Package Design, Art, and Life

Let’s start off with package design!

Why today? I’ll get to that.

My high school alma mater, Indian Springs School, strove from its founding in 1952 to have a truly exceptional extracurricular music program. The centerpiece of that program, the Indian Springs Glee Club, began seriously gaining steam with the 1955 arrival on campus of Dr. Lara Hoggard.

Above: A youthful Lara Hoggard shows Waring’s Pennsylvanians how it’s done. (Photo provided by Eileen Akin, curator of Penn State University’s Fred Waring’s America archive.)

Dr. Hoggard came to Indian Springs with extraordinary choral credentials. Despite the high professional standing he already enjoyed as the associate director for Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, he allowed himself to be persuaded by Dr. Louis E. Armstrong — the visionary founding director of ISS and a longtime friend from Oklahoma — to set showbiz glitter aside in favor of providing new artistic horizons to a bunch of boys (Indian Springs didn’t "go co-ed" until the 1970s) at a still-wet-behind-the-ears experimental boarding school lodged way off in the country south of Birmingham, Alabama.

Dr. Hoggard was handsome, demanding, and had charisma running out of his ears. He relished the challenge of showing the largely untrained high schoolers now under his sway what making high quality, technically rigorous music was all about. Under Hoggard’s leadership, the ISS Glee Club swiftly gained a national reputation for excellence. When the Glee Club went on tour, audiences were invariably wowed at what everyday boys could accomplish with someone like Lara Hoggard at the helm.

Above: I never got to sing in Dr. Hoggard’s Glee Club myself, but when the aging vinyl recordings from that era were finally transferred to CDs in 2005, I had a chance to provide the package design.

When Dr. Hoggard left the school his position as Glee Club director was filled by Hugh Thomas. Thomas was the director of the Conservatory of Music at Birmingham-Southern College at that time; he later became chair of the college’s Music Department.

The personalities of Hugh Thomas and Lara Hoggard couldn’t have been more different. Hoggard was tall and effortlessly attention-getting whereas Thomas, when not conducting, was so uninterested in courting spotlights that it’s been like pulling teeth to dig up archival photographs of him for the design project I’m about to describe. In both cases, however, a dedication to excellence in music was accompanied by a fervent desire to enrich the Glee Clubbers’ musical knowledge and bring out the best in the youngsters they were conducting.

Why is all of this on my mind today? Because I’ve just finished designing the packaging for a second Indian Springs Glee Club double-disc CD, this time covering the Hugh Thomas years. (The discs and package are presently being assembled by A to Z Media in New York and should be available from the school soon.)

I probably wouldn’t have considered attending a college in the same city that my mom and dad lived in (one craves a little space between one’s parents and oneself at age seventeen, generally) if it hadn’t been for the presence on BSC’s faculty of Arnold Powell, about whom I’ve blogged before, and Hugh Thomas.

The Hugh Thomas I first met wasn’t yet the Glee Club’s director; he was my roommate’s dad. I was among the many Indian Springs students who boarded on campus full time, you see, so a fringe benefit of sharing a dorm room during my sophomore year with a classmate named Madoc Thomas was having Madoc’s very interesting father show up for visits every now and then.

What made the man especially interesting? He was in the process of composing the score for a musical comedy.

I had become enraptured with the musical comedy form a year earlier when a bunch of us ISS students were bussed into Birmingham to see a touring company perform the 1959 hit Broadway musical Li’l Abner. And what could have been a more perfect introduction to professional theatre for a fourteen-year-old aspiring cartoonist than a musical version of a famous newspaper comic strip?

I was dazzled. From then on my cartooning inclinations had to share mental space with dreams of writing a musical myself.

Of course, since I have zero musical talent, composing a score myself was clearly not in the cards, but that didn’t stop me from setting to work writing the book and lyrics for an imaginary show on the assumption that, one way or another, I would eventually find someone to write the music.

Chalk such notions up to youthful fantasy. But given this backstory you can imagine how exciting it was, once my sophomore year rolled around, to find myself rooming with someone whose father was a real, flesh-and-blood composer of a musical that was destined in the near future to get a full production at some small Methodist college in the western hills of Birmingham called Birmingham-Southern.

The show in question turned out to be a hilarious spoof of Alcestis, a tragedy written in 438 B.C.E. by Euripides. The musical incarnation of the Greek classic was called Caught Dead, and upon seeing it I immediately became an avid fan not only of my roommate’s dad but of the writer of the show’s book and lyrics (and its director), the aforementioned Arnold Powell, who within a few years was to become my teacher, mentor, creative role model, and (continuing long after my graduation from BSC) friend.

Meanwhile, watching Hugh Thomas take the reins of the Indian Springs Glee Club at the beginning of my senior year cemented the admiration I had already acquired for the composing half of the Thomas-Powell team.

Below: A promo shot of Arnold Powell and Hugh Thomas with programs for their two musical collaborations, Caught Dead and Peer? (The question mark is part of the second show’s title.)

It’s true that I ultimately opted for cartooning over theatre as a career choice, but that doesn’t mean that having access to talents like Lara Hoggard, Hugh Thomas, and Arnold Powell when I was young didn’t permanently alter the course of my creative life.

1 Watching each of these two men at work, each working in his own style, made it clear to this Alabama kid that the quest for excellence, however elusive it may be, was what being a serious artist was all about.

2 Spending time chatting informally with Hoggard and Thomas during campus meals, an outside-of-class student-teacher interaction that Indian Springs expressly promotes, gave me an early look at what thoughtful, urbane, and creative adulthood might look like.

3 Interacting with both Thomas and Powell once I became a student at Birmingham-Southern — I even got to help paint sets, design the program, and act in the Caught Dead creators’ second BSC collaboration Peer? How great is that?! — helped dispel any lingering notions that success in art is based on popularity or fame instead of the excitement that comes with using art as a tool to explore substantive truths about life.

And speaking of substantive truths about life…

How ‘Bout Them Crazy
Magazine-Hawking Sweepstakes!

The low-rent animated "music video" I created seven years ago of Mike Lantrip’s and my satirical song "Purchaser’s Clearing House" has been situated cheerily on my web site for quite a while already. But since Apple’s iPhones, iPods, and iPads lack the otherwise ubiquitous Flash Player for viewing web sites like mine, I’ve decided to also post it on YouTube.

Finally, A
About My Recent Birthday:

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
This entry was posted in A Tip o' the Hat, Family & Friends, Life & Art, Me, Me, Me!, Yesterday & Today. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Package Design, Art, and Life

  1. Oh, I didn’t know about that either! Happy birthday, Howard!

  2. Happy belated birthday, sweetie! You’re younger than springtime.