Photo by Frank Couch
Pat Morrow 2016 1
Pat Morrow, a former band director for both Hoover and Homewood high schools, plays the trombone during an orchestra rehearsal at Meadow Brook Baptist Church.
It has been 15 years since Pat Morrow stepped off the podium as a high school band director, but the rippling effect of his presence can still be felt in Homewood and Hoover to this day.
Morrow spent 20 years as band director at Homewood High School and six years leading the Hoover High band before becoming the public relations coordinator for the Hoover school system in 2001. He retired six years later but left an indelible mark on the lives of thousands of students, those who know him say.
Even though he left the high school band world, Morrow has maintained his connections to music. He started an orchestra program at Meadow Brook Baptist Church about 13 years ago and then moved to direct the orchestra at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Homewood about eight years ago.
In late December, with new triplets bringing his total number of grandchildren to five, Morrow decided to retire again — this time from Dawson Memorial.
“I am officially retired from, I guess, everything at this point,” said Morrow, who just turned 69. “I’m just a normal person.”
Notes ‘round the world
Morrow, who lives in Greystone with his wife, Margaret, got his start as a band director at General Forrest Junior High School in Gadsden in 1969. The next year, he became band director at Emma Sansom High School, but he really gained notoriety after coming to Homewood in 1975.
When he arrived at Homewood, there were 35 students at his first band practice. By the time he left 20 years later, the band had grown to 170 members.
Morrow became the first high school band director from Alabama to take a band to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.
He even took the Homewood band to perform in the New Year’s Day Parade in London and two St. Patrick’s Day parades in Ireland. They won both the Dublin and Limerick, Ireland competition parades, and the trophies still sit in the Homewood band room.
“He had a vision when he got here of putting the Homewood band and the Homewood community on the national and international stage,” said Ron Pence, who followed Morrow at Homewood and is in his 20th year there.
Morrow succeeded, and “the tradition is still going strong now,” Pence said. The Homewood band made its eighth appearance in the Macy’s parade in 2011, and it was Morrow who arranged two songs for the band’s TV appearance. The Homewood band also went to the Tournament of Roses Parade again in 2014 and now, approaching 400 members (about 40 percent of the high school’s student body), is scheduled to go to the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia in November.
“Everybody still knows Pat,” Pence said. Many of the parents of current band members were students of Morrow. “It’s certainly a family tradition for a lot of folks in the Homewood area,” Pence said. “His legacy still lives on here at Homewood.”
Photo courtesy of Pat Morrow.
Pat Morrow directs the Homewood High School Patriot Band in Washington, D.C., at the inauguration of President George Bush in 1989.
Pride, perfection, professionalism
Martha Ann Cole Wilson was Homewood’s first female drum major in 1989 and 1990.
Wilson, who now lives in Tupelo, Mississippi, with children of her own, still vividly remembers three stars that Morrow put up in the Homewood band room, emblazoned with the words “pride,” “perfection,” and “professionalism.”
“He wanted those three things in his program,” Wilson said. “He didn’t settle for less. He strived for perfection.”
She recalls one time when the band disappointed him and he took one of the stars down until the band redeemed itself.
“There was a level of expectations that were high. Everybody wanted to please him,” Wilson said. “You didn’t want to disappoint him. You wanted to make him proud.”
Those stars still hang over the podium in the band room.
Morrow had a very commanding personality, but he loved his students, Wilson said.
“He was warm and friendly, but you knew he meant business,” she said. “The students respected him … You knew he knew what was best for us. You knew he had your back.”
Photo courtesy of Pat Morrow
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Pat Morrow directs a group of Homewood High School Marching Band alumni as they warm up before an alumni performance at halftime of a Homewood High School football game.
Jack Farr, a former Homewood High School principal who later became Hoover’s superintendent, recruited Morrow to become Hoover High School’s band director in 1996. Morrow took the Hoover band to the Orange Bowl Parade that fall and later on trips to Holland, Germany and Belgium. The last band trip he organized was to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — two months after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
Harry McAfee, who followed Morrow at Hoover High and now serves as executive secretary of the Alabama Bandmasters Association, described Morrow as a great musician and teacher.
“He’s always earned a lot of respect from his students and still has a lot of respect and admiration from those that were in his band programs all those years,” McAfee said. “He’s a great guy … He was very helpful to me, very supportive in making the transition for me into the Hoover system.”
The ‘PR’ man
But Morrow was not only a good musician; he was a fantastic promoter, McAfee said. He planned excellent trips for the students and had a knack for public relations, which is what made him good in his role as a spokesperson for the Hoover school system, McAfee said.
“He’s really good at dealing with people and problem-solving and talking to the media — presenting things in a positive way,” McAfee said.
Morrow said one of his biggest challenges as a public relations person was in 2002 when a student at Hoover High stabbed a classmate to death at school. The school was immediately crawling with media, and Morrow — still fairly new to his public relations role — said Hoover police were a great help in managing the ordeal.
Three years later, Morrow helped Hoover High avoid a messy situation when the nation’s No. 1-ranked high school football player — Tim Tebow — rolled into town with Nease High School from Florida for a matchup with the Hoover Bucs. The game was being aired by ESPN, and the network had lined up an out-of-state band for a free concert to add to the fanfare.
Someone from Hoover researched the band’s lyrics, which Morrow described as highly offensive, and parents began to protest. Morrow said he tried to get ESPN to cancel the band, but ESPN already had signed a contract. So to prevent a public relations disaster, Morrow followed the money. He tracked down an executive with Procter & Gamble, the advertising sponsor for the game, and shared the band’s lyrics.
The executive agreed there was a problem, and the band got nixed, Morrow said. He quickly found a replacement band to put on the free concert.
Morrow said the best part about being a band director for him was a combination of arranging the music his bands would perform and the opportunity to get know a lot of students and hopefully make some impact in their lives.
He was greatly surprised when he first came to the Birmingham area how many students came from one-parent families, he said.
“For a lot of them, band was like a second family and helped them get through some tough times,” he said.
The worst part of the job was having to deal with parents whose children did not make auxiliary groups such as the danceline, majorettes or color guard. “It usually got kind of testy at times,” he said.
Morrow said he’ll never forget the many trips he was able to take with his bands. He fondly recalls on the Homewood band’s first trip to the Macy’s parade how the press made a big deal about a band coming from Alabama.
“Some of them showed up, I think, to find out if our kids were going to be wearing shoes,” he said.
He put the fear of God in the Homewood students before they went on the trip, telling them to stay on his schedule and in his sight, he said. They took him literally. When they were watching a movie in Radio City Music Hall, he left the theater to go to the concession stand, and all 130 of them busted out the doors because they thought he was leaving, he said with a laugh.
Wilson said the band trips were great then, but “now I think everybody realizes that he provided us with educational opportunities that really were once in a lifetime.”
Still making music
In 2009, Morrow was inducted into the Alabama Music Educators Association’s Hall of Fame. Then in 2013, he was invited back to a Homewood marching band alumni reunion and got to lead almost 200 alumni in a performance before a football game.
“It’s fun getting to see all of them,” he said. “Every one of them thought the band they were in their senior year was the best band ever.”
He hears from band alumni on Facebook every week, he said.
Though Morrow has retired from directing the church orchestra, he’s still involved with music. He had sold his old trombone when he started directing at Dawson years ago but this past summer, he bought another one.
“I missed that old thing,” he said. “I hadn’t played in almost nine years.”
He has started playing in the orchestra at Meadow Brook Baptist and is rehearsing with a civic band called Celebration Winds that is led by McAfee and includes a lot of current and former band directors and music teachers. Their rehearsals are in the band room at Hoover High.
“That’s kind of strange, being back in my old band room,” he said.
He also has played with some alumni bands from Auburn University, where he served as drum major in 1968. He twice has served as the alumni band drum major in pre-game performances and played with the band this past fall before the Furman football game.
“It was fun to get to play “War Eagle” a couple more times,” he said. “I’m not up to the level I was at when I left Auburn University, but I’m trying to get back to it.”
Photo courtesy of Pat Morrow
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Retired Homewood and Hoover band director Pat Morrow waves to the crowd during a performance of Homewood High School Marching Band alumni at halftime of a Homewood football game.