My brother and I started and played in a rock and roll band all through high school as well. I was very fortunate to have all those different musical experiences available to me. Eventually I majored on cello in college for a couple of years at a community college in Syracuse, New York.

Did you do that straight after High School?

Well, if you were flunking any subject in high school, you couldn’t play sports. I managed to barely keep it above water level so I could play some basketball and run some track as well as playing in the band and orchestra, playing in the rock and roll band with my brother, and everything else I was doing. I flunked four out of five subjects in my sophomore year. Of course, I made them up going into my junior year, so I managed to graduate with my class, but my marks weren’t very high.

When I first graduated from high school in the mid-sixties, the draft was on big time. The US was getting very heavily involved in Vietnam and needless to say, there weren’t too many colleges clamouring for me to come to them with my grades. I knew what my option was, so I did my time in Vietnam. I knew that “Uncle Sam” (U.S. Gov’t) would help me financially with college after my military service with the “G.I. Bill”, which was a monthly stipend to assist veterans with college tuition.

The first picture of Rex in his band uniform (photograph property of Rex Jamieson)
The first picture of Rex in his band uniform (photograph property of Rex Jamieson)

I see, so what happened when you came back?

When I came back in July of 69, my mom told me about the two-year music course up in Syracuse. Well, I wasn’t much of a drummer. I was adequate, but barely. The only thing I thought I might pass an audition on was the cello. Fortunately, my high school orchestra teacher was still there, so he coached me during the month of August. After four weeks’ worth of lessons, I auditioned on September 2nd, was accepted, and started classes three days later. I was lucky to get in at the last minute like that.

I eventually transferred to Ithaca College. Ithaca was BOTH my Dad’s and my Uncle Allen’s “Alma Mater”, so that’s why I applied there, and was fortunate to be accepted as a student! Ithaca has probably one of the finest college music orchestras in the nation and is very well known for its music programme. I decided that I had to audition for the orchestra, and ended up sitting in 10th chair cello, the third chair wasn’t even a music major – that’s how good their players were! After one semester at Ithaca college on the cello, I ran into a professor there that was really dedicated to his instrument, and he could tell that I wasn’t. I finally decided I didn’t want to play the cello that badly, so I dropped out for a while.

Rex and his High School classmates with new Marching Band drums - Rogers "Flat Jacks". The snare drums had two heads (1" apart), the tenor drums had one head, and the bass drums had one head which would spin around (photograph property of Rex Jamieson)
Rex and his High School classmates with new Marching Band drums – Rogers “Flat Jacks”. The snare drums had two heads (1″ apart), the tenor drums had one head, and the bass drums had one head which would spin around (photograph property of Rex Jamieson)

What did you do then?

I started working in my hometown for a little bit, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. Some buddies of mine and I got interested in Drum and Bugle Corps. We started a little Street Corps in my hometown. We brought in some guys to instruct it who had been members of a Corps in a neighbouring town back during the fifties and sixties. They were pretty well steeped in the art. That’s when I decided I was going to start learning how to really be a drummer. I had just been an average drummer, but I needed to get familiar with drum rudiments and different sticking patterns. I’d never bothered to learn those in high school. Of course, with two and a half years as a college music major under my belt meant I read music very well.

I got so interested in that and really start practicing hard. Our instructors were playing with the Syracuse Brigadiers Drum and Bugle Corps, which is an all age corp. These were very experienced players who took me along to watch that drum line rehearse. And boy, I was fascinated with that! I actually played cymbals that summer with them, and I’d intended on going back to join them, till all of a sudden my dad had subscribed to a musician’s magazine that was advertising  for a percussionist at the West Point Military Academy Band. I said, “Hey, maybe I can get paid to play percussion?”, so I went to the army recruiter to set me up an audition.

Rex competing at Madison Square Garden with the Reading Buccaneers Drum and Bugle Corps in 1978 (photograph property of Rex Jamieson)
Rex competing at Madison Square Garden with the Reading Buccaneers Drum and Bugle Corps in 1978 (photograph property of Rex Jamieson)

Amazing, and how did that go?

I went down for the audition, which was a quite simple, basic exam that was very easy to pass. They’d filled the position the week before but asked; “how would you like to go to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas?” and play in the army band down there. I wasn’t really interested in doing that because the West point position had only been a two-hour drive from my hometown.

The recruiter invited me into his office, and I explained that I was interested in Drum and Bugle Corps and the rudimental style of drumming. He asked if I’d ever heard of the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, which I had done, as I’d subscribed to Drum Corp newspaper. They’d had a full-page article about it the year before. He asked me if I wanted to audition for this groupThe advantages of being a member of this group were: 1, I would never be transferred to another Fife/Drum Corps, as this was the only one in the entire U.S. Military, and 2, I would be promoted to sergeant very quickly…

Rex warming up before a parade with the 2nd Marine Division Band (1973-1975) at Camp Lejeune, N.C.  (photographs property of Rex Jamieson)
Rex warming up before a parade with the 2nd Marine Division Band (1973-1975) at Camp Lejeune, N.C. (photographs property of Rex Jamieson)

Sounds fantastic!

Yes, that sounded pretty good to me, so he set me up an audition. It’s funny how the audition came about for that actually. I was marching with an indoor colour guard, carrying the American flag, and we were practicing for a national competition in Boston in the summer of 1980. On my way there, I stopped by one of the drummers houses from the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps who was dispatched home that weekend to audition me. I swung by his house and auditioned, and fortunately I passed it. I then went on to Boston where we competed there, and we finished in fourth place nationally. That fall, I left for Washington DC. It’s been nearly 40 years that I’ve been here in Northern Virginia.

TOP: Corporal Jamieson BOTTOM: Corporal Jamieson with Lance Corporal Larry Tuso after a parade in their Fatigue Uniform (photographs property of Rex Jamieson)
TOP: Corporal Jamieson BOTTOM: Corporal Jamieson with Lance Corporal Larry Tuso after a parade in their Fatigue Uniform (photographs property of Rex Jamieson)

…this blog will be continued on 13th November – keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!


Get Involved in ‘Behind the Lyre’

Would you be interested in sharing some of your experience working within or with a military or marching band? If so, we would love the opportunity to speak with you.

We’re looking for people from all countries, of all ages and abilities, who play all sorts of instruments! We’re also looking for those who are a little further behind the lyre. This includes educators, directors, agents responsible for sourcing musical instruments, the instrument manufacturers themselves, and many more. We would love to share your important role in military and marching music with the rest of our community.

To find out more, or to schedule an interview, please email hannah.williams@bbico.com.

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