I met Dr. Francis McBeth when I was a senior in high school. I made a phone call and set up a time to meet with him in his studio on a college visit day at Ouachita Baptist University. He gave me advice and spoke to me in a way that made me feel comfortable, eliminating the fear I should have felt in the presence of a world-famous composer and musician.
I ended up at Henderson State University, across the street, but continued to watch Dr. McBeth for years, enjoying the privilege of playing some of his compositions in manuscript as he listened and consulted with Wendell O. Evanson, Director of Bands at Henderson. Watching these great musicians’ friendship and professional respect for each other was a lesson in itself.
Well into his 80s, my wife and I saw Dr. McBeth and his wife at a restaurant in Arkadelphia. I introduced myself and Becca and then we enjoyed the same relaxed and friendly conversation I’d had with him years before.
He was not only a world famous musician, composer, and conductor. He was a great teacher! The following story from Dr. McBeth illustrates his influence and how he valued relationships with students.
W. Francis McBeth in 1997:
Some years ago in Knoxville, Tennessee I stepped into the hotel coffee shop following a concert and saw Wynton Marsalis sitting with his high school band director, Peter Dombourian. Because I knew Pete well, I thought it a great opportunity to meet this trumpet virtuoso.
As I approached the table Wynton Marsalis got up, walked toward me, and called me by name. I was so surprised and asked him if we had met before. He replied that he was in the Louisiana All State Band in Shreveport when I was the guest conductor.
Marsalis proceeded to list the entire program that we had played, piece by piece, and during our visit quoted many things that I had said. It was after this visit that I began to reflect on the seriousness of every comment in front of an ensemble. Here was a world-class performer who remembered what I had said when he was in high school. It brought home to me that anything I say in front of an honor band had better be correct, especially the criticism, because those students will never forget it. That’s a heavy responsibility.
That responsibility to use words carefully with others was something Dr. McBeth took seriously, whether he met you in an honor band or at an Arby’s Restaurant. When I praise a child for good work or give corrective comments, I often think of Dr. McBeth in hopes that my words will honor his legacy as a teacher who spoke with care, knowing that some of our words might influence children’s lives for years to come.
Dr. McBeth is pictured here with some of his musician/conductor friends and peers: L to R: Dr. Jim Buckner, David Rollins, Dr. Bill Clark, Wendell Evanson, Dr. Francis McBeth
Here’s a musical sample: Masque by Dr. Francis McBeth