Robert Palmer, M.D., French Horn player and Drum Major in the Marching Hundred from 1946 to 1950. In addition to having a distinguished record of service to Indiana University and the medical profession, he was the founder of The Robert M. Palmer, M.D., Institute of Biomechanics, Inc.
Director of Bands and Professor of Music at Indiana University
by Robert T. Rhode, 1976 Outstanding Bandsman
November 24, 1980
As musicians, we know how to take repeats. As members of a marching band, we know how to march a formation back to its starting position. We know of only four things that can’t be taken back: a half-time show, the spoken word, time, and the neglected opportunity. This evening, at this Marching Hundred Awards Banquet and before our honored guests, we have a perfect opportunity that must not be neglected. Let us welcome our chance to congratulate and to thank our own Frederick C. Ebbs, Director of Bands and Professor of Music at Indiana University, for his many years of continued, creative leadership.
To speak of leadership is to wrestle with an abstract term, but applying the word to Professor Ebbs yields an instantaneous understanding of what “leadership” means. Most of you could multiply your age by two, and you would have the number of years that Mr. Ebbs has led the band world. While earning his B.S.M. degree from Baldwin-Wallace College in 1937 and his M.M. degree from the University of Michigan in 1940, our Director served as the supervisor of music in the Rittman, Ohio, Public Schools. Then came the brilliant eight-year tenure as director of the Hobart, Indiana, High School band, historically one of the most famous secondary school, music organizations. From 1948 to 1954, he directed the Baldwin-Wallace College bands, and in the summers he served as a guest instructor and visiting lecturer at the Universities of Michigan and Illinois respectively. His dedication and ability already had been tested and found superior.
In 1954 came the move destined to make the name “Frederick C. Ebbs” internationally recognized and remembered. That year, the University of Iowa wrote his name in its faculty roster as the University’s new Director of Bands. At Iowa, Professor Ebbs developed and refined his capacity for creative leadership. Let me tell you of his creations. If you wore a snappy-looking overlay in your high schoo1 band, then thank Mr. Ebbs for his innovation. Together with Bob Portner of Ostwald Uniforms, he created the revolutionary concept of an overlay for the Iowa marching band uniform. The name “Ebbs” became synonymous with exciting, precise drill routines and a high level of musicality that repeatedly spawned standing ovations. In 1957 and 1959 he led the Iowa band to the Rose Bowl; fans remember those thrilling shows. In 1976, when our Marching Hundred traveled to Iowa, and when Mr. Ebbs climbed the ladder to conduct the Iowa band in the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a roar of approval echoed in the Hawkeye bowl.
In his stay at Iowa, other fans responded to his innovative genius in conducting the Symphony Band. Professor Ebbs felt a powerful obligation to break from the performance of mere orchestral transcriptions and to encourage the playing of music written especially for symphonic bands and wind ensembles. We honestly can credit this gentleman with transforming symphonic band literature into an art. In 1966, the U.S. government sponsored the Iowa Symphony Band in a cultural exchange tour of Europe. For three months, Mr. Ebbs and the hundred people comprising the band and its staff performed memorable concerts in Spain, Portuga1, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium, and the Soviet Union. Mrs. Ruth Ebbs tells me, “The great love of symphonic band music we experienced in those concerts made the European tour a highlight of Mr. Ebbs’s musical career.” She says, “I wish I could show you the concert halls: the crystal chandeliers, the red velvet, the marble! . . . and, most of all, the reaction of the crowds.” The audiences to which she refers were excited. When this great American bandmaster strode confidently to the podium, Europe sat up and listened.
Private citizens and professional musicians alike applauded this new, American sound. In one concert in Spain, members of both the Spanish ballet orchestra and the professional orchestra gladly accepted seats in the orchestra pit, since no more chairs were to be had in the packed concert hall. Mrs. Ebbs recalls, “Professional musicians were that enthused about a symphonic band concert!” She adds, “During the tour, it was not at all unusual to have forty-five minutes of encores with many people having stood throughout the entire concert.”
On one occasion, however, Professor Ebbs nearly caused an international incident between the Soviet Union and the United States. You may not be aware that Mr. Ebbs’s single passion is ice cream, and Russian ice cream exactly suits his cultivated taste. On the day in question, ice cream had been served at lunch. That night, after a grueling rehearsal that lasted until ten, the hosts provided snacks for the band, but Mr. Ebbs could not find any ice cream. He craved ice cream! “Fred, if they don’t offer it, you can’t have it,” Mrs. Ebbs cautioned. “I can, too, have ice cream!” shouted Mr. Ebbs, while pounding his fist on the table in the manner of a Russian dictator. It so happened that the old kitchen-lady had gone home with the key to the ice cream chest; the Russians were apologetic. Few of us realize that Mrs. Ebbs’s diplomacy may have kept America out of war.
At any rate, the tour was a vast success. The best summary I can offer of the overwhelming reception given Professor Ebbs in Europe is this anecdote. At one concert, a Russian woman requested an encore, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” In his inimitable fashion, Mr. Ebbs conducted that renowned American March. Afterward, the applauding woman stood speechless with tears in her eyes.
I could continue to tell you of his fine Rose Bowl performance with the I.U. Marching Hundred in 1968. I could proceed to list his exemplary teaching in many clinics and workshops that have spanned thirty-five states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. I could tell you that one of his former workshop personnel, “Doc” Severinsen, in two performances at I.U. has given Professor Ebbs the credit for giving “Doc” his start. I could mention Mr. Ebbs’s membership in nine professional organizations. I could, for instance, tell you that he presently is Vice President, Elect, of the American Bandmasters Association and that he will preside over that organization in 1982. I could review his many awards, including the prestigious American School Band Directors Association Edwin Franko Goldman Award. Rather than to continue to list his accomplishments, I would like to add my own humble award, along with my thanks, to one of the greatest names in band history. I always shall remember this patient, but demanding, gentleman, who has said that “the associations with my teachers and students have been one of God’s richest blessings in my life and will always continue to be.” I always shall remember his personal magnetism on the ladder against the blue sky above the football stadium. For the man who affectionately has called me everything from “Hey, you!” to “Dusty Rhode” I have recently completed an original portrait in oils. I hope that all of you will agree that it captures the heroic dimensions of our own hero, Frederick C. Ebbs.