It was with great sadness that we said goodbye to Life Member Lenny Barton on August 28th, 2015. Lenny was the heart and soul of the band, always quick with a joke and happy to help wherever he could.
Below is the eulogy from band president Megan Stapleton that was read at the funeral:
Lenny has been part of the band since before records began. I remember meeting him at my very first band rehearsal. The band was a lot smaller back then and I felt quite nervous as everyone seemed about a million years older (in reality more like 30 – 40 years older). Len made a special point of coming over to introduce himself and making me feel welcome. As the band grew in size Lenny still continued to make a point of meeting every new member and making them feel part of the band family.
Lenny always had a story to tell. Whether it was the latest fact he had learnt or a dirty joke, he always had something to say. At band practice this week I heard many of the members repeating some of the jokes Lenny had told them over the years. Unfortunately most of them aren’t appropriate to repeat here! There is one story that Lenny told me that has stuck with me though. Lenny came into the band room one night and said “I have a riddle for you, hold out your hand” He then took my hand in his and said: “let’s pretend your knuckles are mountains and the dip in between is a deep valley. On one mountain lives a young girl and on the other mountain lives a young boy. They can see each other from their homes and long to meet but a fierce tiger patrols the valley. How do they meet each other?” I had to admit I didn’t know. Lenny then replied, “I don’t know either but it’s sure been nice holding your hand”.
Lenny was by far the most useful person in the band. If there was ever anything that was broken or needed fixing, Lenny was there. He replaced screws in stands, fixed clocks and built percussion stands. His most impressive offering though, came after weeks of lectures to band members to crush their cans before putting them in the recycling tub. One Monday night Lenny turned up with a Can Crushing Machine. He had specially built a machine that would crush cans and could be attached to the bench next to the bin. Problem solved! It still has pride of place in the bandroom kitchen today.
Len was also known for the beautiful batons he created. Each new band master was presented with a Lenny Baton, specially tailored to their individual requirements. One bandmaster, Sue, had a habit of breaking her baton by shutting it in car doors so Lenny made an unbreakable baton. John needed a baton for nighttime performances, so Lenny made one that glowed in the dark. One week somebody complained that it was hard to see the white baton against the white paint on the wall behind the conductor. Lenny’s solution – the next week he taped a black garbage bag on the wall behind the conductor. Problem solved!
For my 21st birthday Lenny presented me with my very first baton, beautifully made by hand. It was in a case that had been engraved ‘Happy 21st Birthday’. It is still one of my most treasured possessions. My birthday was a point of confusion between Len and I. My birthday is on December 29th. In 2001, rehearsals started back after the summer break on Monday January 29th. Not having seen me since before Christmas, a few of the band members wished me Happy Birthday. The next week Lenny gave me a card and said “Happy Birthday for last week”. I was too shy to correct him and just thanked him for the card. The next year on January 29th I got a phone call from Len. “How’s your birthday going?” I was so confused until I remembered the card incident from the year before. I panicked and said “It’s going really well, it’s lovely having a January birthday!” And with that the lie was born. For the last 14 years I have celebrated two birthdays, which has actually been a lot of fun. So thanks Lenny!
As Len got older he struggled to continue playing the tuba. He still wanted to be part of the band though, and graduated to the Bass Drum. Whilst he always loved playing the tuba, he discovered a new love with the Bass Drum. Marches became his new favourite pieces and you could hum a couple of bars of any march and he would be able to name it for you. He would set the tempo and make sure the band kept to it. If Lenny thought the conductor was going too slow, Lenny would just beat faster on the drum, dragging the band along with him! Even when the band visited him at Arcadia earlier this year, Lenny still found the energy to play the bass drum and keep the band at the tempo he wanted to play.
After a couple of years in the band, Lenny and I struck up an unlikely friendship. Despite the 60 year age gap, we found we had much in common. I would listen for hours as Lenny would tell stories about the band’s history and his life. The way he told it, there was nothing he couldn’t learn how to do. And I believed him! No matter what the subject, Lenny was fascinated to understand how it worked. He would learn every detail about something until he understood it completely. A trip to his house would not be complete without a visit to the shed to see the latest project. Monday night before band sometimes became, as Lenny would call it “Date Night”. He would invite me over before band for dinner and after we had eaten we would listen to the latest band recording he had gotten. More often than not, we would end up re-listening to the recording of the group of his friends playing at his 80th birthday party. We would listen and re-analyse every bass drum beat and note played. Lenny was always quick to point out when he heard a wrong note coming from somebody else! If there was time, I was sometimes treated to an impromptu performance of his current tuba piece of choice. Even though he could no longer keep up with the band on tuba, he still loved to play. Even now, I can say with confidence that he had one of the nicest tuba sounds I’ve ever heard. Such a rich, deep sound that showed the love he had for the instrument.
Lenny had a phenomenal memory. He could recall any bit of information, no matter how obscure and recite it back to you. For his 88th birthday a couple of years ago, I wrote him a special card. Every time he would see me after that he would recite the card back to me, even this year – two years later! The card read:
I can’t believe you’re 88!
Especially when you’re still looking so great
Your Bass Drum playing is the best around
And everyone is jealous of your great tuba sound!
So stay on your feet and try not to fall
And hopefully you’ll celebrate 88 more!
Despite his best efforts, he didn’t make 88 more and I know I can speak for the whole band when I say we’ll miss him everyday. We love you Lenny.