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Side-Yard Superhero Honors

USA Regional Excellence Book Awards - Grand Prize Non-Fiction Midwest

University of Arkansas at Morrilton - One Book One Community Reading Selection

Kent State University at Tuscarawas - One Book One Community Reading Selection

Readers' Favorites - Silver Award, Non-Fiction Memoir

Dan Poynter's Global eBook Award - Bronze

Conversations Book Club - Top 12 Choice

Cyrus Webb's - “25 Books Every Man Should Read”

The Great Southeast Book Festival - Biography / Autobiography
Honorable Mention

Reader Views Regional Great Lakes - Reviewers Choice Award Winner
New York Book Festival- Honorable Mention

Eric Hoffer Award - Finalist

The Great Northwest Book Festival - Biography/Autobiography Honorable Mention

National Indie Excellence Award - Regional Non-Fiction Finalist

The Great Southwest Book Festival - Biography/Autobiography Honorable Mention

New Mexico-Arizona Book Award - Biography Finalist

Royal Dragonfly Book Award - Newbie Non-Fiction Honorable Mention

Royal Dragonfly Book Award - Biography/Memoir Honorable Mention

BookLife Quarter Finalist

BookLife and Publishers Weekly announce the titles advancing to quarterfinals of the 2017 BookLife Prize.

— Memoir/Autobiography: Side-Yard Superhero

Sep 22, 2017
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Bookvana Awards Finalist

“Award Finalist in the “Autobiography: Male Inspirational/Motivational” category of the 2017 Bookvana Awards”. The Bookvana Awards are a new specialty book awards honoring books that elevate society, celebrate the human spirit, and cultivate our inner lives.

— Life.Spirit.Knowledge.
Bookvana Awards

Aug 14, 2017
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9.5 out of 10

Title: Side-Yard Superhero
Author: Rick Niece
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Audience: Adult
Word Count: 50,000

Plot: Niece covers a lot of ground here, but all of it vital to his story. Meticulously plotted, the memoir will have readers turning pages to find out more about Bernie Jones and the small town of DeGraff.

Prose: Told in the first person, Niece excels at dialogue and gives each character a unique voice. Many characters troop through the pages—and many of them appear only once or twice—but Niece infuses each of them with personality and a distinct voice.

Originality: There are many memoirs centered around individuals who are sick or have a physical disability, but what sets Niece’s work apart is the way he focuses on Bernie as a person, not as a person with cerebral palsy.

Character Development: Niece adeptly describes his hometown and all its residents with heart and sensitivity, and his characterization of Bernie is exceptionally well done.


Plot/Idea: 9
Originality: 10
Prose: 10
Character/Execution: 9
Overall: 9.50

— Critic
The BookLife Prize

Aug 09, 2017
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5 Stars!

Perfect in Memory: A Son’s Tribute to His Mother by Rick D. Niece is the third non fiction book in a series by this author. This is a touching tribute, written by a son reflecting on the loving memory of his dear mother. The author writes of his memories with love and affection, detailing his family, the small town he lived in, and the relationships that impacted his youth. It was especially touching as I read about his parents, and the love and respect that they shared for one another. The author clearly doted on his mother, and this book gives the reader a perfect insight into that relationship.

Perfect in Memory also takes you as a reader back to a special time that some of us may still remember; the days without social media and technology, and the simplicity of life as a family where dinner times and communication were important to a relationship and sense of family. The author demonstrates a good sense of humour, and brings the reader in emotionally, leaving me with a lump in my throat in many parts of his story. He writes in a way that draws you in effortlessly, and as I put the book down after the final page, I found myself looking up the earlier two stories of this series. I also loved the formatting of this eBook and the chapter starters - it was original and, for a reader, a perfect touch to add to the quality of this novel. I commend Rick D. Niece for his transparency and passion in this touching memoir, and I recommend anyone who holds their mother close to their heart to read this story, as it truly reminds you to cherish what you have in life.

— Sarah Rollins
Readers' Favorites

Apr 01, 2017
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"Could not put it down!"

Just finished reading "Side-Yard Superhero". Oh my what an emotional roller coaster ride. I could not put it down. It usually takes 2-3 weeks for me to finish a book...2 days and I was done. My favorite part was when the neighbor asked "if I call your mom would she say what you are doing is ok?" My Mom's friends have asked me the same question when I was younger!

— Alan B.

Feb 01, 2017

A gifted writer...

Just finished "Perfect in Memory." Very emotional right now, as our lives mirrored in many ways. Guess growing up in a small town in our era bolstered by family near and far is similar, be it in Ohio or Arkansas. Words are inadequate to express just how much I enjoyed reading the Fanfare for a Hometown series. You're a gifted writer, both of prose and poetry. Thanks SO much for your labor of love and shared memories. It was my joy to have read them.

— Len B.

Jan 11, 2017

Rick D. Niece will have readers laughing and crying as it brings up their own memories.

“Perfect in Memory” by Rick D. Niece is a tribute to a mother’s love, devotion, and sacrifice. As the author states, all his mother ever wanted was to, “Be a good mother and make it perfect for my boys.” What mother doesn’t want things to be perfect for their children?

The story itself is written in an unusual way. The author’s intent was to write about childhood memories to share with his mother while she was home bound with pulmonary fibrosis. He never got the chance. One of the things he remembers was that he and she were always remembering events while the children were growing up, and this was the only bond he and his mother shared. He wrote this book with encouragement from his wife, to bring some hope and love to his mother prior to her passing.

As I was reading these memories, it reminded me of times when life was simple, family values meant something, and we often learned to do without. It will remind readers how we are so caught up in technology today that we have forgotten how to have a real conversation, visit people in person and even say “I love you” face to face, as we now do these things through texts or on social media. Niece does an excellent job of turning back time and helping readers remember the way things used to be, and that regardless of strife in families, one can always remember good times.

At the beginning of the book, the term automythographies is discussed. I had never heard this term. The definition is basically, “Memories are based on an author’s life in no particular order, and are based on what he/she thinks they remember and how he/she thinks they remember it.” Each family member might remember things or events in a different way, but it is the author’s thoughts first and foremost.

"Perfect in Memory" by Rick D. Niece will have readers laughing and crying as it brings up their own memories. For this reviewer, it meant don’t wait until tomorrow to tell significant others how you feel.

— Carol Hoyer for Reader Views
Reader Views

Dec 19, 2016
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Author Rick Niece capitalizes on his Ohio childhood stories in the third and final book in the nostalgic Fanfare for a Hometown Series.

Perfect in Memory: A Son's Tribute to His Mother (Fanfare for a Hometown)

By: Rick D. Niece
Publisher: Five Star Publications
Publication Date: September 2016
ISBN: 978-1589852389
Reviewed by: Anita Lock
Date: August 31, 2016

"The plan was to read them [the stories] to Mom as she rested in Queen Anne's comfort [her special chair] while receiving supplemental oxygen through a cannula in her nose. Through my stories, I secretly hoped she might breathe in streams of rejuvenating oxygen from the lungs of life's good memories relived." Yet Rick Niece's stated idea never unfolds quite as he hopes. The unexpected happens when he gets word that his mother (who has an incurable lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) is in the hospital and that her condition is worsening. The reality is that Mom is dying and the chance of her being his fact checker providing accuracy to the retelling of past stories is very slim.

Flying to Arizona from Arkansas has its hiccups. With delays in Chicago, Rick and his wife Sherée arrive in Tucson, getting to his mom's 4th floor hospital room moments before visiting hours are over. Relieving his dad and brother Kurt, Rick decides to keep watch over mom by spending the night in the waiting room. The following morning, Rick is surprised to see his dad at Mom's beside. While stories over the course of three days pore out from his parents including how they met and their intense love for one another, they also send up red flags of his father's denial and his mother's fear of death.

Niece, a retired university president turned author, identifies his three-book memoir series as automythography. Defined as "a work of nonfiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember, and how we think we remember it," the term not only describes how Niece recalls his familial memories, but also offers a realistic picture of how most people recall stories from their past. Niece divides his narrative into five sections, constantly alternating between the present and the past. While capturing his mother's dying moments, Niece seamlessly weaves in memories from his childhood hometown of DeGraff, Ohio.

A mixture of comedy and poignancy, Niece covers a multitude of interesting themes in his tribute to his mother—from Avon soap pistols, the Easter Bunny, and Jesus bookmarkers to cement mixers, converted clubhouses, an unlikely Arthur Murray dance partner, African violets, and gin, just to name a few. In addition to his engaging storytelling, Niece aptly sprinkles in a variety of poetry that includes free form, metrical verse, acrostic, haiku, and shaped formats.

Quill says: A wistful yet uplifting read, Perfect in Memory will seriously get you crying and laughing simultaneously.

— Anita Lock
Feathered Quill Book Reviews

Aug 31, 2016
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Praise for Perfect in Memory, Book 3 in the award-winning Fanfare for a Hometown series!

Rick Niece has done it again.

Niece, the former president of the University of the Ozarks in Arkansas, made his Ohio hometown come alive for us in his first two books, “Side-Yard Superhero” and “The Band Plays On.”

Now, he has completed the third book in his Fanfare for a Hometown series, “Perfect in Memory: A Son’s Tribute to His Mother.”

If we were as lucky as Rick Niece, Dortha Jean “Dodie” Niece will remind us of our own mothers. You’ll find yourself smiling one moment and with tears in your eyes the next as you read.

Niece began writing the series at the urging of his wife, Sheree, so he could read stories to his mother during her final months of life. She had moved into a guesthouse on the Ozarks campus adjacent to the president’s home.

Niece says: “I wrote whenever I could find the time. And when I did, the writing was intense, occurring early in the morning, late at night, in airports, during flights and on frequent road trips to visit university donors, alumni and friends. Days and nights were filled with hours of writing and revising, revising and writing. I wanted my stories to be as perfect as possible before I read them to her.”

Niece’s mother came from strong German ancestry. Her own mother had died from leukemia at age 37, and her father disappeared soon after the funeral. Dodie Niece was just 16 at the time and suddenly had to care for two brothers, ages 13 and 3. Rick Niece lovingly tells how she handled that task and then went one to raise a son who would become a talented educator and writer.

Once you start reading, you’ll find it hard to put “Perfect in Memory” down.

— Rex Nelson, columnist, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Aug 08, 2016

Praise for Perfect in Memory, Book 3 in the award-winning Fanfare for a Hometown series!

"Perfect in Memory, accented with complementing poetry, exemplifies unconditional love via family, friends, and emotions. I treasured each chapter and wish the “award-winning” Fanfare for a Hometown series would continue."

— Ginny Hittepole Myers, Retired Educator

Aug 05, 2016

Praise for Perfect in Memory, Book 3 in the award-winning Fanfare for a Hometown series!

"What a lovely and inspiring story. When I started reading it I had to stop and text my own sweet mom, who, yes, at 72, texts often."

— Kim Keelor-Parker, Communications Specialist

Feb 25, 2016

Side-Yard Superhero was such an inspiration to my students that they desired to visit a local nursing care facility. I am not able to put into words the emotional, life-changing experience we all had together as we experienced a little patch of Heaven. Special thanks to Rick Niece for touching the lives of so many!”

— Janelle Wollschlager, teacher, Grant-Deuel School, Revillo, South Dakota

Apr 25, 2015

Finalist Win for Side-Yard Superhero

Side-Yard Superhero is a finalist in Non-Fiction Memoir for Readers' Favorite! From Readers' Favorite:

"If you were chosen as a finalist then congratulations! It was an extremely competitive year and your selection was hard earned."

— Debra Gaynor, Founder
Readers' Favorite

Jul 01, 2013
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5 Stars

Step back in time to small-town America with author Rick Niece's "The Band Plays On," the story of a community band once again coming together in tribute of their band leader, who has also been invited back to lead the band. The Lewie's Alumni Band members offer a true story of the impact one man can make on a community, whose inhabitants have spread far and wide in the intervening decades. While reminiscent of Mr. Holland's Opus, "The Band Plays On" is even more special as the people, events and memories are true. The story hooks the reader in on the first page, prodding them back in time to a special town filled with special people, each of whom has a place in the author's memory.

Offering strangers a glimpse into small town life, Rick Niece takes readers along for a ride down memory lane, where the memories don't have to be yours to be thoroughly enjoyable. A witty delivery and sense of humor is infused throughout the book, where the author tells a heartfelt and sincere story. Nevertheless, the author refuses to take himself too seriously as he takes the reader by the hand and leads them into the three-dimensional world of DeGraff, Ohio, from the easy-going days of the 1950s to today. The people, the places, and the faces all come alive under Niece's gifted pen, creating a world for readers that is easy and enjoyable to inhabit - a world of simpler times and friendly, and sometimes quirky people.

— Denise Stern for Readers' Favorite
Readers' Favorite Book Reviews

May 28, 2013
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First Place Win for Side-Yard Superhero

ReaderViews awarded the Great Lakes Regional First Place Win to Side-Yard Superhero.

"...I highly recommend “Side-Yard Superhero: Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher” by Rick D. Niece, Ph.D., to anyone looking for a “feel-good” story about a young boy and his life experiences growing up in a small town. I have gained a new appreciation for the small things in my own life after reading this inspiring story. My hope is to better recognize the gifts in my life and treasure the experiences like Bernie and Dr. Niece did growing up. Thank you for sharing your story, Dr. Niece!"

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— Reviewed by Christine Watson for Reader Views

Apr 01, 2013
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* * * * * "Side-Yard Superhero" is going on my 'keeper' bookshelf

Superheroes come in many sizes and shapes. For Rick Niece, his hero came confined in a wheelchair. "Side-Yard Superhero" is the coming-of-age tale of the friendship that emerged between a nine year old, small town paper boy and the most special of the 72 customers on his route, Bernie Jones. Bernie, crippled with cerebral palsy at birth, sits in the side yard of his home each day (weather permitting) waiting for the newspaper. For nine years, six days a week, Rick Niece stops and reads Dick Tracy to his special customer before refolding the paper and delivering it to Bernie, placing it gently in his lap. The week before he leaves their small town of Degraff, Ohio, for "the big city" and college, Rick promises his now close friend Bernie that he'll be back to visit. But "life happens". Six years later, Rick goes looking for Bernie. But Bernie's house has been torn down, Bernie is gone, and no one in Degraff knows where. "Side-Yard Superhero" follows Rick Niece's search for Bernie, culminating in a surprising and sobering reconnection and reunion.

Rick Niece has written a beautiful story beautifully. A few times I laughed out loud. Several times I stopped, closed the book and just remembered - remembered my own growing up. Almost as a 'by the way', "Side-Yard Superhero" is sprinkled with poems, also written by Rick Niece, poems that are light yet thoughtful, poems with lines such as "And even if you are both no longer what you were, you are each as you should be remembered." That verse is going into my next love letter to my husband. And "Side-Yard Superhero" is going on my 'keeper' bookshelf.

— Jane Allen Petrick
Readers' Favorite Book Reviews

Mar 08, 2013
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I loved the book!

The book is Rick Niece's memoir about growing up in DeGraff, Ohio, and particularly about his friend Bernie who had severe cerebral palsy, and the special bond they shared. After having left town for many years and losing track of Bernie, Rick tries to find him again.

I loved the book! The way Rick describes the town and stories about his childhood, it really makes you wish you lived in a place like DeGraff and had friends like Rick and Bernie.

— Michael D.
Scholastic Grade 12 Reviews

Jan 25, 2013
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I highly recommend this book.

In The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man's Encore by Rick D. Niece, Ph.D., the author describes DeGraff, Ohio to be a warm, inviting small town that almost anyone would want to join. After reading his delightful memoir about the town and its members, I found myself wanting be become an honorary member and go for a visit.

Dr. Niece grew up in a small town in Ohio, and reminisces about this his childhood, and the people and events that were significant to him. It is full of charming stories of a variety of people, with funny insights into a young boy's thoughts and feelings. The author has a way of creating a clear picture of what the people were like, and how a small town takes care of its own.

Having moved many times in my childhood and not having the experience of growing up in a small town or in one place, I was drawn to this story of DeGraff, Ohio. Dr. Niece's father was the band director and a teacher at the only school in DeGraff, and the story works up to a reunion with Mr. Lewie Niece coming back home to lead the band one last time. This heartwarming memoir left me feeling hopeful that there are still small communities like DeGraff, Ohio out there. The Band Plays On is a feel-good book that will inspire you to go out, smile and say hello to a neighbor. I highly recommend this book.

— Christine Watson
Blog Critics Book Review

Jan 19, 2013
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Thank you for sharing your story, Dr. Niece!

Side-Yard Superhero: Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher by Rick D. Niece, Ph.D., is a charming story about the small town of DeGraff, Ohio and its interesting citizens. Bernie Jones is an inspiration in the story, and those who read this story will not help but be envious of anyone who had the blessing of knowing this young man.

After reading Dr. Niece's book, The Band Plays On, I knew this one would be a treasure, and I was correct. In both books, I was drawn in to the welcoming and cozy community of DeGraff, Ohio. Growing up all over the United States, I cannot relate with these stories of growing up in one small town, but I can appreciate the simple joy that comes from having a community that feels like home. Dr. Niece not only brings DeGraff to life, but has given me the desire to visit the small town in Ohio and experience the community for myself.

The best part of the story is Bernie Jones, the boy who struggled with cerebral palsy. Bernie had a giant smile and a matching heart, gifts he freely shared with anyone willing to accept them. Dr. Niece put words on each page that allowed me to feel Bernie's genuine love of life and new experiences. His unconditional love of others was apparent, and those who were lucky enough to know him were blessed beyond measure. What is also impressive is how Dr. Niece recognized his special gift of friendship with Bernie at his young age.

I highly recommend Side-Yard Superhero: Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher by Rick D. Niece, Ph.D., to anyone looking for a "feel-good" story about a young boy and his life experiences growing up in a small town. I have gained a new appreciation for the small things in my own life after reading this inspiring story. My hope is to better recognize the gifts in my life and treasure the experiences like Bernie and Dr. Niece did growing up. Thank you for sharing your story, Dr. Niece!

— Christine Watson
Blog Critics Book Review

Jan 18, 2013
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Top books of the year...

I have the pleasure of reading over 200 books a year, and while 2012 gave birth to some great titles, SIDE-YARD SUPERHERO became a favorite of mine from the moment I began devouring it. It's not simply a look at some amazing individuals. It's a look at what all of us can be, and that is what made it one of the top books of the year for me. Simply a joy to read and discuss, and I know others will feel the same way.

— Cyrus Webb
Conversations Book Club

Jan 11, 2013
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If you buy books to give as gifts, I recommend giving this book a try!

Since my family did not immigrate to the US until the late 80's , I actually don't know much about 50's and 60's America except for what I have seen on TV. Reading The Ban Plays On has been wonderful because it gave me a real sense of what it was like growing up during that era in a small town. The story is told through Dr. Niece's memory of a small town and how it impacted him. It is a story about family values and education. As I was reading through the book, I found myself really enjoying the details he was able to provided about the daily lives of a small town population. I could not help but noticing how different things are today. His story is inspirational and heart warming.

If you buy books to give away as Christmas gifts like we do, I recommend giving this book a try!

— Jennifer
Sugar Pop Ribbons Reviews

Dec 21, 2012
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This is a touching story of a Son's love and admiration to his father.

What a great story of a childhood memories, growing up as the band directors son, living in a small town in DeGraff Ohio where everyone knew everyone.

Being the band director's son as a child seems to be a lot of fun, responsibility, and also a great honor. However, putting together an Alumni Band as an adult, with all the members from your childhood who had your dad as their director, seems to be a challenging but fulfilling task.

It is a wonderful walk down memory lane, in a wonderfully caring town who took care of each other and always supported life's path of one another, as children and as adults. To honor a great man Lewis Niece, by creating an Alumni Band, and playing right along side the high school band in a performance to remember, is something that is touching to the core and says something about what a wonderful man, and inspirational relationship a father and son have together.

This was to me a great story, as my son is in the high school's marching band! He plays trombone, and has for the last 3 years. He has had 3 band directors in that time, and I give thanks to the first one, who handed him the instrument and said, "YOU CAN DO THIS!" His second band director, a wonderful man, who not only guided his musical talent, but encouraged him to keep with one instrument because he knew he had something in him that would take him far. This teacher was and still is there for my son as he has moved on to high school now, but will still come to my son's performances and cheer him on, he gives him wonderful advice, not just about music, but in life experiences as well! His 3rd band director, whom is his teacher now, is a great man, who keeps it fun and keeps the sometimes tiring rehearsals and practices upbeat and worthwhile. I am a proud band mama, and do still yell and whisper loudly and proudly while my son plays, just like Ricks mom did when it was his time to play!

— AmandaMH
Pretty Pink Momma

Dec 20, 2012
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Five out of Five

During the presidential election, we are often bombarded with negative messages. We need to make sure to surround ourselves with positive words and thoughts. Author Rick D. Niece has written a heart-warming tale that will delight readers of all ages. The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man's Encore tells the story of Niece's father, Lewis Niece, and his triumphant final performance in a town filled with admirers. Years after Lewis has retired from teaching, a group of his former students come together to create "Lewie's Alumni Band" and plan a community tribute and parade over one memorable Memorial Day weekend. Most interesting is Niece's commentary on growing up in DeGraff, Ohio, and the original poetry his scatters throughout chapters.

Niece's story will strike a chord with different types of readers. Music fans will appreciate learning about Lewis' life journey. Current, and former, marching band members will relate to the camaraderie felt by Mr. Lewis' students during their time in high school. Readers who have grown up in small towns will cherish the opportunity to reminisce about traditions and the ins and outs of living in a place where you know everyone and you can return decades later to celebrate a role model. Anyone who has ever looked up to someone will enjoy reading a memoir about one man who had an impact on hundreds of young people. Readers are encouraged to think about bigger questions, like whether small-town values can exist in this fast-paced world, the importance of educators, and how memories are made and how they define us. One dollar from every book sold goes directly to the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation. If you like the upbeat energy of Niece's writing, check out Side-Yard Superhero, the first book in the Fanfare For A Hometown series.

— Posted in Biographies & Memoirs by editor
San Francisco & Sacramento Book Reviews

Nov 11, 2012
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Rick Niece's SIDE-YARD SUPERHERO Shows That We All Matter

Have you ever felt as though you have nothing to contribute to the world around you? Ever been told what you can't do as opposed to the endless possibilities at your disposal? I think we all know what it feels like to be doubted or to even feel helpless ourselves. The real challenge will be whether we accept those limitations or if we do our best each and every day to exceed them.

In SIDE-YARD SUPERHERO by Rick Niece, we are able to see how he not only learned that lesson but where it came from: an "unlikely teacher" named Bernie Jones. The book, which is the first of a series called FANFARE FOR A HOMETOWN, chronicles Rick's early years especially along his paper route in his small town. What we also find, though, is his friendship with Bernie was important not only to his understanding of life and what comes with it but what is possible for us all.

There are so many great stories in this book, but I want to definitely focus on two that stood out to me. One was Bernie's love of Superman and what that meant in relationship to his friendship with Rick. Regardless of what he was going through and the challenges he faced, Bernie was still able to see himself as Superman. That should say a lot to us about how we can look at the obstacles that we face. We are bigger than anything that can come our way. It all begins with our attitude.

Directly regarding Rick there was a conversation that he had on the last day of his paper route which really resonated with him. The Harshbargers were one of the families that he delivered to and their place was on a hill. Mrs. Harshbarger told Rick that her husband thought for sure Rick would quit delivering to them because of where they were. She, however, thought differently about him. "'I told Mr. Harshbarger you'd make it, that you would not quit on us. And I was right. Even now you aren't really quitting. You are simply setting this hill aside for bigger ones to climb.'" What a powerful declaration!

All of us should look at life's experiences as "hills" for us to climb. We can run from them, so it is best to face them and allow them to prepare us for the next one that will be ahead. Rick learned this lesson, and he allowed it to take him forward in life. He never forgot Bernie or those who helped mold him into the person he had become, and that is what we can all learn from this story.

No matter where you're from or who you have become, Rick Niece's SIDE-YARD SUPERHERO shows that we all matter.

— Cyrus Webb
Conversations Book Club

Nov 09, 2012
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Cyrus Webb Blog Talk Radio

Listen in on Conversations LIVE with Rick Niece

— Cyrus Webb
Conversations Live

Nov 04, 2012
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"I heartily recommend it."

Some time ago I reviewed Dr. Rick Niece's book "Side-Yard Superhero" and gave it high marks. He's back with The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man's Encore ($15.95, Five Star Publications, softcover). It is an autobiography of sorts as the author visits his childhood growing up in DeGraff, Ohio, population 900, and tells the story of the legacy of his father, Lewis Niece who for years was the director of the DeGraff High School's marching band, teaching not just music, but lasting lessons of character. Rick D. Niece, PhD, has been a lifelong educator and, since 1997, he and his wife, Sheree have served as president and first lady of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas. It is a celebration of America's heartland, of friendship, community, built around the story of an encore performance by "Lewie's Alumni Band." I heartily recommend it.

— Alan Caruba

Nov 03, 2012
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I am so thankful that this audiobook was brought to my attention because it is a much-needed reminde

I am so thankful that this audiobook was brought to my attention because it is a much-needed reminder of the important things in life. Niece takes us back to a peaceful time, one where children didn't need to fear strangers, communities worked together for the greater good and neighbors helped one another without needing to be asked. It's rather sad how as the story progressed, fear gripped my heart that something terrible would befall Rick when he was out on his own after dark or was invited into a house by adults he didn't know too well, etc. But that just speaks to how different things were back then compared to the every-man-out-for-himself mentality that runs rampant in society today. Niece brings this slice of small-town Americana to life in such vivid detail that you simply refuse to leave at the end.

Niece's fondness for DeGraff and its residents warms your heart, but it's his friendship with Bernie that really does you in. Although Niece often references Bernie's handicap — usually as an obstacle to having a carefree adventure — you don't think of Bernie as an invalid. Instead, you see him for the person he is, a courageous, friendly and determined guy who just happens to be confined to a wheelchair. Not once do you sense Niece befriends Bernie out of guilt or that Niece is embarrassed to be seen with him. They truly enjoy each other's company, and there are no words to express how touching it is to witness.

Actor and award-winning author Alex Cord does a phenomenal job narrating this book. His Midwestern drawl is rugged and unrefined which lends credibility to his role. It's like you're listening to a beloved older relative recall different things from his past. He chuckles over childhood faux-pas, pauses when caught up in emotion and looks for lessons learned in hindsight. It's not so much a narration, but a conversation in which he wishes to impart some wisdom he's learned along the way.

Although I'm not a huge fan of audiobooks, I cannot recommend "Side-Yard Superhero" highly enough. It is a feel-good story that will restore your faith in the goodness of people. Whether you opt to read or listen to it (and I strongly urge you to choose the audio version since one dollar from every audiobook sold will go directly to support United Cerebral Palsy) you'll learn to fully appreciate where you are in every moment.

Reading for Pleasure

Nov 02, 2012
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Great originality with the writing style of a master.

"The Band Plays On" is an enjoyable, heartwarming story told with great originality by an author with the writing style of a master. Dr. Rick Niece translates his memories into words that captivate the reader while honoring his father, other family members, hometown, and friends. His tale of "Lewie's Alumni Band" was music to my ears and brought back remembrances of my own hometown and childhood. However, the story goes deeper than being a delightful engaging read. It is a story written by an author who is showing the world that family values and morality are alive and well in DeGraff,Ohio. And you are invited to be part of it when you read this wonderful book.

— Mimi Mathis
Amazon Customer Review

Oct 03, 2012
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A Hometown Hero!

Some writers are natural born story tellers, and Rick Niece is one of those people. No, he doesn't tell graphic tales of horror or suspense, and he doesn't write romance novels. Niece's nonfiction books are simple stories about good people living small town lives, yet each memory hides universal truths about human nature and the lasting impact of those who help us grow...

With a third book in the works, Niece's career as a writer is "looking snappy and cool". In September 2012 Niece will be honored in DeGraff as Grand Marshall of a parade and weekend festival, The DeGraff Country Fair, in his honor.

— Connie Las Schneider
ABOUT...the River Valley Magazine

Aug 01, 2012
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"A refreshing escape into by-gone years."

One of the most relaxing books I've read to review lately would be Side-Yard Superhero: Life Lessons From an Unlikely Teacher written by DeGraff, Ohio native, Rick Niece, Ph.D. Rick had promised his wife he'd write down the true stories he had told her about his past growing up in small town DeGraff, Ohio and that promise has been published in Side-Yard Superhero.

Rick's real life "star" in Side-Yard Superhero is Bernie, a wheel-chair bound young man with cerebral palsy. The setting is mid 1900′s, small-town…Mayberry-like. Rick takes you on his paper route and around town on his adventures with Bernie and Lady. This was a book I took my time reading. It was a refreshing escape into by-gone years.

I accepted to do this review because it was about Ohio and I love the people of Ohio. Its not the kind of book I usually review but I really really enjoyed this book and I know many of you will too! Side-Yard Superhero is book one in the series Fanfare for a Hometown about his growing up years in DeGraff. You can visit Rick's website:

— Tracy
Hall of Fame Moms

Jul 31, 2012
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"A must-read for anyone who understands the meaning of tradition."

The title, The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man's Encore, pretty much sums up this heartfelt tribute written by Rick D. Niece about his memories of growing up in small town DeGraff, Ohio. I have never personally been there but, after reading this book, I truly feel like I have. The similarities to my own childhood struck me from the very first written words: "Small towns live by tradition." Just like the author, I played in my school's marching band. In fact, my Dad also conducted the band on occasion. I even had a paper route and delivered papers on my trusty old Schwinn. I didn't know everybody in my town and we certainly never left our doors open at night but I can still identify with the closeness of neighbors and the lifelong friends I made in my own little town.

The Band Plays On starts with a phone call from a friend wanting to start an alumni band honoring the school's band director, Lewis (the author's father). A well beloved figure in his small town, Lewis Niece, Jr. was quite the character. A man of humble beginnings Lewis worked hard, was full of 'clever' one-liners ("worthless as teats on a boar") and was generous to a fault. It was no wonder that so many people were willing to shake up their busy lives to go back to their hometown, even embarrass themselves, in order to show their respect to such a warm and loving man.

Most of the book delves into the author's childhood memories - the local shops and their colorful owners; his friends and teachers all of whom left indelible marks on his (and the town's) life; his forays into sports; his pets; and the musical journey that led him to become a baritone horn player. The black and white photos at the back of the book captured some of those special moments in time and were as touching as the very descriptions they immortalized. Readers will likely be inspired to remember their own childhood memories as I was told over and over again after writing my book, Life Songs.

The Band Plays On is a feel-good book, a very quick and satisfying read and certainly a must-read for anyone who understands the meaning of tradition.

— Ellen Greiss Alexander

Jul 24, 2012
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"Rick Niece's memories had me giggling out loud..."

There are some books that you read that leave you feeling happy all over. The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man's Encore is one of those books. I was drawn in before the last word of the introduction was over. And I loved every word until the final word.

Rick Niece had me longing for simpler times and wishing that I had grown up in a small town. The Band Plays On is his tribute to his father--and to "family, friendship, and the richness and goodness of life." The book is the second volume in the Fanfare for a Hometown series.

Rick Niece's memories had me giggling out loud at times. And there were also times his memories had me in tears. His love for his father, friends and his small town life shine through on every page of this book. Niece's father was the band director at DeGraff, Ohio's high school. His father apparently made a huge impact in every musician's life in DeGraff. His students loved him so much that they planned a reunion and called themselves "Lewie's Alumni Band."

On Dr. Niece's return to DeGraff to perform in the band led by his father, we get to reminisce with him about his small town life. The book will take you back to simpler times when kids played outside all day long and when faith and family were important. We get a glimpse into the people who shaped this small-town newspaper boy into the university president that he is today. His colorful descriptions led me into an escape from the trappings of our crazy, harried, tech-filled current day life. I loved his descriptions so much, I want to visit DeGraff to see Dr. Niece's hometown. I would no doubt bump in to a descendant of one of the people described in the book, as DeGraff is still a small town.

Dr. Niece is a proud supporter of the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation. The foundation provides musical instruments to under-funded school music programs nationwide. $1 from the sale of each copy of The Band Plays On will be donated toward the foundation's efforts.

— Michelle
Heartfelt Balance Handmade Life

Jul 18, 2012
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"Rick Niece set the bar in my head pretty high..."

The Band Plays on is a book by Rick D. Niece, Ph.D., and author of Side Yard Superhero. Side Yard Superhero was an excellent book, it was a chronicle of Rick's childhood, centered around a very special friend. But that is another book, and this review is about The Band Plays On, another book by Dr. Niece.

I had high expectations of this book when I started reading it. Rick Niece set the bar in my head pretty high when I read Side Yard superhero. His razor-sharp and detailed memory details another book filled with imagery and memories. An ever-so-slight hint of humor lies within each page, making this book an enjoyable read.

The story is warm and touching. The heartfelt words were obviously carefully crafted to say what Rick Niece wants the world to hear and know. It is devotion that drives Mr. Niece, and the world needs more devoted people just like him. Rick's father was an excellent man, and Rick explains why in a detailed and chronological series of events.

This is a great book with an enjoyable read. Rick Niece has the ability to draw in readers thanks to his illustrious writing styles, this book will be no exception as he takes us back to Ohio again.

— Amber
DragonFly Sweetnest

Jul 12, 2012
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"A perfect sequel!"

"The Band Plays on...Going Home for a Music Man's Encore" is a perfect sequel in The Fanfare for a Home Series! A must-read for sure! The young boy we read about in "The SIde-Yard Superhero," is now all grown up, and goes back to his hometown of DeGraff, Ohio for an alumni band performance. Reflecting upon the people and memories from his childhood that we all got to know and love in the first book, and seeing where they are now. Entertaining, emotional, and inspirational! Rick Niece is truely such an inspiring author and person! Also...Dr. Rick Niece has launched a campaign of donating $1 of every book copy of "The Band Plays On" sold to the organization "Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation." This organization donates new and refurbished instruments to school music programs that cannot afford to purchase them. So, not only are you reading a life changing book, but helping a great organization at the same time!

— Sarah Farris

Jul 10, 2012
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"I highly recommend!"

I was absolutely charmed by this slender volume of remembrances. Written in a personal voice that brings to mind storytelling on the front porch, author Rick Niece shares tales from his past growing up in a small town in Ohio.

Some stories will make you laugh, some will bring back memories of childhoods past, and some will bring tears to your eyes. It was particularly poignant to read of Niece's memories of watching the Andy Griffith Show with family friends.

I highly recommend "The Band Plays On" for anyone who enjoys stories about a gentler past.

— Sharon Galligar Chance
Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews

Jul 06, 2012
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A Grand Tribute for a Musical Legend

No one quite knows who initially came up with the idea. To honor their old bandleader, Lewis Niece, alums from the DeGraff High School marching band would come together and lead the Memorial Day parade through town and perform a field show and concert. Called "Lewie's Alumni Band," the adults would honor the man they met as kids and have continued to admire and respect throughout their lives. Rick D. Niece is the author of The Band Plays On and the son of the beloved band teacher. In his book, he contemplates small town life growing up in rural Ohio with a sense of nostalgia. He recalls farm living, adventures with childhood pals, Sunday mornings at church, lessons learned in grade school and other cherished memories. The author includes black and white photographs capturing moments from the band reunion and celebration and pictures of the author and his dad from their early days.

Experience how one man discovers how many lives he touched through teaching music. Readers will likely be inspired to remember (and possibly record) their own fond childhood memories. Take the time to thank someone who had an impact on your life. Short chapters keep the pace of the book moving along quickly. Original poems by the author that are relevant to each chapter's theme are interspersed throughout the story.

— Kathryn Franklin
Portland Book Review

Jul 05, 2012
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"...this is the book for you!"

Like Rick D. Niece's other book, Side-Yard Superhero, The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man's Encore is full of his memories of growing up in small town DeGraff, Ohio. However, the one thing that differentiates the two is the central theme of the memories themselves. While Side-Yard Superhero was about his friend Bernie Jones, with a little bit of his paper route thrown in for good measure, The Band Plays On focuses on the town itself, growing up there, and all of the teachers and other people who helped shape Niece's life.

The Band Plays On starts with a phone call from a friend (and former classmate) wanting to start an alumni band. Niece's father, Lewis, served for many years as the high school band director, and to honor him, Lewie's Alumni Band is formed. Niece then dives right into his childhood (and teenage) memories, going on to describe many of his former teachers, the local shops that he frequented, and remembrances of learning (and re-learning for the alumni band) to play the baritone horn. Each shop has a specific memory attached to it, as does each teacher, and the details described as extremely specific. It's amazing what gets remembered and what gets forgotten as the years go by!

If you've ever played in a school band, love small town life or enjoy reading about what life looks like through someone else's eyes (or all three) then this is the book for you. One dollar from each purchase goes to The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation. For more information or to purchase either of Rick D. Niece's books, please go to the Five Star Publications Website.

— Amanda Hevener
The Random Thoughts of Crazy Mandy

Jul 02, 2012
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"Inspiring and motivational!"

I recently read The Band Plays On, (Going Home for a Music Man's Encore) and found it inspiring and motivational. The author is Rick D. Niece, Ph.D., and the book is published by Five Star Publications Inc. It is the second book in a series about Niece's hometown. I have also reviewed Niece's first book, Side-Yard Superhero here on my blog. This second installment, The Band Plays On, is filled with powerful memories from reading Robert Frost poetry to playing in the school band. Since I am always happy to recall such things, it was a first-class journey for me. I felt honored to be on it. The framework of the book is a tribute to his music-teaching father and that aspect is quite touching. I read many inspiring vignettes that made me want to continue teaching with gusto. Since I teach in the day and teach guitar after school, I am sometimes spent. It can get hard to see the larger vision. Rick Niece, Ph.D. is a writer of Americana and teaching and his work helped center me while reading. His books also remind me of what's important in just plain being human.

GOOD NEWS TO SHARE! In preparation for this review, I had the distinct pleasure of corresponding with the author himself. I did a QnA with him which I've pasted below. He provided some great insight to my questions and I thank him for the time he took to do so:

Damien Riley: Hello Dr. Niece, since I am a blogger, I truly appreciate the term you use in your book "automythography." I think most bloggers struggle with the line between history and fiction. Your term is helpful to me in understanding what I do. How does this genre free you up to expand on your own perceptions and/or limit you to what really occurred?

Rick Niece: I thought that I created the term "automythography," but then found out it has been around, primarily used in art and dance, since the 1980s. However, I have defined it for literature. An automythography is a work of non-fiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember it. It is an iridescent memory based upon the author's truth and personal narrative.

Most of the autobiographies and memoirs I have read are presented as factual and accurate. I do not doubt their veracity, but I am leery when the author quotes dialogue and describes specific scenes from decades past. I do that as well, but with the caveat that they are how I remember what was said or is being described. Time alters our memories. My favorite part of the term automythography is the "myth," but not in the sense of something being made up. Myths are also stories that are true and repeated from one generation to the next. Each telling and retelling is slightly different—and that is no doubt the case for me and my stories—but the tellings are based upon true and real incidents. The stories are not made up.

Finally, in my definition for automythography I use the word "iridescent." I like that word and what it connotes. Soap bubbles are iridescent. As they float away from us, they change shapes and colors. But they are the same soap bubbles. That is true for memories as well. Over the years, as our memories float away from us, they change shapes and colors. But they are the same memories—they are our automythographies.

Damien Riley: My 3 kids attend a school where I teach 4th grade and guitar after school. My kids seem to enjoy having dad at school with them but I imagine they might prefer anonymity. Were there ever times you felt you couldn't measure up?

Rick Niece: Oh my goodness, yes, there were times when I felt it was difficult to "measure up" on a variety of levels. In Side-Yard Superhero, Book 1 in my series, Fanfare for a Hometown, I describe how I was repeatedly warned not to embarrass my father in front of the superintendent and the other teachers. Although I thought I was a "typical" kid, it was difficult to remain typical when my father was the school's only music teacher and the superintendent lived across the street from me and my family. There was no anonymity for me, and as a consequence, I was a relatively good kid and student.

My father was one of those teachers students could go to with their problems, big and small. He always had time for students before school, after school, and at home. Because of that, I sometimes felt that I had to wait in line. That is not a complaint, but simply my fact of life. I admired my father even more because of the respect students had for him and that he had for them. I was proud that my parents were a second set of parents for many students.

My father was an exceptional teacher, and because he was so good at what he did and how he did it, I was hesitant to go into education myself. In fact, I did not seek acceptance into Ohio State University's education program until the end of my sophomore year. I was afraid that, as a teacher, it would be difficult for me to emerge from the long shadow of my father and his success.

Through it all, I felt special and was proud to be in the school where my father taught. I am certain that your children feel that same sense of pride—and pressure—with you being a teacher in the school they attend. In time, we all adjust.

Damien Riley: Do you think it is possible for children today to enjoy the same sort of upbringing as you? Why or why not?

Rick Niece: I hope that children growing up today enjoy the same type of upbringing I did. I do not want to sound too optimistic naively when I say that I think they are experiencing the same joys today that I did decades ago.

However, I also have to be realistic. When I was a boy, four environments provided a positive influence on children: home, school, church, and community. My fear is that far too many youngsters may actually experience none of those today. How sad is that?

Damien Riley: Whom do you think will most enjoy The Band Plays On? What makes it so appealing?

Rick Niece: I think the same readers who enjoyed Side-Yard Superhero will also like The Band Plays On. The writing is vivid and flows easily, and the characters are endearing, interesting, and quite unique. Within the humor and the life lessons, there is also a sad, poignant reality that comes through because of the deaths of close friends.

The books are universally appealing, I believe, because readers like a story with descriptive writing, strong narrative, and appealing characters. I think that readers also enjoy stepping back in time to an age they either lived themselves or wish they had experienced.

The Band Plays On, however, will definitely be enjoyed by anyone who has been a member of a marching band or who has played a musical instrument. We have a shared camaraderie that comes through loud and clear—and in tune—throughout the book.

My (Damien Riley) final word: Again, I thank Rick for his insightful and empathetic words. Educators and musical educators will be first in line to enjoy this masterpiece but all who enjoy great narrative Americana will be moved as well. I want to thank Rick for answering my questions for this review. I'm a bigger fan of his than ever. As of time of posting, I have been informed of something that makes this book yet even more cool please check it out below:

Long term Dr. Rick Niece is supporting music education by donating $1 of every book copy of The Band Plays On sold to an organization called Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, which donates new and refurbished instruments to school music programs lacking the resources to purchase them. It was inspired by the acclaimed motion picture Mr. Holland's Opus (the story of the profound effect a dedicated music teacher had on generations of students).

— Damien Riley
Dynamite Lesson Plan

Jun 29, 2012
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Forrest Gump of DeGraff

I really like the movie Forrest Gump. So many of us can quote lines from the film but to me what makes it interesting is how Forrest becomes (often comically) ingrained in so many historical moments. Rolling Stone called the movie and Tom Hanks portrayal of Forrest, everything we admire in the American character — honest, brave, loyal...

I recently read a book that made me think of Forrest Gump, not that the main character is dim, in fact he goes on to be a university president, but that he comes of age during the post-war period and lives more common, but still important, bits of history.

Dr. Rick Niece's second automythography, "The Band Plays On," takes place in rural DeGraff, Ohio. Where, thanks to my review of his first book, he is now so famous he has been invited back to be the grand marshal of the parade opening the DeGraff Country Fair this fall.

Back in 1950-something Rick Niece moved to DeGraff, Ohio with his family. His first book tells the tale of a young paper boy who took the time to care about the people of his town while they took care of him. In this book, it's now 1960-something and Rick Niece plays taps with his father the band director and eventually leaves DeGraff for college.

While reading this book I kept thinking, I know a dozen men Dr. Niece's age who grew up in rural Ohio who could have written this book. But they didn't. And then I realized that Rick wrote this for them. He wrote this for all of us to better understand a moment in time. A moment in history.

History is not always kind to Rick Niece and the people he loves but the book ends with a heart-warming reunion--providing closure in real life and for readers of the book.

The theme for the 2012 DeGraff Country Fair is We welcome the new and embrace the old. I can't think of a better theme for a hometown parade featuring fire trucks, marching bands and Rick Niece.

— Holly Michael
Bringing Home the Bacon

Jun 26, 2012
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My Take on the Book

I love band and I loved my experience in band and I have to say that I have completely appreciated the passion and commitment of my past band instructor and this book captures this completely. The book is a well written book that was so inspirational to read. On top of this, I loved the characters and the vivid imagery that the author presents, but most of all I loved the story itself. Why did I love it, it drew me in and let me relive experiences that I had as a kid myself. If you have ever had a treasured band experience, this book will transport you as well!

— Dad of Divas
Dad of Divas' Reviews

Jun 22, 2012
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"If you liked the movie Mr. Holland's Opus, you'll enjoy this book."

I had a chance to review The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man's Encore by Rick D. Niece. The book, which will be available in July, is part of the Fanfare for a Hometown series (you can find more information at Rick Niece Books). If you liked the movie Mr. Holland's Opus, you'll likely enjoy the book, as it highlights a journey home to play in his father's final performance when he's invited to direct an encore concert.

My husband really is interested in this book. He was trained as a music teacher, and loves small-town America, so this book is a perfect fit for him. If you buy the book, you'll also be supporting music in schools, as one dollar for every copy of The Band Plays On sold will go directly to Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation.

— Bekah
Motherhood Moment

Jun 21, 2012
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An interview with author Rick Niece

All right everybody, this is Chase March and I have an author on the phone, Rick Niece. You can listen to the podcast of this interview with the player below, or you can download it for free to listen to at your leisure.

So, how's it going Rick?"

Rick: "It's going well, Chase. What a honor to be able to talk to you."

Chase: "I first heard about your book when I was approached by your management and it seemed like it would be right up my alley. It's called 'The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man's Encore.' You wrote it about your father who is the director of a marching band and how people were coming back to this small town to pay tribute to him upon his retirement."

Rick: "Exactly. My dad was the band director, in fact, he was the whole music show in this small school in a very small town in Ohio, a town of 900. We had about 150 in the high school and my dad taught everything, first grade through 12th grade if it had to do with music. He taught chorus, concert band, marching band, and music appreciation courses. At one point in this small school of 150 people, there were 80 people in band and 100 people in chorus. So he's a much beloved individual.

The book starts out in the present. I got a call from one of my classmates. I had not been back to my home town in quite some time. They were trying to put together a band alumni of 16 years of classes that my dad had taught, have a parade through town, and play at half time of the football game with the current band. It was an exciting project to get us all back together and honor my father."

Chase: "Too often, I don't think we pay tribute to inspiring people until they are dead. That kind of thing would come afterwards. 'Oh, he was such a great conductor. We loved him.' That's why it's great to see that much love and support and an event being thrown while he is still alive and able to appreciate it."

Rick: "It was amazing to see how many people came back and the love that they still had for my dad and the idea that there still is appreciation for music. My dad wasn't ever an elitist about music, be it chorus or instrumental. 'Come participate.' was his whole plan. And while we had very good choruses and very good bands, it wasn't an elitist group. A lot of people were not only influenced by him as an individual, as a teacher, as a teacher of music, but also by his ethics and values.

A lot of the book, as well, is not particularly about the music, but it's about my dad primarily and also, for me, the influence that a small town has on a young boy growing up there."

Chase: "Well, that leads me in to the one criticism I do have of the book. I really wanted to experience more of your dad, the music, and the coming together of the alumni band. But it's written more like a memoir of your days of growing up in this small town. That's where the bulk of the book takes place."

Rick: "I think that's a fair criticism. You always hate to disappoint a reader who thinks they'll be getting something else. It's not a biography and, in fact, it's a term I thought I created by I didn't, it's an automythography, which is like a memoir or an autobiography. I think about half to sixty percent of the book deals directly with my dad, and probably thirty-five to forty percent deals with music itself, and of course the book culminates with the actual event itself. But I understand that you think it should have been more about him and about the music. That's fair."

Chase: "I hate to be so critical of it but once everyone got into town, I thought that was where the book should have started, but that was fairly late in the book. I thought it would have been neat to make it, not so much automythography, but maybe do a little more research and interviews with some of the other band members there past and present and tell more of a cohesive story of what your dad meant to the town and all these kids playing music and marching together."

Rick: "I hear you. That's a different book, and this is the second book in a series. There will be a third book. They all start in the present, going into the past, and end up back in the present. That certainly would be another book, and I think it would be a worthwhile book as well. But the story arc really is music and my dad."

Chase: "I guess, it's the musician in me. We're both educators and I love music and I love being able to share that passion with my students but I teach primary school so I do it through choir and rap music. It's amazing how well kids respond to music and how important it is. I think we really need to pay focus to that, how important the arts are in education these days."

Rick: "I can't argue with you. Here in the states, we continue to face some real financial issues within our public school systems. The first thing to go has anything to do with the fine arts, with music, dance, and theatre, and I think that's tragic. Part of what I was trying to capture was how important music was to us as we were growing up. That was the catch in the book, to get me back to that hometown and talk about other things within that hometown as well. I hear what you're saying, but that would have been a different book. I can definitely hear your passion and your love for music and getting that love across to students."

Chase: "And like you said, the budget isn't there all the times for the schools. That's why it's really nice to see that sales from this book are going to support Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation."

Rick: "I really appreciate you mentioning that. Yes, one dollar from each book sold goes to Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation. That was by Henry Mancini's daughter, and anybody who knows much about music certainly knows the name Henry Mancini. Felice Mancini has a foundation for schools to apply for grants who might not have enough money to buy instruments or other things that have to do with music. It's a wonderfully terrific foundation. If nothing more, if people purchase the book knowing a dollar is going towards that foundation. I also have a Facebook page and for everyone who likes that Facebook page, I'll donate another dollar to Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation. Terrifically worthy, as you well know."

Chase: "That's awesome. I played in band starting in middle school, Grade 7 all the way through high school, and then I was also in a marching band in the army, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, but never once did I own my own instrument. It was always the school's or the army's. But, at least, if we can get kids access to instruments, even if they don't own them, that is a great thing. I still had a great time and I wouldn't have traded that for the world playing in any of those bands."

Rick: "What did you play, Chase?"

Chase: "I played the French Horn."

Rick: "Oh, I'm envious. I love the French Horn. You had to have a real good embouchure. A lot of the tones really come from the pressure you put on the mouthpiece, and it's a small mouthpiece. I love the sound of a French Horn."

Chase: "I love it too. You started out playing a trumpet and a trumpet is very similar to a French Horn, at least in fingering positions."

Rick: "Yes, and because I started on the trumpet, I read Treble Clef and not Bass Clef. Did you read Treble clef for the French Horn as well?"

Chase: "It's Treble Clef, but I read both at the same time because I also play accordion and when you play that, you are playing treble and bass at the same time."

Rick: "How cool is that? How did you get on the accordion?"

Chase: "My parents got me into it when I was a kid, so I played it before I actually had music instruction in school. It was amazing because my music teacher also taught us theory. By the time I got to high school and we were learning the theory there, I already knew it all. I didn't learn a single new thing theory-wise in school because I already knew it from accordion lessons."

Rick: "That's very cool. I went from Trumpet to Baritone. I went from playing a lot of melodies on the trumpet to baritone where it's lower brass and played a lot of counter-melodies. And in a lot of way, the French Horn and Baritone are similar. You had a lot of melodies that you played as well, but you also had some good counter-melodies."

Chase: "I want to share a passage from the book right now because you have a Baritone and in preparation for the alumni band, you had it repaired and the quote reads. . .

I choked up when I opened the case and saw my reconditioned baritone looking up at me. She was new when dad entrusted her to me as a kid, and now she looked new again.

Rick: "Well read. I get emotional even when I hear that or read about it because she had been so abused. Just to hold that baritone again, I now own it. It had been so damaged that the school didn't feel they had the funds to repair it so they literally gave it to me. It cost a ton of money to have it fixed but I still find myself playing it. My embouchure has weakened over the years and I'm amazed at how quickly my lips get tired. But just having that baritone with me, helps me relive a whole lot of those days of being in the marching band and the concert band and how important that was to me."

Chase: "Your dad switched you to baritone because he didn't have enough baritones at the time."

Rick: "That's right. I was in fifth grade at the time and ended up being in the marching band when I was in the sixth grade. The big kids accepted me pretty well. He didn't have any baritones and he needed a baritone. And fortunately over the years, my hat was too big and the baritone was almost as big as I was, but eventually I grew into my hat and into my baritone as well."

Chase: 'Very cool. Your dad's name is-"

Rick: "Is Lewis Niece. He'll be 89 this coming September. He has now memorized seven different piano programs of thirty-four numbers each of music from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. And since my mother has passed away, my dad's new mission is to play at nursing homes and retirement centers to play the music he was raised on and to play the music the people of his generation love to hear."

Chase: "He sounds like an amazing man. I know that he was in the military, he was an educator, he painted houses in the summer, he conducted the church choir, and he even started a bowling alley because you didn't have one in your small town."

The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man's Encore is a heartfelt tribute to small town DeGraff, Ohio, and its beloved band director, Lewis Niece. The book is written by his son and we've been talking with the author today in this interview and podcast.

— Chase March
Chase March

Jun 21, 2012
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"Takes readers down another lovely memory lane."

Several months ago, I read and reviewed Side-Yard Superhero, the first book in the Fanfare for a Hometown series by Rick D. Niece, Ph.D. If you remember that review, you know that I loved the chapter-by-chapter peek into DeGraff, Ohio--Dr. Niece's small-town, boyhood community. Side-Yard Superhero was one of those books that transported me to another place and time—yet made me feel comfortable and at home. I enjoyed reading about the characters and places of Niece's hometown so much, that I readily accepted the opportunity to review The Band Plays On, the second book in the Fanfare for a Hometown series. What was my review of The Band Plays On?

The Band Plays On takes readers down another lovely memory lane. The Band Plays On: Going Home for a Music Man's Encore returns readers to Central Ohio's DeGraff for a special music alumni reunion honoring Rick Niece's father—the retired band director from the local DeGraff school district. The reunion opens the door to a new volume of characters and memories from Niece's past in 1950's era DeGraff, Ohio—a small, rural area in the West/Central part of the state. Niece returned to DeGraff and its residents—and he refurbished his old baritone and marching band chops as his thoughts drifted back to places past. Niece's fond memories of the family and personal values of small town America reflect strongly in his words and the poetry dotting the book's chapters.

The Band Plays On is another terrific automythography. As with Side Yard Superhero, The Band Plays On is an "automythography", Niece's term which he defines as "a work of nonfiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember it; an iridescent memory based upon truth and fact." Having grown up in a small town, much like DeGraff, Niece's books take me home. I was not a small town fan as a girl—and still prefer the convenience and atmosphere of the city to the rural communities "back home". Today I am able to reflect fondly on the many friends and neighbors that helped form the person I am today—and I am sure that my memories combine a lot of "how I remember things" with the factual places and faces. It is gratifying to look back and smile with Rick Niece in his Fanfare for a Hometown series at his hometown—and reflect on my own.

The Band Plays On is an easy, enjoyable read—that you will not want to end. I am a mother of three—with a long to-do list and a short attention span. I love short stories and books that offer stand-alone style chapters and little segments. The Band Plays On is perfect for me as the reader explores the various areas of DeGraff, meeting its residents in small memorable bursts. While some of the characters—and places—were introduced in the first book of the three-book series—The Band Plays On could certainly be read and understood alone. Reading The Band Plays On made me want to reread SideYard Superhero as I learned a few more details about characters introduced in the first volume of the series! It also drew my anticipation for the third book!

A book with a purpose--and a cause. The Band Plays On was an easily flowing narrative that paid tribute to small town influences--and the various educators, formal and informal, that formed the community. Music education figured strongly into Rick Niece's family life and upbringing. In appreciation of the rewards of music education, he has pledged a dollar donation from every copy of The Band Plays On sold for the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation. Music education is so important to me—and disappears in many school districts as budget constraints tighten. This is a fantastic cause that fits perfectly with the values and educational needs of many small towns--in Ohio and beyond.

Final thoughts on The Band Played On. I would greatly encourage you to read this book (even if you did not play a musical instrument or grow up in a small town). I look forward to the final book in the Fanfare for a Hometown series—and to future works from Dr. Niece.

— Angela Thompson
A Mama's Corner of the World

Jun 20, 2012
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"You need to go out and pick it up!"

"Side-Yard Superhero, Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher" by Rick D. Niece, Ph.D. If you haven't heard of this book, you need to go out and pick it up! I currently live in Ohio, so it's really nice to read about kids growing up while mentioning landmarks and areas that I am familiar with as well. While reading this, I took my time and enjoyed each adventure, each lesson learned, and each heart-breaking moment that two young boys encountered. This book truly is life lessons from an unlikely teacher, just as the title states. A young child named Rick Niece is curiously drawn to a young boy, Bernie, with cerebral palsy. This curiosity soon turns into a lifelong friendship, with endless adventures and learning. This book is one to relax and will laugh, you will cry, and you will love growing up with Rickie and Bernie. This book truly is a wonderful tribute to Bernie and the struggles children with cerebral palsy must overcome that many people take advantage of. A great read for everyone of all ages to enjoy.

— Sarah Farris

Jun 15, 2012
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"I read Side-Yard Superhero from cover-to-cover with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye while chuckles intermittently interrupted the two. Niece penned his memories into a Tuesdays with Morrie for kids and adults alike. This is one of those books you'll want to give to your dad and your daughter when you're done relishing in its precious axioms. This memoir is so intrinsically human, I could almost hear it breathing."

— Lisa Cerasoli, Award-Winning Author
of As Nora Jo Fades Away and Filmaker

Annual Writer's Digest Book Awards

Of the 25 books that I read for this year's competition, this was one of the best. What I liked most about Side-Yard Superhero is that it is exactly what it sets out to be: an autobiographical coming-of-age story. In reviewing these books, I often find that one aspect of the book, or another, supports the author's purpose, but other aspects do not. Everything about this book supports the author's purpose.

...I see this is the first volume of a three-part autobiography; readers will look forward to more!

— Judge 30
Writer's Digest Book Awards

"You will laugh, you will cry, you will remember, and you will thank Rick
Niece for re-opening a window to your childhood."

— E. Kearney Dietz, President Emeritus,
Arkansas Independent Colleges and Universities

"Side-Yard Superhero encourages us to reconnect with the unique faces and places that make childhood worth remembering."

— Seve Houchin, Managing Partner
International Leadership Associates (and Dr. Niece's boyhood friend)

Anyone who has had the good fortune to grow up in a small town will thoroughly enjoy Side-Yard Superhero by Rick D. Niece, PhD ($15.95, Five Star Publications, softcover). In this case it is DeGraff, Ohio and this is a memoir of his life as a newspaper boy whose route included Bernie Jones, confined to a wheelchair with severe cerebral palsy, but with an indomitable spirit that inspired Rick who went on to become an educator, starting as a school teacher and ultimately becoming a university professor, provost, and president of the University of the Ozarks. Everyone's childhood memories are specific to themselves, but the author's memories have universality to them that evoke gentler times and better values than are found in present times. For Rick, his customers on that route were some of his best teachers, but especially Bernie. It's a heartwarming memoir of a time and place I hope will not be lost to the matrix of digital connections to the world outside.

— Alan Caruba

Feb 01, 2012
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"Rick Niece vividly describes the charms of small-town America, where neighborly friendships develop character, attitude and our responsibility to others."

— Dr. David L. Warren, President,
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities