Longtime TCS band director dies at 88
The Tullahoma community lost a beloved musician and educator last week when Max Weaver, the former director of the Tullahoma High School, East Middle and West Middle school bands, died on Friday, March 2, at the age of 88.
Weaver was born in Cleveland and graduated from Bradley County High School in 1947. He then attended Tennessee Tech, where he was a drummer for the Tennessee Tech Troubadours, and graduated in 1951. He then went on to attend Ole Miss, where he received his master’s degree in music education.
Weaver served as the band director at THS from 1955 until 1978, where he saw the program through instrumental changes and storied success.
Following his time at THS, Weaver moved over to the two middle schools, where he continued to teach until his retirement in 1994.
When recognized with the Tullahoma City Schools Clyde W. Smith Leadership Award in 2014, Weaver was lauded as instrumental in laying the groundwork for the sterling reputation of the Tullahoma High School band program – a history of excellence the program has enjoyed for decades.
During the ceremony, Board of Education Chairman Pat Welsh said the band’s reputation as “one of the most outstanding in the state” was due to the work Weaver put into the program.
“We have a history of outstanding band directors,” Welsh said. “That foundation was set by Mr. Weaver.”
Tuesday afternoon Welsh echoed his 2014 sentiments, saying Weaver was “a great guy and a great tradition builder at the high school.”
“He just meant so much to Tullahoma, and I was so honored to be on the school board when we made him a Clyde Smith fellow,” Welsh said. “That was a real great night when he came down there for that.”
As director, Weaver led the band through a series of changes. During his tenure at Tullahoma, the band program saw an explosion of membership.
When he first came to Tullahoma, the high school band was made up of 64 members ranging in age from sixth-graders to high school seniors. Those middle-schoolers, Weaver said in 2014, were necessary in order to fill out each section.
“The guy that was here before me had a good band, but it was small,” Weaver said. “I kept the sixth-graders in the band for about four or five years until I got enough [high school students] to do without them.”
During those years Weaver was actively recruiting more high school students to join the band program — whether they knew how to play an instrument or not.
“They couldn’t play anything,” Weaver said, “all they had to do was show up.”
Those intense recruiting efforts paid off. By the mid-’60s the band had grown to include more than 100 members. By the mid-’70s there were 176 uniformed musicians on the field at halftime.
Those halftime shows also changed routinely every two weeks, a decision Weaver acknowledged required a lot of work from his students.
“Those kids were so durable,” he said. “You couldn’t push kids that hard unless they were. They wanted to do it. I’ve been real lucky with the students I had all these years. They were ordinary children, most of them, but some of them were quite exceptional.”
As the band’s size and experience grew, so did its national recognition. Weaver took the group to a number of high-profile performances for nationally recognized events, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. and the 1967 Cotton Bowl Parade in Dallas.
Besides growing the program and its reputation nationally, Weaver is also responsible for the school’s fight song, which is still a flip-folder staple to this day.
The song came from a previous teaching position in Trenton, according to Weaver.
“They used it as their fight song and when I came here I brought it with me,” he said. Weaver changed the name from “Hail to the Varsity” to “Hail to the Wildcats” to reflect the team name.
Welsh shared with The News one of the first memories he ever had of Weaver, involving that well-known fight song.
“The first day I went to the high school… it had been about fifth or sixth period, the band came down the halls, and they were playing the fight song,” he said.
The band was trying to rouse up some school spirit before heading to the gymnasium for a pep rally, he said, but at the time he had no idea what was going on.
Former THS Band director Stephen Coleman, who took over the helm of the high school band program following Weaver, said Weaver was a great colleague and a valuable resource while Coleman and his wife, Marion, were first getting their footing in Tullahoma.
“He was a wonderful person who truly cared about his students and their education in the arts,” Coleman said. “I sought his input frequently during the years he taught with us, and we valued his thoughts as we worked to grow the band program during our early years at Tullahoma.”
Director of Schools Dan Lawson, though not personally familiar with Weaver’s instruction, said he could see the influence Weaver still had over the band program today.
“While I never had the opportunity to work directly with Mr. Weaver, he deeply loved the Tullahoma community and everything associated with an outstanding music program,” Lawson said. “He truly left an indelible mark on our community and school system and provided a great foundation for the music program we enjoy today.”
In addition to leaving behind the storied reputation of the Tullahoma Band program, Weaver also leaves behind a legacy of care and love to all those who benefitted from his tutelage.
In addition to a multitude of former students who still indulge in their musical inclinations in their adulthood, several former students followed Weaver’s path into music education, including former West Middle School choir teacher Donna Martin.
During Weaver’s Clyde Smith Award presentation, Martin said Weaver taught her to play the clarinet when she was young. After graduating from Tennessee Tech, she said she returned to Tullahoma to complete her student teaching under Weaver’s direction.
“I owe my career to Max,” Martin said then.
Funeral services for Weaver were conducted Tuesday afternoon at First Baptist Church, where he was a member.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that all those who wish to send tributes to Weaver donate them to the Alzheimer’s Association, 4825 Trousdale Drive, Suite 220, Nashville, TN 37220. For the full obituary, see page 6.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.