This story was originally published on November 21, 2019
At Ashland University, the marching band has proven that age is no barrier to performance. At 70, the oldest member of the band gave his final performance during the last football game of the season.
Frank Stanek celebrated his 70th birthday this year. He's also a member of the Ashland Marching Band.
"Okay, we’re going to do a flashback," Stanek said. "I retired and was playing in community bands and got introduced to Tuba Christmases."
This is where Frank Stanek met Scott Garlock, the former director of the Ashland marching band. Stanek says Garlock convinced him to return to college in 2014 to study music performance. From there, as the students got to know him, they began trying to convince Stanek to join marching band.
"I was 65 at the time," he said. "I thought they were joking. They were serious."
Eventually, Stanek gave in. At least, for that first season. "So I says, that was it, I’d do one year," Stanek said. "That was it. The next three years, I’m very pleased they kept asking me again and again and again."
It wasn’t the physical demands that caused Stanek to stop marching after that first season. He was taking about 20 credit hours on top of other obligations. Marching band was a four-day-a-week commitment.
This year, Stanek decided to rejoin the marching band for a final season. He graduated in 2017, but he’s still on campus as a senior guest. The only classes he’s taking this semester are marching band and brass ensemble.
Joseph Lewis is the current director of the Ashland marching band. He says he had no concerns about Stanek being able to keep up. "I said, 'Are you sure you’re up for that?' And he said, 'Well, I’m turning 70 years old, and it’s something that I wanna do.' And I said, 'Frank, if you feel like you’re up for it, then we’d love to have you.'"
Instead of going to college after high school, Stanek says he made the choice to go to a trade school. He spent his career in construction. After retiring, he ran an agricultural business. So, Stanek is no stranger to the type of physical work that marching band requires.
"So I had no qualms about doing it, but I did about a month beforehand I did go back and start working out," he said. "And I didn’t tell too many of the kids this, but because of the logistics of the horn, the first week my neck and shoulders were killing me."
Stanek plays the euphonium.
"The euphonium I have is a marching style and it has the range of a trombone. It’s a valved instrument. It looks like a trumpet only bigger. So, it’s got a larger bell, it sticks out farther and it’s heavier."
Michaela Wood is a sophomore at Ashland who plays baritone horn beside Stanek. She says he is always willing to step in and offer advice to the younger members.
"He’s lived a very full life, so he has a lot of stories and wisdom to share," Wood said. "He never tells us what to do, he just shares his experience with whatever we’re going through and then lets us interpret it from there."
Fifty years ago, Stanek could have studied music in college, with the help of scholarships. Instead, he made the decision to go to trade school because he would earn more money. He understands the financial pressure younger students are under.
When he can, he’ll take some of his bandmates to Akron or Cleveland to see other jazz bands perform.
"Just, get in the car, we’re going. I got the tickets reserved. The meal’s on me."
Stanek also appreciates feedback from the other band members. He knew he wasn’t going to be perfect right off the bat. "So, the first day in band camp I said, 'listen, if I screw up out there, yell at me,'" Stanek said. "And boy have they yelled."
Stanek says when he came to the band in 2014, he fell right into it. But this season, he struggled to keep up. "The music is maybe faster and the movements are quicker and Mr. Lewis gives us some doozy shows to put on," he said. "So the kids have helped tremendously."
The band usually does a medley of three pop songs during halftime. Every week, they do something different. "So, we have, I’m gonna say 30 to 40 songs we’ve played through the year, and then we have 10 or 12 stand tunes that we play when the team is doing this, that or the other on the field," Stanek said.
As he performs for his final show, other band members take photos with him, people in the stands stop to congratulate him as they pass. Stanek says there’s a bittersweetness to the final performance, but it’s gratifying.
"It was something I did because I was invited and to celebrate my 70th birthday," Stanek said. "So, consequently, I’ve got that out of the way."
Stanek’s time with the marching band may be done, but not with music at the university. He plans to continue performing in both the school’s symphonic and concert bands.