Mr. Montgomery began his musical training playing in the first band formed in Montgomery, Texas under director Vernon Cleveland. She gave private instruction to Mel on trumpet, piano, and mandolin. Later he played baritone horn, trombone and percussion. In 1936 his family moved to Conroe, Texas and he entered junior high. In junior and senior high school he played baritone and French horn and played drums in the high school dance band.
Mr. Montgomery graduated from Conroe High School in 1942 and completed one year of college at Sam Houston before being drafted into the Army in 1943 as a musician and perimeter guard. While in the service, he attended and graduated from the Army School of Music, played in the U.S. Army Field Band and Dance Band, and served in the European Theater Operations as a musician in the special services attached to the U.S. 7th Army. In December 1944, his battalion was attached to General Patton’s 3rd Army and he served 23 days in the Battle of the Bulge as an infantryman in defense.
Following his army duty, he returned to Sam Houston and completed his music degree in 1948. While at Sam Houston he served as director of the “Houstonians” dance band and during his senior year was employed as music director for the Texas Prison System.
Mr. Montgomery’s first teaching position was at Stephen F. Austin High School in Port Acres, Texas. During his four-year tenure, his bands received three Sweepstakes awards. In 1952 he became Director of Bands at Snyder High School. During his sixteen-year tenure, the Snyder band amassed an enviable record of contest honors and performed in the 1957 Cotton Bowl. They won fifteen consecutive Sweepstakes at UIL and several honors at the Tri-State Music Festival. At the Buccaneer Festival, the Snyder band was four times selected as the Outstanding Concert Band in its class and seven times won the Grand Sweepstakes award. They were consistently ranked among the top five bands in their classification in the state Honor Band competitions. In 1966, the Snyder band was chosen as the TMEA Honor Band in their classification.
He was also a pioneer in the stage band movement in Texas. His Snyder High School stage bands won national acclaim during the 1950’s and 1960’s and was ranked third among 225 participations schools in the National State Band Contest of 1966. His Snyder stage bands also won the competitive Brownwood State Band Festival twelve of fourteen years from 1954-1968. They also won first place at the Tri-State Festival in 1962 and first place in the Texas Tech Stage Band Festival in 1967. During 20 years in the Texas Public school systems, Mr. Montgomery’s bands won 19 sweepstakes awards.
In 1969, Mel Montgomery was selected as Director of Bands at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. He began with a band of 70 and turned it into a group of more than 200. His teaching load was very heavy, including Lumberjack Marching Band, Symphonic Band, Concert Band, Instrumental Methods and Materials, Marching Band Techniques, Conducting, Band Literature, Percussion, Percussion Ensemble, Percussion Techniques, Horn, and the supervision of student teachers.
He served for eighteen years as Director of Bands and Professor of Music. Under his leadership, the SFASU bands gained considerable recognition with both the marching and symphonic bands and became highly regarded throughout Texas and the United States. The SFA Symphonic Band was invited to perform four concerts for the Texas Music Educators Association and once for the College Band Directors National Association under Mel’s leadership. During his time at SFA, he began a commissioning series that continues today. Under his leadership, the following band pieces were commissioned: Armand Russell- Fantasy and Cantilena, W Francis McBeth- Caccia, Armand Russell- Fantasy and Cantilena, Luigi Zaninelli- Capriccio Spiritoso, David Holsinger- In Spring, at the Time When Kings Go Off to War, James Curnow- Variants on an Ancient Air. The Curnow piece was dedicated to Mel and Virginia Montgomery for their eighteen years of service to the SFASU Band.
In 1976, the spirit of patriotic fever let to another Mel Montgomery creation: the annual Concert in the Park. The original idea was to create a nostalgic atmosphere of an outdoor concert with families enjoying the music in Pecan Park. Later the concert was moved to its present location in the free speech area in front of the Wright Music Building at SFA. During his years at SFA, both Mel and Jenny Montgomery worked with the chapters of Kappa Kappa Psi consistently ranked as a “Top Ten” chapter, and won the Founder’s Trophy in 1983.
During his teaching career, he was honored with a citation from the Texas state legislature and selected to membership in the First Chair of America, honoring the nation’s 100 best high school bands; he was also the recipient of the A. Frank Martin award from Kappa Kappa Psi national band fraternity for his contributions to music education. In 1978, he was elected to membership in the prestigious American Bandmasters Association and in 1986 was given honorary membership in the Stephen F. Austin State University Band Director’s Hall of Fame. In 1993, Mel Montgomery was selected by the Texas Bandmasters Association as the Bandmaster of the Year. He was inducted into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame in 1994.
Mel Montgomery is a member of ABA, TMEA, TBA, TMAA, Phi Beta Mu, Kappa Kappa Psi, Phi Mu Alpha, Tau Beta Sigma, and Phi Delta Kappa. He holds listings in Who’s Who in the South and Southwest, international Who’s Who in Music, Personalities of America, Men of Achievement, Who’s Who in Percussion: USA, and the Directory of Distinguished Americans.
After retiring in 1986, Mr. Montgomery taught part-time on year supervising student teachers. The Stephen F. Austin State University Board of Regents awarded him the title of Director of Bands Emeritus and Professor of Music in 1987. He continued to serve as an active clinician and conductor until he began losing his vision in 1999.
They continued living in Nacogdoches enjoying their home, their friends and travel until 2011, when Mel and Jenny came full circle returning the town in which they met, had their first kiss at the grave of Sam Houston and fell in love, Huntsville TX. They resided at the Carriage Inn and were loved by all. Following Jenny’s death in 2013, Mel remained active at the Carriage Inn and returned to the teaching profession, holding Music Appreciation Classes sharing his depth of knowledge and love of music from Willie Nelson to Glenn Miller to Gustav Holst. Mel also taught many residents to play “hand and foot,” a form of canasta, and enjoyed playing nightly in teams of 2 and often had multiple tables playing simultaneously as he never stopped teaching or conducting. He is also known to have been a force at the poker table.
Mel loved life. He loved living. He loved learning. He loved the challenge in the “everyday” and inspired those around him to enjoy each day a little bit more than they would have without his encouragement, not so subtle admonitions as he always led by example with a strong wit, strong will, clear sense of self, and integrity down to his to his bone marrow. He was a leader who understood that you cannot teach what you do not know and cannot lead where you will not go. His legacy will live on and touch generations to come.
Mel was preceded in death by his wife of 64 years, Virginia Faye Harrington Montgomery and is survived by one son, Don Montgomery, a two-year All-State bass trombonist and member of Kappa Kappa Psi, their daughter, Jill Criddle, who played flute in the SFA Band and four grandchildren.
A funeral service is scheduled for Tuesday, November 22 at 3:00 pm at Cason Monk-Metcalf Funeral Directors. Rev. John Bingham will be officiating. Entombment will follow at Sunset Memorial Park. Family and friends are invited to visitation on Tuesday from 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm prior to the service.
Mel did not specify what his wishes were for flowers or “in lieu of flowers.” In light of that, please follow your heart. Here is a link to donate to the Mel Montgomery Band Scholarship Fund. We know that would make him happy :-)https://sfaalumni.site-ym.com/donations/donate.asp?id=7347.
Arrangements are under the direction of Cason Monk-Metcalf Funeral Directors