My World of Religion, Politics, Entertainment and Social Issues

If you are visiting my blog, expecting to see 'Toward a Progressive Catholic Church,' I have changed my title to reflect my wide assortment of interests. Having retired from my secular job, I hope to devote the rest of my life to my hobbies, ministries and perhaps a part-time job that makes good use of my communications skills. This blog will be designed to address my multi-faceted interests.

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Location: Rochester, New York, United States

I have an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div (Master of Divinity) from St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry. I am currently a media consultant and promoter of classical music. I am also certified as an officiant by the Federation of Christian Ministries for baptisms, weddings and funerals and minister independently of the Rochester Diocese. My life has encompassed many interesting paths: broadcasting, free-lance writing, video-production, music, ministry and a secular job in government. In addition to this blog, I have a YouTube site at and I have a Facebook page.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tribute to C. Benjamin Scammell

Dear Blog Visitors:

One of my friends from my high school days asked me if I still have an article I wrote in 1996 in tribute to a former music teacher, C. Benjamin Scammell.  I found the text and am pleased to post the article here.  Since writing the article, Ben Scammell has died.  However, I am pleased to report that up to the day of his passing, he and I stayed in contact, and it was a delight for him to read my article in 1996.

The article, in its present form, is edited/updated to include Ben's passing.


One of my favorite films is MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS. (Richard Dreyfuss portrays a high school music teacher.)  I recommend this movie to anyone who needs insight into the impact a teacher can have on students, and I hope viewers who watch this inspirational story on DVD might be inspired to write any overdue letters to teachers who inspired them.

The Mr. Holland in my life was the late C. Benjamin Scammell, an instrumental music teacher at Franklin High School in Rochester for more than 30 years, from the 1940s through the 1970s.  In addition to his duties as director of Franklin’s band and orchestra, he gave private music lessons and taught at elementary school #s 8, 22 and 50 for the Rochester City School District.

I first met Ben Scammell in 1958, when I was a fourth-grader at School #8.  Fascinated with music, I told Ben I wanted to play an instrument.  He somehow sensed that the trumpet might be a good fit for me and he got me started with lessons.  By the time I graduated from elementary school in 1962, I was proficient enough to play in an ensemble.

It was a delight for me to retain Ben Scammell as my music teacher during my high school years at Franklin.  Other than my parents and grandparents, he was the most influential person in my life.

I was not a very good academic student at Franklin, but Mr. Scammell recognized my musical gifts and worked on building my self-esteem.  In fact, knowing that I had a desire to pursue music as a career, he worked with me in his spare time, teaching me to play several instruments.

During my junior and senior years, I let loose, often getting myself into hot water with the principal.  However, Ben Scammell often intervened and made sure I abided by the school rules. (I should mention that some of my misbehavior erupted during band rehearsals, when I pulled pranks such as spraying the clarinet players in front of me with a squirt gun.  Needless to say, occasional stern warnings from Ben Scammell straightened me out.)

I will never forget the many hours of extra time Ben spent with me, teaching me how to conduct and preparing me for a conducting competition.  When I won, I got a chance to guest-conduct the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1965 in the Eastman Theatre.

Ben also spent time helping me to compose a piece for band which I conducted during my senior year in 1967.

That same year, I auditioned for the Eastman School of Music.  I was told my musical skills were fine, but my academic record did not meet Eastman standards.  However, Mr. Scammell wrote a recommendation to Eastman, voicing his confidence in my ability to do well in college.  I was then accepted to Eastman.

As it turned out, I left Eastman after two years and later completed a bachelors degree at another college, in addition to earning two graduate theological degrees.  While I never pursued music as a career, it has been part of my life ever since my first music lessons with Mr. Scammell.

After attending my 20th high school reunion in 1987, I realized that I never took the time to thank Ben Scammell for being such an inspiration in my life.  So, after learning where he retired, I made a decision to write to him.  He not only responded, but we got together when he visited Rochester.  It was one of the most emotional experiences of my life.  Our discussion helped me to realize how many hundreds of people have been inspired by this wonderful man through his teaching and compassion.

Some of Ben’s students have indeed gone on to prosperous careers in music.  For example, some are playing in notable symphony orchestras.  Perhaps most notably, legendary Chuck Mangione was one of Ben’s former pupils.

My letter to Ben Scammell was just the beginning of a very long reunion.  We stayed in touch regularly until the sad day I received a phone call from his daughter, notifying me of his death in New Mexico.  I can say without reservation that I owe much of what I am today to the inspiration and insight of this wonderful man.

If you have been moved by the film, MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS, as I was, please take the time to write that long overdue letter to a teacher who inspired you.  I am sure it will be much appreciated, and just maybe that person you knew in a classroom will become your lifelong friend.

Peace to all,


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