Mr. Moll: Musical genius

Published 10:52 pm Friday, May 18, 2012

The name Herman Moll is legendary in Troy.

For nearly 40 years, from 1919 until his death in 1957, Moll was “Mr. Music” in Troy. He laid the foundation for Troy’s award-winning high school band program that is the second longest existing program in the state.

“Anybody who has been or is associated with the city school’s band program knows the name Herman Moll,” said Pete Jordan, a charter member of the Charles Henderson High School Band Alumni Association. “He came to Troy in 1917 as the musician for the silent films at the ‘picture show’ in downtown Troy.”

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Moll was the violin soloist and leader of small orchestras that provided background music for each featured presentation.

“His orchestra at the Princess Theater was said to be worth the price of admission,” Jordan said. “Some people came mainly to hear Mr. Moll’s orchestra.”

The Princess Theater played five shows a day and the talented and versatile Mr. Music met the demands of selecting and preparing the music for the different films each day.

Moll also organized an orchestra of students who paid for lessons. His orchestra played for the dedication and opening of the Troy High School in 1919 and for the first graduation in 1920.

The high school orchestra was founded in 1920 with 35 members as the first chartered school orchestra in Alabama. The marching band was formed in 1926 with 24 members, all male.

“Mr. Moll’s band was not the Troy High School band,” said Ann Williams who played French horn for Mr. Moll. “The band was Moll’s Band. He was not hired by the school. We paid a fee to take band but we played at football games and other events. But we were Mr. Moll’s Band.”

Williams said that playing for Herman Moll meant going by his rules and his rules only.

Moll was a neighbor of Williams’ family and a friend of her parents. But she got no special treatment from him.

“Mr. Moll was strict, extremely strict,” she said. “He expected you to be where you were supposed to be and to be there on time. If you weren’t there on time, he locked the door and locked you out. He meant business.”

Whether Moll allowed a student back in the band depended on his mood.

“If he needed you real bad, he might let you back in,” Williams said, laughing. “Not many people tested his mood.”

Williams said everyone loved and respected Moll.

“He taught us to be prompt and the importance of being on time,” she said. “He taught us values and demanded respect from himself and others. And, he taught us to be prepared. If you didn’t practice, you didn’t play.”

When Moll’s Band took the field at football games, all members were prepared and took great pride in their performances.

Moll rented buses for the band to travel to nearby games and, being wartime, Williams said the buses broke down more often and not. But the bandmaster took it all in stride.

“We were ready when we got there,” Williams said, laughing. “Mr. Moll kept up with the latest trends in band music. We played the latest marches and the most famous ones.

“During the halftime performances, we marched and played and spelled out something on the field. We had a good halftime show.”

When World War II ended and the treaty with Germany and Japan was signed, Williams said Moll loaded his band up on a truck with a flatbed trailer.

“We rode all over town playing patriotic songs like ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever, and all kinds of famous marches,’” Williams said. “That was a great day for all of us.”

Years later, Moll played violin for Williams’ wedding.

“He played ‘The Indian Love Call,’” she said. “That might not sound like a song for a wedding but it was gorgeous. We had been neighbors for most of my life. I think he thought he was my daddy. But he never made any difference in me or any student for that matter. He treated us all the same and he would lock out any one of us if we were late.”

Jo Harvell played for Herman Moll band at Troy High School from 1948 until 1954 and he had not mellowed a bit.

“He was strict, a real disciplinarian. And, yes, he would lock you out if you were late,” she said. “And we paid to be in the band and we were Mr. Moll’s Band but we represented Troy High School.”

Harvell said it was an honor and a privilege to be a member of Moll’s band.

“If you weren’t playing football, being in the band was a way to get to go to the football games,” she said.

“He chartered buses for us but, back then, we only had enough members for one bus.

“Being in the band made it possible for us to have many opportunities. We got to go to Tuscaloosa every year to the state band festival. We marched at the governor’s inauguration and at the Peanut Festival in Dothan. Back then, every town had a parade before a football game and we got to march in those.”

The band uniforms were made of wool and topped with military-type hats and were very hot in spring and summer.

Harvell said Moll’s band didn’t have majorettes.

“We had drumettes,” she said. “The dressed like majorettes but they all played drums and marched with the band. They were athletic, too. Josephine Blumentritt could play the drum and, at the same time, lean so far back that her plume would be touching the ground. Later, Sue Jane Stewart marched in front of the band without a drum so that’s when the band had a majorette.”

The band room was between the dining hall and the gym and was a small room with wooden risers.

“Termites got in the risers and, when we played, we’d be sucking termites through our horns,” Harvell said laughing. “When we moved out, I think they made the room into the janitor’s closet.”

Through the years, termites and all, Herman Moll’s bands played on and they were known as one of the most polished and disciplined bands around.

Probably, everyone who played for Herman Moll remembers him with respect and admiration, even though he was strict and made sure they “walked a chalk line.”

“By many accounts Herman Moll was a musical genius. Jordan said.

“He certainly had a long and lasting influence on the band program in Troy. He started the band program here in 1919 and his influence is still being felt. We owe a lot to him. He provided us with a strong foundation to stand on and a legacy to live up to.”