Just like his signature trumpet solo, Rusty Crowe has “Got to Fly Now.”
After spending 19 years at the helm, Crowe retires next month as Hobbs High School band director in order to move closer to his daughters and grandchildren.
Known during basketball games for his red-faced rendition of the upper-range, ear piercing notes from that Rocky song, Crowe said some of his students were knocked out by the news that he’s leaving.
“I had done the (paperwork) and so I knew the news was going to get out that
I was retiring,” Crowe said recently. “I planned how I would announce it for a couple days before I told the kids. There was a lot of emotion going on. Everybody was quiet and looking around.”
“I was kind of frozen for a second ‘cause I was trying to understand. I was like, ‘This can’t be happening,’” said Caitlyn Williams, one of four drum majors this year. “Then I started crying because I realized he’ll be gone for my senior year.”
Truth be told, leaving is also emotional for Crowe. After all, he’s been a Hobbs fixture most of his life.
The second oldest of four kids, Crowe grew up here and helped out at the family restaurant – the Red Crow on Dal Paso – until it was sold when he was in seventh grade.
By that time, Crowe was in the second year of a pastime that would shape his life.
“I really wasn’t musically inclined at all but when I was in fifth grade, I watched a band concert at Mills with a friend. It was cool so we decided to join,” he said.
At the urging of another friend, Crowe selected the trumpet as his instrument. “My friend played the trumpet too so I got one that summer,” he explained. “We just practiced all the time. We challenged each other and pushed each other to get better.”
It wasn’t long before Crowe’s junior high band director recognized his talent and urged him to take private lessons. The result was thousands of hours of practice and first or second chair band honors for the remainder of his public school years.
“Back in the day, we had about 120 kids in the (HHS) band,” recalled Crowe, who also was a Taskervitch member (Taskervitch played only at boys games at the time). “Things weren’t as competitive as it is now. It wasn’t quite as spirited. Being in the band is a lot more respected now,” he said.
Some would say that today’s band members have Crowe to thank for that respect.
At 275 members, the HHS is the biggest band in New Mexico. While other band directors across the state cap their membership – road trips and choreography is made incrementally more difficult the larger the band – Crowe is proud that every musician gets his or her chance at Hobbs High School.
“We’re like a big family,” he explained. “You try to involve every single kid – whether they are talented or not. The other kids see that everyone is participating even if they aren’t the best player. They might even be the worst player. But the talented kids push the other kids. They are learning a lot of social lessons. It’s important for them to learn how to treat others as they want to be treated. And it seems like a lot of kids want to be involved because of that excitement.”
Again, it’s Crowe who is responsible for a good portion of the excitement.
“When you have to get up early for band practice, you don’t really want to get out of bed,” said Williams, now a three-year band member who has seen her share of sunrises while practicing marching drills in the HHS parking lot. “But Mr. Crowe is so energetic. He just radiates energy. And before you know it, you are excited and ready to practice.”
“It’s easy for me to get the kids pumped up about music because I still act like a kid,” Crowe laughed. “The more you get to know your students, the easier your job is. And we are around each other 24-7. We’re like a big family.”
Crowe enrolled at New Mexico State after graduating from HHS, but quit school to marry Brenda, his wife of 37 years, after his sophomore year. Crowe opted instead for a three-year U.S. Army enlistment that eventually would return him to college on the GI bill.
Based at Ft. Benning, Ga., Crowe was part of a military band that performed at graduations, parades and funerals. His ability to hit high notes was perfect for TAPS – something that he was frequently called on to perform. “It’s an honor to play at a funeral – but I was busy all the time,” he said. “On weekends especially.”
Once he was discharged, Crowe returned to NMSU while working full time in restaurant management. “I was making more money than my friends but I knew
I wanted to go back to music,” he said. “I went back to school to do what I love to do.”
After college, Crowe began his teaching career in California – where his family had moved. Three years later he came back to Hobbs where his wife’s family still lived.
“Just because I was familiar with it and it was less hectic than California,” he explained. “One day when I was in California I called (former classmate) Kevin Black and asked if there were any openings.”
Hired along side assistant director John Duskey, Crowe became the HHS band director in 2003. His biggest accomplishment, he says, is the hiring of quality band instructors who have improved the quality of instruction at the secondary level. “I owe the strength of the high school program to all of those directors.”
The result is a band with a state reputation.
“Everybody knows about the Hobbs band at the state basketball tournaments,” said HHS Coach Shelby Reeves. “Even in Task er, the band is about as popular as the basketball teams. Hearing the band play sets the tone for the game. You hear the music playing and you’re fired up and everybody is in a good mood.”
COVID, however, muted the music for more than a year. While teaching school remotely was difficult for traditional subjects, it was almost impossible for music teachers.
“I don’t know how to explain it but it just makes you feel good when you are playing music together and everybody is in harmony. It’s just a cool feeling,” Crowe said. “Obviously we didn’t have that during COVID. Kids were at home by themselves, not interacting or talking to anybody. We’d lost our family feeling.”
With the ease of the pandemic this year, the family feeling is back. For the first time in two years, the HHS band competed in marching competitions and had its highest finish ever at this year’s Zia competition in Albuquerque.
But now the family is losing one of its key family members.
Crowe, who has three daughters and two granddaughters living in the Dallas area, will move there later this summer with his wife. He hopes to find work as a band director at a Texas high school. And he hopes to “have the same support and love for music and arts there that I’ve had here.”
“I can’t stop teaching music,” he said. “I’ve got another 20 years.”