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Branson-area trombonist got music start in Hannibal

Tom Rastorfer, who grew up in Hannibal, is a featured performer at the Big Cedar Lodge near Branson. He plays the trombone, and a few years ago he started singing as well. Contributed photo


When Tom Rastorfer was a seventh-grade band student at Hannibal Middle School, his music instructor, Craig Buck, was a young band director.

The six years of training on the trombone that Rastorfer received under Craig Buck’s tutelage served as the basis for a career in music.

Now a solo performer and trombone accompanist at Big Cedar Lodge near Branson, Rastorfer looks back upon his youth in Hannibal with great fondness.

Of his mentor and teacher, Rastorfer speaks of Craig Buck: “He’s a great trombone player and we were lucky to have that guy as our band teacher all those years. He was the best.”

He still respectfully thinks of Craig Buck as “Mr. Buck.”

“We had such a good band; when I was there we had a golden era of people really liking band. Some of my best friends to this day I made in high school.”

After graduation from Hannibal High School in 1984, he carried on in life with his trombone at his side.

“I tried college for a minute then moved to Hawaii for a couple of years,” he said.

“I lived down here (in Branson)  from 1989-1991. My first gig was with Benny Mahan, he was a big deal. He was a local big shot and one of my best friends.”

He also worked with Mel Tillis.

"I did cruise ships most of the 1990s and moved back here (to Branson) in 2001 to play with the Lawrence Welk shows. 

“Starting in in 2014, I worked on the American Queen steamboat, and got to come back to Hannibal several times,” viewing Hannibal for the first time as an adult.

“I went to Mark Twain elementary for sixth grade; it seemed crazy” seeing the old building,” he said.  “I thought the building was so big; same with the YMCA, downtown.” In hindsight, they were both rather small buildings, he said.

He worked as a musician on the American Queen steamboat for six years, until Covid hit.

While his training with Craig Buck was pivotal to his career, that’s not where his music education began.

He and his brothers, Dan, Bill and Charlie, got an early introduction into the music world by taking piano lessons during their boyhood in Hannibal from classically trained musician, Elizabeth Birney Hopkins.

His mother, Phoebe, would drop all four of her boys on South Fifth Street, where Mrs. Hopkins lived, and while one worked with the teacher, the other three alternately hung out across the street at the Hannibal Free Public Library.

The Rastorfers, when the boys were young, lived for a time in the historic Withers house at Wither’s Mill. Still in elementary school, Tom attended the Palmyra schools, where instrumental music training began in fifth grade. By the time he entered sixth grade, the family had moved to Hannibal, which didn’t offer band until seventh grade. He had Phyllis Watson for his classroom teacher. She was one of his favorites, he said.

Ironically, Phyllis Watson’s husband, Conrad, and Tom Rastorfer’s father, Donald, both worked for the USDA in Hannibal. Conrad Watson was a soil scientist, and Donald Rastorfer was an engineer. Both families lived in the Hill Haven subdivision near Hannibal High School.

“Mom and Dad are alive and well in Columbia, they’ve been married 60 years,” Tom said. 

“My older brother, Dan, passed away in 2015; Bill works in the engineering department, city of Columbia; and Charlie lives down here in the Branson area and plays trombone and does sound engineering for shows in Branson.

“I have great memories of growing up in Hannibal,” Tom said. “I need to find a couple days in a row to come up. It’s fun to reminisce.”


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