There’s a sense of comfort, a place to relax and call home for those who burrow their way inside Howard Crawford’s classroom.
It’s a hideaway of sorts, a safe domain, because of the man who plays such an important part in their lives.
Enter the sanctuary full of drums, trumpets, saxophones and more and prepare to stay awhile. Why not? Others do, sometimes leaving their laundry behind.
Crawford, who teaches band and orchestra at South Pasadena High School with that recognizable jovial laugh, gets a kick out of how close-knit he and his students are as they often spend lunchtime together or after school making his room all their own.
It’s a testament to the teacher of 30 years who has gained unparalleled respect by many for what he does.
Not only do they take their shoes off and stay awhile, but – get this – their socks, too, sometimes leaving them in the bathroom.
“Guys, this isn’t your bedroom,” he said laughing, joking at the thought as members of the school’s marching band went through drills on the South Pasadena High School football field one morning earlier this month. It was all part of the rigor called “Band Camp,” where students are grilled in the classroom and on the stadium floor learning new musical sounds, formations and a routine that will be showcased during halftime of SPHS football games and weekend competitions this fall.
Don’t be fooled. It’s not all fun and games with Crawford, who has turned out hundreds, maybe thousands, of outstanding musicians throughout his successful career. There’s a mutual respect that comes from tough love, especially the kind the music teacher shows in wanting his students to be the best.
Hours upon hours are dedicated to rehearsals for the upcoming competitions and orchestra performances in the spring as Crawford is all business and expects the same from his young musical talents.
“That’s what I like about the musicianship and what we do,” he explained. “Yes, I’m the teacher and can be tough, but there are days when I’m not on the podium and we’re all sitting in a circle and I perform with them, pulling out my saxophone, enjoying the time together. When we’re playing, I don’t say, ‘That’s the wrong note, you’re playing this or that wrong.’ It’s okay to make a mistake. Just fix it. That’s what we’re here for. In some other classes (on campus) I think they’re afraid of all the testing and earning grades.”
Not in Crawford’s stress-free surroundings, where it has become a safe haven, a refuge where errors and miscues are welcome. They’re corrected, and the music simply gets better. “Some days I just have to sit back and listen and say, ‘Wow, how did you do that?’ They can really, really play well.”
Which is a tribute Crawford, as humble as they come, pointing out that very few of his advanced orchestra members take private lessons. It’s a little known secret he just discovered.
One of his talented musicians was asked how he was able to become so good, and he quietly answered, “We just work hard in class.”
Not all teachers have the admiration that Crawford’s students show as it starts with a passion in wanting the best out of every performances, demanding excellence, then carefully pulling back when you’ve achieved it.
“We’re all friends, and that is important,” said Crawford, who has continued friendships with many of his former students long past their graduation, even attending a recent wedding of one, noting: “There were a bunch of alums sitting around and we were reminiscing about their days in band. Another of my students is now a film composer working on famous movies and we text each other.”
It makes life easier for Crawford to turn out outstanding musicians when the band members he taught are at the top of the class. “They are all really good students,” he said, saying many alumni return to Band Camp to teach because the music program at South Pasadena High left such an indelible mark on them.
Crawford thought about his longevity in the local school district, and gushed, “Wow, 30 years, I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for so long.”
He says the time has flown by, appreciating the job that has become more of a lifestyle after all the time he’s spent in the classroom, adding, “Am I working? Yes, they’re paying me for what I’m doing, but it’s fun.”
As he talked, Crawford sat on a player’s bench next to the school’s football field. He watched members of his marching band step and play in unison by those leading the commands. “You have to be sharp and ready to react basic marching movements,” he said, looking on with a careful eye. “It’s not easy. It takes many hours to perfect each step and work together.”
A team of about 10 individuals, headed by Crawford, will put the unit through the paces to perform “Firebird Suite,” ballet music by Igor Stravinsky, for the home halftime shows and rigorous competitions, where nonsense judges walk around on the field carefully analyzing each performance. “You’ll hear things like, ‘You have the wrong type of mouthpiece because you’re not getting the right sound, or watch your hand movements. They’re not quite right,’” he said. “There’s a lot going on that judges pick out.”
The Tigers’ Band, winners of it’s share of awards over the years, will compete in five area competitions this year, along with a sixth in Kingsburg, in Fresno County, where the state championships will be held. Making it all happen will be roughly 90 band members and 20 to 25 more in the color guard.
Eventually, there’s a good chance every one of them will descend upon Crawford’s classroom over the course of the school year for a little respite and relaxation after putting down their musical instruments.
After all, for many it’s their second home.
That’s fine. Just don’t leave your socks in the bathroom, insists the teacher.