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A Life: Stuart Morash, 1928 — 2013; ‘He Loved the Kids, And He Loved His Music’

  • Stuart Morash holds his catch in an undated photograph. Fishing and music were Morash's lifelong interests. (Family photograph)

    Stuart Morash holds his catch in an undated photograph. Fishing and music were Morash's lifelong interests. (Family photograph)

  • Lebanon High School band director Stuart Morash marches with his students in John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade in January 1961. Morash taught at the school from 1954 to 1966. (Courtesy photograph)

    Lebanon High School band director Stuart Morash marches with his students in John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade in January 1961. Morash taught at the school from 1954 to 1966. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Stuart Morash holds his catch in an undated photograph. Fishing and music were Morash's lifelong interests. (Family photograph)
  • Lebanon High School band director Stuart Morash marches with his students in John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade in January 1961. Morash taught at the school from 1954 to 1966. (Courtesy photograph)

Lebanon — Members of the Lebanon High School band played at President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade in 1961, where the frigid temperatures hovered around 20 degrees by noon, at least 15 degrees below normal. They remember it for frozen brass instrument valves, inert trombone slides and stolen glances at the newly inaugurated 35th president.

But they also remember it for Stuart Morash, the band director who took them there. He told his students to look straight ahead, no matter what, and walk straight ahead, no matter what was in the way.

“He was a fantastic teacher,” said Susan Henderson, a Lebanon High School graduate who played saxophone in the parade. “He held the line, as far as quality and excellence.”

Morash, a trombonist, avid angler and career-spanning music teacher and band director, died on Aug. 16 at Concord Hospital. He was 84.

Born in Waltham, Mass., Morash taught at Lebanon in the 1950s and 1960s. His love of music was equaled by his passion for fishing.

But it was the music that allowed him to build a career at several schools around New England. It was a logical career path given that his father came from a musical family in Nova Scotia and his mother was a singer and pianist in Vaudeville.

“When his father asked him, when he got out of high school, what he thought he’d like to do, Stuart couldn’t think of anything but music,” said Shirley Morash, his wife of 61 years.

But fishing is how Stuart met his wife. Her brother fished with Stuart and he set the two up.

It was 1947. He was a student at Boston University and Shirley was studying at a nearby secretarial school. For their first date, they went to a movie in the city. She doesn’t remember which movie it was, but does remember her first impression of Stuart.

“I thought he was different than everyone, than anyone I’d ever met,” Shirley said, speaking by phone from Contoocook, N.H., her home of 28 years. “I thought he was handsome and he had strong, warm hands.”

They dated for about three years, and then he enlisted in the Army at the urging of his trombone teacher, who said he’d at least get the opportunity to play in the Army band if he enlisted. If he waited until he was drafted, he wouldn’t be in charge of his destiny.

Morash served several years as a sergeant 1st class in the 29th Army Band in Okinawa, Japan. Shortly after returning in 1952, he married Shirley. After finishing school he considered, but turned down, a job with the North Carolina Symphony, opting to stay in the Northeast.

For his Lebanon High School job interview, Stuart and Shirley drove up the increasingly rural Rtes. 3 and 4 — this was pre-Interstate 89, before Lebanon became a central hub of the Twin States — and met the superintendent in his office, which he shared with a movie theater. They drove around town on a Sunday to the home of every School Board member, all of whom asked Morash questions, like: What would you do if a tuba fell off the rack?

“It was really strange,” Shirley Morash said. “Our first impression of Lebanon was interesting, to say the least.”

He took the job. The couple moved to the Upper Valley in 1954, and stayed until 1966. All four of their children were born at the former Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover.

His students say that Morash quickly brought life to a school band that never had one, elevating music to a similar level as athletics.

“He was strict, but he knew his stuff,” said Bob Townsend, a former member of the band. “He could come across in a way that I can’t really describe. He was just a great, great guy, and he loved the kids, and he loved his music. And he loved marching bands.”

Morash instilled discipline, his students said, and required practice cards to be signed by parents. He prized punctuality. One band member who showed up late for a bus was left behind.

“He was a great teacher,” Henderson said. “The expectations were strict and he was strict, but he would also show you what you were doing wrong and he would help you fix it.”

The discipline Morash required of his students was the same standard he held for himself. Shirley said her husband practiced often, including well after his retirement from teaching in 1992.

“He demanded a lot of himself, too,” she said.

Even though they had yet to be invited, the marching band began to practice for the inauguration in the fall of 1960, marching around the high school parking lot. They rehearsed the two songs they would eventually perform in Washington, D.C.: When The Saints Come Marching In and Anchors Aweigh. Members also began to fundraise so they could rent buses for the trip.

Morash received the invitation in December, a month after the election, and accepted.

“He wasn’t surprised,” Shirley Morash said, “because he knew how good the band was.”

The band boarded three Vermont Transit buses to the nation’s capital. The night before, Washington was blanketed with eight inches of snow, which was cleared using different methods, including flamethrowers.

Townsend, who had cracked his kneecap a couple of weeks earlier, marched with the dozens of Lebanon High band members. Travel wasn’t as common now as it was then, he said, and the honor of the moment triumphed over the cold and discomfort.

Morash would leave Lebanon in 1966 to take a band director job at the brand new Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, N.H., a town in the southeast corner of the state. Shirley Morash said his decision was twofold: One, the couple both had aging parents in Massachusetts; and two, the high school was one of the very first to experiment with modular scheduling. Morash would once again get the opportunity to build a band from the ground up.

In January 1973, according to an Associated Press story, Morash turned down an invitation to take Timberlane’s band to Richard Nixon’s inauguration, in order to play as a stationary band. He said the group was primarily a marching band and it wouldn’t have enough time to prepare.

Though he left Lebanon, Morash’s legacy has endured. Shirley Morash said she has received several sympathy cards from Lebanon High band members who feel her husband’s impact more than 50 years later.

“One of the things he taught the community, and taught us, is that there was extracurricular activity other than sports that you could be proud of and that you could excel in,” said George Armstrong, a former band member who played trombone. “And maybe I’m oversimplifying, but I think that was one of his greatest gifts to Lebanon High School and the kids of Lebanon High.”

Morash continued as an educator throughout the Northeast before retiring to Contoocook in the early 1990s. He continued playing for a while, until he decided he couldn’t keep up with the rigorous practice demands he set for himself. So he sold his trombone to concentrate on fishing, his other love, and spent time gardening and taking care of his cars.

Mostly, though, Morash’s instrument defined him. One of his daughters, Cathy McDonough, distinctly remembers a field in Center Harbor, N.H., where the family would travel to a cottage for vacations.

These days the field is an upscale housing development. But McDonough remembers when her family’s vacation spot was still rural and her dad would walk past the lake, across from the Morash family cottage, a brass instrument in his hand, the cows his audience.

“I remember that as a field where my dad used to practice,” she said. “He brought his trombone on vacation.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.