(I wrote this blog several years ago and decided to update it a bit)
Some time ago I did a series of blogs about men who had been/are my mentors. These men were mentors in the area of Christianity, theology, and pastoral ministry, and were extremely influential in my life in many ways. There are others who have been greatly influential in my life as well and I’ve been pondering their influence lately. My parents, of course are at the top of the list; that goes without saying; but there are others outside of the ministry circles that I travel in that have made a major impression on me. One of these is a man named Jack Stamp. I think it will help you understand my relationship with this man and his impact on me if I share some background about myself first.
To say I was shy would be a huge understatement. Looking back, I’m amazed at how shy I actually was, and the things I would do to avoid being around people. Don’t get me wrong, I loved people, but the overwhelming shyness caused me to avoid people. I would get tongue tied, nervous, and even stutter to a degree when I was forced to face anyone other than my family. In elementary school I would find myself eating alone in the cafeteria so I wouldn’t have to talk to people. I would avoid looking people in the eye if I saw them in the hallway, simply so there would be no ensuing conversation. Many misread my lack of social interaction as being “snobby”, but it was simply the monster of shyness that constantly haunted me.
There are additional ingredients to the story that are important… I was raised differently than most of my fellow students. Most days after school I was difficult to find because I’d come home, saddle one of our horses, and ride for the rest of the day. If I wasn’t in the riding mood I would, with my best friend Randy Jacobson, grab a cast net, rubber boots, and spend the evening in the waterway at Myrtle Grove, or even paddle to Masonboro Island and surf fish until dark forced us home. My point is this, homework was not even on my radar! I simply was not interested in school…not even in the least. I went to school because I was forced to go to school. School had never been a big deal in my family, with neither my Mom nor Dad graduating from High School, although both were very smart. I really knew very little about education; it was a different, even foreign world to me. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change my childhood for anything! I experienced things that most never will; nevertheless, I was equally ignorant of others.
I had developed a love for music at a young age. As a little boy I would stand in front of our old stereo console and act as if I were directing the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky; it was a sight to behold. I clearly remember, as a student at Bradley Creek Elementary, during a music introduction/appreciation assembly, a man playing a Trombone and Trumpet in the school auditorium…I was hooked! From that day on I wanted to play music of some form and genre. My family was not wealthy, to say the least, nor were we able to purchase top of the line musical instruments, but my Dad somehow managed to buy me a Bundy Cornet in the fifth grade while I was attending Tileston School. I played that cornet throughout my entire scholastic band experience! It held up pretty well but towards my junior year age and use started to get the best of it. A couple of the tuning slides were stuck, the valves were starting to stick as well, the lacquer had worn off in several places and the case had a large hole in it from getting placed too near to a campfire (another story for another time); not to mention it was a cornet! How could anyone be cool playing a cornet, not a trumpet, in High School?!? I would often watch as other students brought new, fanciful trumpets to school, especially the Bach Strads! I dreamed of playing one; they were so awesome; even the cases were cool! Regardless, I had an instrument to play and I was super grateful for it and to simply to be playing music.
Setting the tone a bit more… Jack Pindell was the longtime Director of Bands at Hoggard High School…he was legendary. I had heard about him my entire school band career and had always looked forward to one day being in his band. This was especially true after I took “Summer Band” with Jack Pindell as director while I was still in Junior High School. As silly as it may sound, it was fairy-tale material! At least it was to me. That Summer Band experience only whet my appetite for the “real band” that was awaiting me at Hoggard High School. I was in another wonderful director’s band, Bob Hood at the time at Lake Forest Junior High School. He had prepared me well and built great expectation and anticipation in me of how incredible my High School band experience would be with Jack Pindell; I could hardly wait. But then, while I was at a music clinic at East Carolina University I got the gloomy news… news that no Pindell fan ever wanted to hear… “Jack Pindell is retiring!” My response to this news was akin to panic, “But I was finally in line to have him as a director and he’s retiring?!? This can’t be!!!” But it was true. My next thought was, “Who on earth could fill his shoes?”
Here’s the picture, a shy, discouraged, scholastically disengaged kid; now even more let down because I would never sit under the baton of Jack Pindell. I began to wonder if I should give the new guy a chance or if I should simply drop band and music altogether… I ultimately decided to continue.
I left Junior High School as a rotten student in everything but band! I hated school and had no intention of ever going to college. College was for other people, as a matter of fact the whole college idea was an enigma to me, and I actually knew nothing about it. But what I did know is that it was an extension of school and I wanted nothing to do with it…but I LOVED band! I was actually pretty good at this band thing and Bob Hood recommended me for the Symphonic Band at Hoggard, which was a big deal! Most sophomores entered the band program at Hoggard through the Concert Band, so I felt blessed and a bit privileged. There was also Marching Band, which was my first taste of band in this storied program. So, there I was, brand new at Hoggard, nervous, still extremely shy even as an official High School student, trying my best to sort through the things new High School students have to sort through, and wondering what would happen from here… enter Jack Stamp.
When I first met this man, he was barely even a man. To the best of my recollection he was only about ten years older than I was, at best; although the mustache he grew seemed to make him look more mature and even gave him a degree of authority. Despite his relatively young age, he always seemed older than he actually was. Looking back, I understand it was his wisdom that gave him a seasoned countenance. He knew he had to emanate maturity, not only with his students but with the entire faculty and beyond. That attribute served him well during his tenure there.
As strange as it may sound, I remember his walk; he had a distinctive walk; as a fellow student described it, “he would shuffle as he walked”. To me his walk sounded like a seasoned drummer in a small Jazz combo using brushes on a snare drum while keeping time to “Begin the Beguine”. I actually think he was a walking metronome, or maybe it was just the percussionist in him. Regardless, his timing was impeccable, in many ways.
“Mr. Stamp”, as we called him, had a gift of pulling the best out of you. At times it was done in what could be called unorthodox ways, nevertheless it worked. Case in point, I was Third Chair, last seat trumpet in the Symphonic band my sophomore year and we were practicing a piece that had an important third trumpet part. The two guys that were in the chairs ahead of me were goofing around a lot that day and could never play the part correctly. He finally got very perturbed by their constant shenanigans and tomfoolery and sent them packing for the remainder of the practice. At that point I was the only third chair trumpet, but using my gift of blending into the woodwork it was as if there were no third trumpets at all when the other two walked out the door. We resumed practice and when we got to that significant third trumpet part I played it; rather well actually! Suddenly he stops the band, looks at me with a “what was that?” look on his face, and throws his baton towards me!! Obviously, I in return looked at him with a “what was that?” look on my face also! He then says something like, “Why haven’t you been doing that???”, basically saying, “you’ve been sitting there, not playing to your ability and not being the best you can be”, and he would have no part of that. It was a defining moment for me. As silly as that may sound to some, that one incident (which he says he doesn’t even remember) changed me. Through that one act I was given confidence that was long overdue and greatly needed. That is what Jack Stamp did well, and often.
It was after that incident that Mr. Stamp called me in his office and had a “heart to heart” talk with me. I don’t recall the exact words, but it went something like this, “Once in a while, in a setting like this, someone will rise up from seemingly nowhere. They will be someone that no one expects, someone that most people overlook; and they will excel. You are like that Joey, you have the ability… you just need to do it…” Jack Stamp probably doesn’t remember that moment either, but I will never forget it. By my senior year, I found myself playing First Trumpet to grade six music in the Hoggard Band! That may not mean much to many, but to me it was far above what I ever thought I could accomplish and was a testament to Jack Stamp’s investment in me and compassion toward me.
Through those 3 years of band at Hoggard High School I leaned things from Jack Stamp that remain with me to this day; things like do what you do with passion and excellence, be kind while you do it, be classy, love your fellow students and treat them well, be a gentleman, love your country, have fun but get the job done, enjoy music, genuinely feel the music, dream big, leave a legacy, and the list goes on and on… I strive to do those things today. He showed me that a shy, insignificant, overlooked kid could do major things and do them well.
I am now a pastor; I don’t play my trumpet much, other than a time or two per year at church, but I constantly use the other things Jack Stamp taught me. His footprint is all over my life, as well as many, many others that have had the privilege of sitting under his baton, wisdom, and care.
Fast forward to the early 90’s… I had not heard from or much about Mr. Stamp for many years. When the internet became accessible, I jumped on the bandwagon and thought I would take a shot in the dark and do an online search for Jack Stamp. Low and behold there he was!! He was everywhere!! The man that I knew as my High School band director was a world-renowned composer and director! I discovered that his music is played by bands all over the world! Needless to say, I was amazed and strangely proud. I found his e-mail, (he was teaching at Indiana University of PA at the time) and sent him a message. It was wonderful to reconnect! Our reconnection turned into a couple of fantastic reunions, with the now “Dr.” Stamp joining many of his former Hoggard High School students. I think everyone involved would say it was an incredible time. Jack Stamp was only at Hoggard four years but did more in those four years than many do in a lifetime!
Fast forward yet again to the middle 2000’s. As you can imagine I was shocked, overwhelmed, and excited when he called me one day and told me he was getting married and asked me to help officiate the wedding! What an honor to be part of that major event in his life! It was a surreal event and yet another reminder of the huge impact he has had on me.
Obviously, I could go on and on in an attempt to describe how much this “mentor” has meant to me, but hopefully you get the idea. There’s really no possible way to sum up the influence he has had in my life and the lives of countless others. God’s grace is evident in my life in so many ways; allowing Jack Stamp to be in my life is certainly part of that evidence. I simply wanted to thank him publicly for seeing something in me that very few others saw, and for taking the time and energy to invest in me.
I can never repay you for that investment, it’s genuinely impossible, but for now I will simply say a very heartfelt thank you “Mr. Stamp”!