From the basement of White Chapel emerges a lilting melody. The Norwich University Regimental Band plays in cantabile, a smooth, singing style mirroring the fluid three-four rhythm of director Todd Edwards’ baton. He springs into a lively march. The band follows suit, but it is a rough transition, and the music drags slightly. With a wave, Edwards cuts the music. Tapping out the rhythm, he sings the melody. “At E,” he says, and with light, staccato hands, sets up the tempo. “One [beat] two [beat] at [beat] E.”
Later, in his office, Edwards reflects on what he calls the best lesson he learned as young musician playing gigs in his hometown of Meadville, Pa. “Play loud enough so if you screw up, I can hear it,” he tells his students. “I’d rather hear you play loud and goof up. Because if I can’t hear it, I can’t fix it.”
The trombone called to him at age nine—on the bus to school. “There were a couple of older kids. One played trombone and one played trumpet,” he recalls. “And they’d belt out Herb Alpert’s ‘Tijuana Taxi,’ and the whole rest of the bus would sing along. I really loved the trombone.”
At 10, he began taking private lessons with a Pennsylvania farmer who played in local dance bands. “Fred Haynes,” Edwards says fondly. “He got me started in those bands when I was 12.” Suddenly Edwards found himself surrounded by unionized professional musicians. Too young for the union, he was allowed to play for the experience. “Once in a while the band leader gave me five bucks.”
Another important lesson he learned during those years: “Endurance. When you’re 13 and playing until two in the morning, you have to learn to stay awake, because midnight is when the place starts really hopping. And if there’s no one on the dance floor, the band isn’t doing its job.”
Edwards also led an active life in school-related musical activities: marching band, concert band, jazz. “I ran the Dixieland band. I was in the chorus. I was in the musicals. I was your basic music geek.”
Surprisingly, he graduated high school having no clear plans. It was only after seeing an Army band performance in the early 1980s that he began to sense his path, and an Air Force recruiter set him up with an audition at Wright-Patterson AFB. “So I drove down and took the audition, not expecting to pass it.”
To his surprise, Edwards did pass the audition. “I was lucky they were looking for trombone players,” he quips. He entered the Air Force at age 18 at the pay grade of E1, the “young kid” in an ensemble composed largely of college graduates. Thus began a 25-year career in the Air Force band program, for which he did every job imaginable—singing, playing various instruments, directing bands, loading equipment, running lights. During wartime he toured combat zones, performing for U.S. troops on flatbed trucks in the desert. “It’s not a concert hall you’re playing in.” He smiles. “We went to where the troops were, to give them a break from the 12-hour on-and-off shifts and the 130-degree weather, and everything else that was going on.”
When Edwards retired as a senior master sergeant, he told himself two things: “Number one, I was never going to wear a uniform again, and number two, I wasn’t going to do music,” he chuckles.
He went back to school, completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, and was searching for opportunities to teach history when he stumbled upon an announcement for an assistant commandant and director of bands at Norwich. Once again, the music beckoned. He calls coming to Norwich the best choice he could have made for a second career. “I love my job. And the best part of it is working with the students, whether in music or just being an ear.”
Throughout Todd Edwards’ life, music forged his path, even when the path was uncertain. Fortunately for Norwich, the music chose him—again. – J.E.D.