By John Madden, '85
In the spring of 1984, I had the privilege of performing as principal trumpet player in the MSU Symphony Band. Although he retired in 1967, Professor Falcone was often in the music building, when healthy. He taught, attended concerts and football games, and often had band members whispering, “Isn’t that Leonard Falcone?”
I was thrilled when I learned that Dr. Falcone was healthy and able to guest conduct the Symphony Band. The repertoire he chose included a classic “Falcone transcription” of a march titled “Torino.” I was assigned a tricky little solo line for the 1st cornet part.
On our first reading of the march, we were enthralled by Falcone’s exuberance on the podium. When I played the solo (thinking I was performing well), he stopped the band. “Who’s playing the cornet solo?” he queried, looking through thick tinted glasses. “I am, Dr. Falcone,” I said. He replied, “No, no, no, no. Do it again, not so fast on the 16th notes.” So I adjusted. After some more attempts, he said, “Please see me after rehearsal.”
I arrived at his office in the Music Practice Building the next day, expecting to tweak the solo to his liking and to quickly move on. I played for him. After my first try, he said, “Much better!”
The magical part of this story is that the lesson turned into an intimate chat about music and music making. We visited for several hours (I skipped 2 classes). He asked me questions about what I wanted to do with my career. He played his baritone for me, after not playing it for years. I had to oil the valves for him. It sounded as if he never put it down. His embouchure was perfect. He was 86 years old at the time.
We then played reel-to-reel tapes of his MSU Concert Bands, including a recording of Torino. I asked him a ton of questions. We had the kind of visit I imagine he had with hundreds of students over his 40-year career at MSU. Perhaps he heard me as a trumpet player who needed help or perhaps he heard some potential in my ability to be artistic. I’ll never know. Those three hours in his office changed my life.
So many of us have only heard the legend, heard the recordings and learned of his legacy second-hand. On that day, I became one of the privileged few “Falcone students.” It was a blessing, as he passed away the next year. What we talked about that day is always present in my current teaching.
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John Madden has been director of the Spartan Marching Band since 1989.