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Editor's Note: In this occasional series, Tulsa World reporter Michael Overall writes about ordinary Oklahomans who turn out to be anything but ordinary.
Starting school at Oklahoma A&M, Marge Creager faced a tough choice.
She could be a cheerleader. Or she could play drums in the marching band. She wouldn't have time for both.
"I thought about it," she says, "and I figured you can't be a cheerleader your whole life. But you can play a musical instrument forever."
Except, life gets distracting. A college boyfriend becomes a husband. A diploma turns into a career.
Before you know it, half a century has slipped away and you haven't touched a pair of drumsticks since Truman was in the White House.
Bud Martelle and his wife go to another church, but they came to south Tulsa's Asbury United Methodist for a special event one night.
As the crowd mingled, Dixieland jazz swooped down from the balcony, setting toes a-tapping and turning Martelle's head.
"What do you have to do to join the band?" he asked one of the pastors.
The pastor shrugged: "Show up."
"Easy for him to say," Martelle thought.
Martelle spent most of his adult life playing Dixieland banjos, but he hadn't performed in years.
"Luckily for me," Martelle smiles, "it turns out that everybody else started out in the same boat."
The trumpeter, for example, well he can't exactly remember when he last blew a note before joining Asbury's band, the Saints of Swing.
The trombonist describes it as "almost like learning to play all over again."
And the drummer was the least experienced of all. She hadn't hit a snare drum since Oklahoma State University was still called A&M.
'A lot different'
Creager slips into the rehearsal room so quietly that no one seems to notice.
The trumpeter is already running through warm-up scales. The string bass is busy being tuned. And the saxophonist is turned around talking to the piano player.
But Creager taps the snare just once and, without anyone saying a word, the whole ensemble slips naturally into "Stardust."
"We've all been playing together long enough now," she explains between songs, "that we don't need to talk much. We know what to do."
For the first 80-something years of her life, Creager had never — not once — sat behind a drum kit.
"It's a lot different," she admits, "from marching with just one drum. But you know what? It proves you're never too old to learn something."
During rehearsal, the band's manager casually mentions that their next gig will be at "the old skating rink," next door to Asbury.
The bass player wants to know if he needs to bring his amp, or maybe the rink will have its own sound system?
The manager winks: "Don't worry. I think they have their own."
Three nights later, Creager finds herself wearing a snazzy red vest and a bow tie, sitting under blue-tinted stage lights with eight — count them, eight — different microphones wired for her drum kit.
The Saints of Swing have played a few hundred shows since the band started five years ago, but mostly at retirement homes. Certainly nowhere like this.
Asbury has turned "the old skating rink" into a first-class venue for its youth program, complete with spot lights, sound boards and acoustic curtains.
The crowd easily topped 100 — by far the largest in Creager's Dixieland career.
"I've never seen anything like it," she sounds breathless. "Just amazing. It was the night of my life."
Michael Overall 581-8383