As a second grader in the country town of Crossville, Tennessee, John Bridges stood with his parents on Main Street to watch a parade go by. The most exciting thing in the parade for him was the high school band, and to this day, his fascination with bands and love for their music has never gone away. He began playing the cornet in the summer after the sixth grade, and in the seventh grade, he began marching with the high school band. He took up French horn in the ninth grade, and it was such a good fit that he made All-State Band for the first time in the tenth grade. “That’s when I decided that I wanted to be a band director,” he remembers.
John’s bachelor’s degree is from Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. He played principal horn in the band and brass choir and principal horn in the first (1960) Tennessee All-College Symphonic Band. He was a member of the Tech Chorus, the Tech Choir, Madrigal Singers, worked in the music department and directed a church choir.
His first teaching job was in Chattanooga, where he took a program that was in serious decline (five directors in four years, no contest in twelve) and produced sweepstakes bands in his 2nd and 3rd years. While there, he played horn in the Chattanooga Symphony and directed the music at the Hixson United Methodist Church.
John says, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could”. In 1963, he moved to San Antonio. After a year each at Edgewood and Southside High Schools, he went to Randolph High School, where he taught fourteen years and produced thirteen sweepstakes bands. During those years, the band made the top five in the TMEA 2A Honor Band competition, won first place at the State Fair Marching Contest and at Westlake Marching Festival, twice won the 2A Sweepstakes Award at State Solo/Ensemble Contest, and was named Best in Class at the Six Flags Festival at UT Arlington. The Jazz band won firsts at St. Mary’s University, Texas A & I, and Sam Houston State. In those years John supervised more than thirty TLC music majors who did their student teaching at Randolph.
While at Randolph, John remodeled an old house, directed church choir, conducted major ensembles at TLC summer band camps, sang with the San Antonio Symphony Mastersingers (also served as President), earned a Master’s degree from North Texas, served TMEA Region Chair and State President, and was inducted into Phi Beta Mu.
Seeking a new challenge, John moved to MacArthur High School in San Antonio (two more sweepstakes years). In his second year there, three MacArthur Bands earned Superior ratings from every judge in marching, concert and sightreading, and won Grand Champion honors at an Orlando invitational contest.
Then the ultimate challenge beckoned. John went to Alamo Heights as high school director and district band supervisor. He labored for fourteen years there, ten of them Sweepstakes years, and saw the Heights Band advance to State Marching Contest twice (finalist once), win two Grand Champion trophies in Orlando and earn first divisions at Six Flags. He orchestrated an all-years Heights Band reunion to help finance the group’s 1991 trip to Honolulu.
In 1984 John, Tom Rhodes and David Mathis formed the San Antonio Municipal Band. John served as Music Director and Principal conductor for ten years. He continued to play his horn in his own John Bridges Brass Quintet until he left San Antonio. He served the National Band Association as National Jazz Chair, National Vice-President, then Southwest Division Chair.
In 1995, John retired from full time teaching in Texas public schools and for the next school term, he became the Interim Director for the Trinity University Wind Ensemble and Symphony, and served as part time band coordinator at Edgewood ISD, while continuing his work with his church choir.
On that summer’s vacation trip to Hawaii, John was recruited to direct the high school band program at Honolulu’s prestigious Punahou School. For the next eight years he shepherded the 250 student program, working with the marching band and the four concert bands in some of the most rewarding years of his career. The bands were consistently rated Superior in concert, marched in the 1999 Rose Parade and the 2003 Holiday Bowl Parade and Game. John served his profession as President of Oahu Band Directors Association and was the founding president of Hawaii’s Lambda Chapter of Phi Beta Mu.
A charter member of TMAA, John has judged nearly a hundred UIL band contests. He served TMAA 1991-1993 as President, initiated a newsletter and with Melva Sebesta, upgraded the directory and coordinated a program to honor former TMAA officers. He also judged more than fifty other contests and festivals in Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, and Hawaii. He served as guest conductor in eight Texas regions as well as in Hawaii and Japan. He was inducted into ASBDA in 1998.
His wife Cynthia completed her PhD in Music while they were in Hawaii. In 2004, she accepted a position as band director at Malone College in Canton, Ohio. So after 44 years of continuous service as a band director, John retired again, this time to follow her career.
In 2004, John was presented with the NBA Mentor Award and listed in Who’s Who in America. In December 2005, he will be inducted into the Sousa Legion of Honor.
John credits his teachers as the people who most influenced his career: his high school band director, Bruce Robinson, his college directors, Jay Julian and Maurice McAdow, his San Antonio mentors, Vernon Mayfield, Roy and Pat Norton and Pete Rodriguez. He is grateful for the inspiration of icons such as Fred Junkin, Bryce Taylor and the counsel of good friends in the profession, Billy Harrell and Jerry Babbitt. He is grateful for the help of three exceptional band directors who taught with him as assistants: Scott McDonald, Mark Buley, and Gary Graser.
John says his fondest memories are of the wonderful students he was privileged to teach. His proudest accomplishment as a band director is his thirty consecutive years of first division Texas UIL ratings in sightreading.