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Dupré: Jerome Michael Theriot –or– God’s girlfriend gets to sing

I have been very lucky in my life to have a small handful of really great friends. What made them really great was their apparent ability to endure my shortcomings, overlook them and be my friend anyway.

One of the first of these friends was Jerome Michael Theriot. I met him the summer before my fifth grade year, as my life was in upheaval. Though we were finally buying a house instead of renting, that meant we were movingyet again, and I was not looking forward to going to a strange new school. Before this, I changed addresses almost as much as some people changed clothes.

Enter Mr. Trosclair’s summer band program, where brand-new, aspiring musicians were able to get a jump on learning for beginner band.  Jerome was the only other student there who would give me the time of day. Not only that, he let me, clumsy dolt that I was, pick up and attempt to play his saxophone, even though I was but a wannabe trumpeter with delusions of grandeur and the talent of a sloth. He proceeded to show me how to play several different notes, and from that moment onward, we never stopped sharing music with each other.

Jerome Michael Theriot, right, and I are pictured after a concert we played in the late 70s at the Montegut Middle School in Terrebonne Parish where we grew up. (Photo by Virgil I. Falgout)

You see, although I started off with less than stellar abilities, I now had a target. It’s as if Jerome was sporting a big red bull’s-eye, and I was chasing after him, much like Elmer Fudd and a more cunning and talented Bugs Bunny. I kept pursuing that “wascallywabbit”, but never really got close enough to capture him.

However, it was all in the chase that my own talents improved. Although we made the same District, All-State, Regional and National Honor Band, Jerome was light years ahead of me in his pure playing talent. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was born with it, but he didn’t rest on his natural talent; he constantly worked on his skills and musicality. And though we had drifted apart somewhat after college, I am thankful that for the last decade of his life, we were able to work together as colleagues teaching musically advanced students.

In Rothenburg, Germany, Jerome poses with Amy Greer, one of the Sound of America performance tour’s euphonium players in front of a year round Christmas store. (Photo by Gary Wayne Dupre)

Before that, he had also become a phenomenal pianist and composer, played many gigs in both rock & roll and jazz, completed his master’s degree in music, played downtown on Bourbon Street, toured on cruise ships, served honorably in the Navy Band touring the world and released four full-length CDs of original music.

Let’s just say I couldn’t keep up with that.

In London, Jerome is showing off his “British Tourist Camouflage” in July 1983. (Photo by Gary Wayne Dupre)

In the movie, Amadeus, wildly entertaining though historically inaccurate, we see Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri as bitter rivals to the point of Salieri plotting Mozart’s death. This was not the case; they were actually friendly contemporaries. What was true about the movie, at least to me, was that there was one talented man who strove to achieve the stratospheric level of the other. Jerome was my musical inspiration; he was the Mozart to my Salieri.

Of course, our friendship was much more than just music. Through the years, there has been schoolwork, playing cards, Atari video games, trying to figure out how to unscramble that channel once the parents went to sleep, billiards, pinball, Hardy Boys books, Benny Hill, Monty Python, Eddie Murphy, humorous creative writing endeavors, talking about girls, lying about girls (sorry, girls), Chinese food, Big Mike’s BBQ and all the jokes we could remember (dirty, clean and everything in between).

Hear no evil (Thomas Kochel), see no evil (Jerome), speak no evil (Gary Dupre) acted out in the hall of a German hotel in July 1983. (Photo taken by Jeannie Brown)

This week marks the sixth anniversary of Jerome’s passing from a rare form of cancer. I think of him frequently, and there are some things that trigger memories of him faster than others.  Without explanation, 100 percent truthfully and in no order of importance, here are just some of those things: “Oh, Darling!” or “I am the Walrus” by the Beatles; the Chipmunks; mentions of rabies or hydrophobia; people making up words to songs when they forget while performing live; “Open Arms” by Journey; Christmas Nutcrackers; flute players; Poltergeist; E.L.O.’s Out of the Blue album; “Mr. Crowley” by Ozzy; Michael Winslow from Police Academy and Spaceballs; Coltrane, Parker, Marsalis, Sanborn…well not so much Sanborn; any discussion of best friends; anytime the Saints lose a heartbreaker; Caveman, starring Ringo Starr; John Cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks; Boy George; Dry Prong, Louisiana…[Sorry for the abrupt stop, but both the editor and my manager have cut me off.  Our manager knew Jerome as well and is quite confident that I would add four more pages to the paper if I were to continue unchecked.]

Jerome

Jerome is preparing for the end of camp band concert at McNeeseState University in Lake Charles, Louisiana in the summer of 1980.

I just know when that sweet Christian soul got to Heaven, he must have been met with a tremendous greeting, “We’ve all been waiting for you; you’ve been named to God’s All-Star House Band!  The good news is you’ll be playing with Satchmo, Charlie Parker, Miles, Jaco Pastorius, Duke Ellington and all the greats.  The not so good news – God’s girlfriend gets to sing.”

Gary Wayne Dupré is enjoying his second career as the Administrative Assistant for L’OBSERVATEUR and can be reached at gary.dupre@lobservateur.com or (985) 652-9545. He’s an old man, so STAY OFF HIS LAWN!