“Seventy-six trombones led the grand parade. With a hundred and ten cornets nearby. They were followed by rows and rows of the best virtuosos, the cream of any famous group!” sang Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man.”
Wilmington has its own music man – minus Professor Hill’s pranks and antics, of course – named Paul Shivers.
Paul has been my good friend for 62 years. We first met in September of 1960 at Denver Place School, the year Port William consolidated with Wilmington City Schools.
I had been a drummer, however, at Port, in a group of about 20 classmates of varying degrees of talent. To say the band sounded better than the River City Boys Band would be an understatement.
It was my second week at the new school when I met Paul, an incredible percussionist. It was clear to see, even at this early age, that Paul was a talented musician. His drum rolls were smooth as silk.
“Do you read music? Do you know the five stroke reel? What about the nine stroke reel? Do you know how to throw or paradiddle?” Paul asked me on one of our first days in the band room.
He came over and shook my sweaty hands as we got ready to audition for our music teacher, Rodger O. Borror. He gave his infectious laugh and that look he always gives me.
I looked at Paul blankly. He might as well have asked if I understood Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I shook my head.
“The only song I can play on the drums is the Washington Post March,” I said. “And I don’t play that well.”
“Just look at me,” he replied. He was flawless.
The sweat had now spread from my palms to my face, over my lips, down my back, and settled somewhere between my collarbone and shoulder. My blue shirt turned colors as sweat spread like the Mississippi River on a spring day in the backcountry.
Mr. Borror came and asked me the same questions that Paul had asked me. He didn’t ask me to play, he just started writing in a small notebook he was carrying.
Before Mr. Borror could say anything to me, Paul said, “Mr. Borror, I will help him. He could do well with some lessons. I’ll tell him.”
There were two things I learned that day: Paul Shivers was one of the best percussionists I’ve ever known; and there was not a nicer or kinder young man in Clinton county. He was, and still is, a gentle soul with a real kindness about him. We became fast friends.
We spent six years together in the marching, symphonic and community bands at Wilmington High School. Some of my best times were spent with Paul.
Paul quickly transformed from a high school student to a university man. He continued his formal education in instrumental and vocal music, receiving a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of Miami and a master’s degree from Ohio University. He taught music in public schools for 38 years, most of that time “north of Columbus,” as they say.
Twenty-three years ago, Paul and his wife, Cindy, decided to return home to Wilmington. They opened a business, For a song and a story, a business that makes you feel good when you walk in the door.
Paul spoke about his and Cindy’s business and said: “This is where we shine the most, providing top level guidance to anyone wanting to break into the world of music. Over 200 students come every week and receive lessons from about 20 different instructors. The list of possibilities is almost endless and includes piano, voice and drums, as well as almost any instrument you can imagine.”
Paul said that music is his world. Thanks to him, I, like many others in Clinton County, can read music, execute five- and nine-stroke reels. I can even talk and paraphrase from time to time.
For A Song And A Story is more than a music store. It’s a gathering place, with memories that take us back to another time in downtown Wilmington.
The former nursing home, when we take a deep breath we still get hints of the lavender perfume of the patients still clinging to the walls and giant wooden planks.
Paul and Cindy’s cozy bookstore held us together; a balm that soothed our minds and hearts when we needed to hear happy music.
When the sun goes down on Labor Day, after two decades, the grand front doors of “For a Song and a Story” will close for the last time.
And as the curtain came down, Marian the Librarian stood on the bridge singing, “There was love all around, but we never heard it sing. No, we didn’t hear it at all, “until it wasn’t you.”
Paul Shivers, Wilmington’s own music man, we feel the same way about you.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County native and former county commissioner and sheriff.