• 2005-02-21

    Profile 2: TJ Panula, a Man of Note


      The trip to a photo workshop in Hermann, Missouri in September 2004 might become either the very beginning or my swan song in my pursuit toward professional photojournalism.
       I was admitted to the University of Missouri, Columbia in Fall 2004, but without any financial aid offered. I still ask for a week's leave and bought a ticket to fly to the middle American state. I felt at home when I saw the photo professors and students, talented and kind of having a touch of art.
       The photo workshop was an eye opener for me. There I saw photo journalism big shots from National Geography, Time magazine, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and many other publications. The lectures they gave and pictures they showed were for me, in Chinese saying, more than reading 10 years of books.
       TJ is a subject of my first try on documentary photography, or picture story.  The photos are included in the workshop's website <a href="http://www.mophotoworkshop.org/56/students/wu.shtml" title="workshop" target="_blank">http://www.mophotoworkshop.org</a>
       The several days with him was also used to write an interview story for my writing class.
    <a href="http://www.mophotoworkshop.org/56/students/wu.shtml" title="workshop" target="_blank"><img src="http://photos4.flickr.com/5320661_a577da1a87_m.jpg" alt="TJ Penula, a percussionist graduated from a music college, picks up a trumpet to lead the class of brass and wood instruments." align="left"></a>Click the image to see more of my works in the photo workshop.

    Profile 2: TJ Panula, a Man of Notes
    By Gang Wu, for Jour Writing assignment, due Sep 21 (1 week delayed due to the trip)

    When TJ Panula sits down in front of a set of drums with a pair of sticks in hand, he becomes a fiend.
       The sticks fly over the drums from left to right, high and low, only to be followed by a tidal wave of exploding sounds filling the rehearsal room.
       For a moment the tide may ebb away, replaced by soothing rustling of the paced beats. It’s the rhythm of jazz.
       A percussion graduate from Colver Stockton College, he could have become a professional musician touring with a band from one place to another. In fact, he did not do so.
       “I really like to play my own music on a band,” TJ said. “But I can’t do that, I want to have a family.”
       While many of his earlier friends are still on the road, the 28-year-old man has settled down teaching school kids music, first in St. Louis, now Hermann. He decided to move from a sizable city to the small town of German community in Missouri in 2001, because he likes “to live in a beautiful rural area.” Besides, teaching at a small school gives him more flexibility to implement his own ideas, he said.
       He set up a jazz band soon after he came to Hermann High School to be the band director of the student concert band. He also established a “Musical Explosion” performance group, which adapted the Tony Award winning Broadway Show Blast.
       The debut performance of the musical band last year made a hit in town, as local people and tourists filled up the 500-person auditorium in the school. The group is rehearsing again these days in preparation for a new show scheduled on October 15 and 17.
       TJ said he feels happy when he sees the kids make progress and enjoy more in the music world. But he admitted that directing a band, especially the musical performance group, could be stressful at times.
       “I almost yelled at them when I felt stressed out sometimes, ” said TJ.
       But his students said he has become much better now.
       “Mr Panula has changed a lot since his son was born a year ago,” said Shane Fulgham, a high school concert band member who has been learning percussion for years. He said he has learnt a lot from Mr Panula since he came to take over the bands.
       TJ admitted the birth of his son Sean has changed his life.
       He used to practice drumming at least one hour a day at home in order to keep his skill. Now he has to take care of his baby when he goes home. Sometimes when his nurse wife is too busy at work, he will leave school earlier to pick up Sean at a day care near his home, a dozen miles out of town.
       He gets up before 6 am every morning, dresses up the baby and packs up everything so that his wife can take Sean to the day care. When his wife washes clothes after work, TJ may be feeding the one-year-old and cooking dinner.
       “We share the house chores usually,” said TJ. “My wife often work 12 hours a day in the hospital.”
       TJ is no less busy at school. The musical performance practice often starts at 7 am. Then there are jazz band and music appreciation classes. He also teaches different levels of bands in adjoining Hermann Middle School, which will keep him running from one building to another every afternoon.
       “The workload is ok for me,” TJ said, smiling. “I’m refreshed after I eat something at dinner.”
       On the huge screen connected to a PC in the rehearsal room, a picture shows his baby Sean sitting on a grassland, smiling at his dad.