Former students remember band director’s presence, expectations
When someone passes away, the question of legacy — how that person will be remembered by those he or she influenced — is often contemplated, reinterpreted and solidified in the days and weeks that follow.
For Ted McAndrew, the former teacher, coach and band director at Trumbull High School in the 1970s and 1980s, who died at the age of 71 on Aug. 6 in Lakeland, Fla., that memorialization was crystallized immediately — from former students all over the country who recall the impact he had on their young lives.
From being recalled as a “formidable presence” to someone who “set the bar the highest it could go,” McAndrew certainly wasn’t shy on compliments from those he touched over the year.
“Ted was very disciplined, very structured in his teaching method — he commanded respected, and he got it,” said Christy Wells, THS Class of 1986.
“He made you want to work so hard as an individual to be part of this group, so we could succeed together with our classmates,” she added. “We all carried that on with us later in life, and it’s still something my friends and I talk about today.”
One commonality in reflections from all of McAndrew’s former students is that he instilled a sense of pride in his performers — that it was “cool to be in band” back in that era, and the only true way to lasso that sense of gratification was to become better at playing through practice.
And former band members said they weren’t lacking any motivation to do just that under McAndrew’s tutelage.
“Hard work was expected and your self-esteem was earned through achievement,” recalled Chris Coulter, THS Class of 1975 in a recent letter submitted to The Times.
“With his trumpet by his side, he would help you learn the extremely challenging music in any way he could,” he added. “By rote, aurally, orally, or visually — whatever it took to help you learn he would do.
“The key here is that Mr. McAndrew inspired and made you want to go home and practice your instrument,” said Coulter, who McAndrew taught in junior high band at Madison Middle School. “He motivated you through competition with your peers, constant high expectations, and also a steadfast belief in your relative individual abilities.”
The results produced couldn’t have been more satisfactory for the students themselves, and the community at large that watched as the Trumbull High School Golden Eagle Marching Band began to elevate to the status of national attention.
“We performed some of the best and most difficult of the band music written, and won top honors in yearly adjudication festivals that many high schools could not match today — that’s not an exaggeration,” Coulter said. “Few young bands are able to perform works by Vincent Persichetti, Eric Osterling, Leroy Anderson, Gustav Holst and others in their original forms — not rearranged and simplified. McAndrew’s bands of these years were able to do that.
“Many students of modest ability produced wonderful results,” he added. “He taught to the highest and lowest achievers, and using today’s educational parlance ‘differentiated’ for all learners. I speak for myself, but I never felt threatened by his competitive style.”
Taking music seriously
Of course, McAndrew’s high expectations and teaching method did leave some a little intimidated.
“It's not that he yelled much — a withering glance was often all it took, but he took the music seriously,” said Jonathan Weil, who also graduated in 1986.
“We were a competition band, and the work we put in mattered,” he added. “Ted expected us to put on the best possible show on the field, to impress the judges and please our audience.”
And naturally, that high standard of expectation bred success — and happiness.
“After a good show or a successful competition, he was as giddy and happy as any one of us,” Weil remembered.
Coulter said that McAndrew, who also coached football and baseball in the 1970s, was all about “taking pride in what you do.”
He added that the best athletes in the school were some of the best players in the band.
“For those of us who showed extra interest, Ted would take us to shows, concerts and jazz festivals,” he recalled. “I got to see such famous artists such as Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, Ella Fitzgerald, and more because of Ted.
“Some of us went on to become music teachers and band directors and we all definitely point to Ted as a model of inspiration,” said Coulter, who is a band teacher with New Canaan Public Schools and spends his off months at Trumbull Summer Band Camp.
‘We were champions’
Coaching 200 students, which was the size of the high school band in the 80s, was a feat worth celebrating within itself.
However, for McAndrew, the accomplishments were more than just pride, hard work, and camaraderie — they were actual, tangible victories that came propelled the band, and its members, forward.
“I wasn't much for organized sports in high school,” Weil said. “But for a lot of us at Trumbull High in those days, and the Golden Eagles were our team. And Ted was our conductor and our coach.
“We were champions under his watch, and he left a lot of people with lasting memories.”
“I know he did his best, and helped propel the high school into its more competitive marching era that most folks in town are familiar with,” Coulter added, “although I know he lamented the fact that some musical aspects of band were being shunned in favor of marching.”
Going the extra mile
While the elevated status of the band and personal pride that came with it were hallmarks of McAndrew’s era of leadership, Wells believes her greatest memories of her old teacher came in the small, quieter moments.
“He would always be going the extra mile for us — he would call colleges for us,” said Wells, who played flute at THS and eventually played the piccolo in the marching band at Syracuse.
“He had a special connection to all of us; he wanted to see all of us succeed,” she added. “We had no idea the level of dedication that he had until we got older.”
Naturally, the big moments — like when the band played at national competitions in Tennessee in the spring of 1984 and in Florida in the spring of 1986 — stand out just as much for Wells and her fellow bandmates who she maintains friendships with today.
“My friends from band are still my closest friends today,” she said. “And that happened because of Ted’s high-level expectations — he wanted the best and we wanted to give it to him.
“That’s why we spent all day together at band camp, and at practice, and going on 24-hour bus rides down to Florida,” she added. “It was really hard work but we bonded together, and that’s what made us great.”
Wells and her friends still reminisce about playing in the band.
That’s why when McAndrew died in August she felt compelled to talk with The Times about his impact on her life.
“It’s been a long time since I talked to him,” she said. “But I went back in after high school, when I was in college, and he still remembered my name. And I wasn’t any different — he remembered everyone by name, and there were 200 of us.”
Wells, who now lives in Woodbury and works as a case manager for the State of Connecticut, said that her former teacher’s death felt like “closing a chapter in my life.”
“It was just a flood of memories that came over me when I started looking back at that time and the impact it had on my life,” she said. “I felt respected and appreciated when I played the flute back then, and that was all because of him.
“I hope he knew how much he meant to all of us.”