All I can say is thank you
Just over a week ago, the Manson Northwest Webster school community lost a longtime beloved music educator with the unexpected death of Brad Bleam.
It has taken me the better part of a week to formulate the words to describe what this man has meant not only to me, but to the Manson community at large.
And while I fear my words will be inadequate, it seems unthinkable to let this moment — this life — pass without paying tribute to the man who was not only a revered member of the community but who had also become a dear friend.
“Mr. Bleam,” as his students knew him, spent the better part of the last 15 years introducing children at MNW Elementary to their first instrument and instilling in them a love for music.
Starting with teaching countless fifth-graders how to hold their instrument — whether it was a set of drum sticks, a guitar or a saxophone as he did for my three kids –or a child’s first trumpet, trombone or clarinet, Mr. Bleam was sure to give them a solid musical foundation. From teaching the names of notes on a musical staff to the correct fingerings, along with that pesky necessity — rhythm — Mr. Bleam did this and more.
To the average person, he made it look easy. But as a parent watching this development in my own children, I know it was not.
As recently as last school year, my daughter Emily was one of his fifth-grade band students. From her first breathy “squawk” (or was it a screech?) on her saxophone in the fall, to at last playing a melody that was pleasant (and more importantly, recognizable) in the spring concert, this transformation seemed like nothing short of a miracle.
Mr. Bleam has been the maestro making that miracle happen over and over again for the hundreds of students he taught and mentored through the MNW band program. His results, however, were not a miracle, but the fruition of hard work, dedication, love and a passion for seeing his students succeed.
He cared about each and every one, and it showed.
My oldest son, Dylan, is now a junior and a member of one of the larger classes to go through MNW in recent years. Though he has not continued his music career, I will never forget his last sixth-grade band concert. That night, Mr. Bleam became emotional as he shared that this had been the largest elementary band he had ever conducted. His voice caught in his throat as he said he was going to miss this class, which he had poured his heart and soul into, as they moved on to junior high and high school.
Yes, he definitely cared.
Not only that, he had a gift for bringing out the best in each class. This was evident in the musicals he organized with each fifth- and sixth-grade class every spring.
Upon first witnessing these musicals, I recall being amazed at the level of sophistication and musicality Mr. Bleam was able to produce from the 60-plus kids on stage — and I told him as much. All had a role — some large, some small — but all participated. Not only that, it was clear that these kids were having a blast.
It was at that moment my admiration began and would only continue to grow over the years.
As a teacher, he always seemed to have time for his students and often adjusted his schedule to fit in lessons after school.
One year, when my son Logan was in a bit of a slump with his piano lessons, he brought home some jazz band music Mr. Bleam gave him, and was suddenly inspired to practice like never before.
As my daughter recalls, he made music class fun. Many students will remember Mr. Bleam for his “scary Halloween stories” and as the emcee for the K-6 costume parade through the gym each Halloween, with songs like “Monster Mash” playing in the background.
For several years, he oversaw the music program for the entire kindergarten through sixth-grade building. But during the last few years, he was solely the fifth- and sixth-grade vocal and instrumental instructor.
This spring, after a tough year of personal loss, Mr. Bleam made the difficult decision to retire.
My daughter, now a sixth-grader, was sad to learn he would not be teaching for her last year at the elementary. But we were collectively happy for him to move on to this next phase of life.
Unfortunately, his retirement was short-lived.
In the past week, I have felt personally and also witnessed the depth of loss felt by the Manson community. From conversations at RVTV to the grocery store to the week’s sporting events, friends, parents and colleagues have shared — often with hugs and tears — the shock and sadness they feel.
When the high school marching band dedicated last Friday’s halftime performance to their former elementary band director, the crowd rose silently, unsolicited and as one, to honor Mr. Brad Bleam with one last standing ovation.
You see, Mr. Bleam was not just a teacher, but a husband, dad, and grandpa. He spent the majority of his life in the Manson/Twin Lakes community, growing up on the family farm and attending Manson schools.
He was also a giver, and a friend.
Throughout his career, he was known to share his musical ability with others, whether playing bass guitar in the pit orchestra for high school musicals or organizing a parade band for Greater Crater Days. He also played with the combo for 41 of the last 51 Manson Meridian Singers shows, often with his good friend, Jon Merritt, by his side on trap set.
As an accompanist and instrumentalist myself, it was during these events I got to know Brad best.
When I was first asked to accompany an MNW high school musical, having no prior experience with such an undertaking, I soon wondered if I had made a huge mistake. But encouragement from Brad and Jon, who were playing in the pit orchestra that year, gave me the confidence to continue. I was also privileged to play in the Meridian Singers combo with this pair for several years.
And I am sure that I wasn’t the only one to receive a call from Brad when he was putting together a parade band. With a short rehearsal and a few folding chairs on a hay rack, away we would go.
Myself a Manson transplant, I realize these memories represent only a small portion of those that exist in a community this size. Brad also farmed, enjoyed other hobbies and played in various bands and venues over the years, perhaps with some who are reading this column.
To you, and to all who were touched or inspired by his life –whether you knew him as Mr. Bleam or Brad — I ask that you continue to share the music — and the memories.
To his family, I want to say thank you for sharing Brad with the Manson community for the past 66 years. Please know you’re in our thoughts and prayers.
And to Brad, all I can say is … thank you.