By Brian Brisendine
News Editor and Spirit of the Plains Alum

I envisioned two distinct groups of musicians while I sat at my desk Monday morning in a few moments of reflection after hearing some sad news.

The first group sat atop fluffy white clouds, bedecked in glowing robes replete with halos and wings.

They played their tune with perfect pitch and harmony, not a single note out of place.

The second group sat on mismatched plastic chairs on worn carpet, bedecked in the questionable fashion trends of the early 90s with nary a halo in sight.

They played their tune with little mind to either pitch or harmony, not a single note in place.

The tune both groups played -- one well, the other not -- was “I Saw the Light” and on the stand in front of both groups, waving his wand and smiling from ear to ear, was Bill Shipp.

Both tunes -- the perfect one and the awful one -- were joyful sounds to Mr. Shipps trained ears.

You had to know him to understand how that might be.

The angelic performance would be a delight for anyone to listen to. A perfect blend of harmonies and melodies played with expert hands.

The other squeaking, squawking rendition would be hard to swallow by almost anybody -- except Mr. Shipp.

I was part of that second group.

When we put our instruments in our lap after butchering the notes on the pages in front of us and looked up, expecting a horrified glare in response, what we saw was his wide grin and a twinkle in his eye.

We had just played our first song, start to finish. However bad it might have been, we were beginners and we were making progress.

And that is what Mr. Shipp lived for.

Over the course of his career, he turned thousands of gangly, awkward, pubescent kids into musicians.

Mr. Shipp influenced a generation of boys and girls, most of whom are now fathers, mothers, even some grandparents and retirees.

He passed away Sunday after fighting the good fight for a long time.

Bill Shipp, or Mr. Shipp as he was respectfully addressed by the guys and gals I grew up with, has joined the “innumerable caravan that moves to that mysterious realm…”

I had heard a few weeks ago that his time was short, but death always comes as a jolt.

It took me back about 25 years, when I walked into the Middle School Band Hall and took a seat with an excited group of friends, all ready to
pick our instrument and join the substantial tradition of Brownfield bands.

I was 11 years old at the time and after attempting to play every instrument in the place, I found myself stuck squarely between two girls who were fighting to see whose perfume could overpower the others’, dismayed at holding, of all the instruments in the world, a clarinet.

I hated it. I loathed it. I dreaded band practice every day.

While my buddies lugged around large cases with manly instruments -- trumpets, trombones, drums -- I hid my clarinet in my backpack.

The largesse of my attitude was in sheer contrast to the daintiness of my instrument.

Mr. Shipp didn’t give in and never gave up.

Through three torturous years of dreadfully bad musicianship on my part, we made it past Middle School and with his encouragement I joined the ranks of the Spirit of the Plains drum line.

It was a new day. I was a new man. I fell in love with band and music, a passion I still hold these many years later.  

Blessed with an exceptional musical mind and a passion for the arts, Mr. Shipp laid the foundation for a dynasty which continues to this day.
His inspirational leadership paired with his undeniable charm during the ensuing decades guided the Brownfield band program to numerous state marching appearances and titles, as well as an unbroken string of concert sweepstakes.

However, his legacy went far beyond the glory which he and his bands achieved, for it was his personal integrity and his superb character, both in and out of the band hall, which truly defined him as a man.

In his unique and spirited way, he taught us practical lessons, the kind that could be and have been used in many real world situations.

He taught us that success in any endeavor depends upon the toil and sweat and dedication you put forth. Achievement requires incredibly hard work and lots and lots of practice.

He taught us that it was possible to achieve success, in spite of the bumps and bruises we inevitably endure along the way.

He taught us that failure was not a permanent condition, but only a setback from which to learn and to overcome.

He taught us to look for the best in others, and to encourage them when they’re down.

Sometimes people just need a bit of encouragement and a pat on the back.

And finally, he taught us through personal example the importance of being a loving and faithful spouse, a great parent, a terrific grandparent
and an extraordinary teacher and friend to many.

Our community is unquestionably a better place because Mr. Shipp, along with his wife Jamie, were once our educators, and together they taught us so much more than just notes on a page.

Whether you can match a tune or not -- that’s sweet music.