The following article was printed in the Wooster Daily Record prior to the Wooster High School Symphonic Band's performance at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, Illinois. It is a good encapsulation of the years prior to 1980.
Since the early 30s, at least 60 young people have played in the high school band each year. Many of these talented young musicians are now well-known members of the Wooster community who continue to applaud and support the band programs.
On Monday evening in McGaw Chapel, the community will have the opportunity to hear the Symphonic Wind Ensemble when it plays the concert which it has prepared for the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic. This music clinic is the annual showcase for the music industry where instrument makers and music publishers present new music to composers and directors of university, college, and high school bands from across the country.
The high school bands which are invited to perform for this critical audience are required to choose music which has been published within the last year. The music which the Wooster band will be playing includes completely original compositions and new transcriptions of orchestra classics into band arrangements.
The first bands in Wooster were not school bands. The Independent Band, formed in 1871 by Dr. L. Firestone and composed primarily of mechanics, was uniformed in navy blue cloth with double-breasted coats, silver epaulettes. silver trimmings, plumed caps and white patent leather belts. The Citizens Band began with 23 members, "several of whom were experienced musicians." Its initial performance was the Public Square in April 1873 under the direction of Theodore Straub.
THE REPORTER of the "Democrat" was impressed at the performance by the group's "finest silver horns of the over-shoulder pattern." These bands marched in parades, played during festivals, gave open-air concerts and entertained at picnics and social gatherings. An octagonal metal bandstand "of rare beauty," visible in many of the early 20th century postcards of the Public Square, verified the importance of the bands at the turn of the century.
One of the community orchestras, often called Young's Orchestra, played for the commencement exercises in the high school in the years before World War I.
In the fall of 1908, John E. Weiser organized and orchestra with nine young men from the high school. Miss Hershey, supervisor of music for the schools, played the piano.
The themes for the next 71 years were established by this group, according to contemporary records: "Most of the boys had never played together, but hard and diligent practice has won for them much united praise." They practiced so hard that they were invited to replace Young's community orchestra for the 1909 commencement. Miss Hershey continued the band with eight boys during the following academic year, but the band then gave way to glee clubs for several years.
IN THE fall of 1915, a brass band "was rapidly put in shape for the Medina game." Officially organized on Nov. 15 with Wilbur Orcutt as president and Floa Hall as director, the band consisted of 19 young men who wore white trousers and dark jackets. This group which was directed by Emmet Feasel, then a college student, played at all athletic games and also at all debates.
Only two years old in 1916, the band had enthusiastic supporters: "Wooster High School can boast a real, live, honest-to-goodness brass band, which, although small, can discourse just as good music as a larger band. In fact, a prominent man who had heard both the WHS and college bands play said the highs school band was the better of the tow, and Wooster College is considered to have the best college band in the state."
By 1917 the band of 13 boys under the direction of A.F. Maynard and student assistant DeVere Kauffman began to "journey afar" to play at away games. Until the early 1920s, the band was replaced by an orchestra about which Mary McNutt, then a junior, commented, "Better work could be done and better results obtained if each member would make an effort to be present at every rehearsal with a mind and a will to do his best."
In 1923, "The Tatler," the high school annual, announced that WHS had a real band for the first time in some years. W.L. Frederick, a new instructor from Miami University, played the bass horn to augment his 11 male players at football and basketball games.
THE SIZE doubled in the next year with the addition of junior high boys to the band which B.C. Baker directed. In his second year, Baker was able to claim both that the band had become "one of our finest musical organizations" and successful football and basketball seasons were due to the presence of the band at every game. The band appeared at these games in new uniforms inherited from the Board of Trade band.
That music in the schools reached beyond the band was also indicated by the dedication in 1933 of the "Observer Annual" to Miss Frances Chaine "who is responsible for the great interest in music in the school." At that time Wallace Franks, who had played in both band and orchestra in WHS in the mid-1920s, returned to Wooster to head the instrumental program in the schools. His tenure as director, which spanned two decades, established the Wooster High School bands in the basic pattern - playing for games in the fall and concerts in the spring - which has been refined but not fundamentally altered by succeeding directors.
Under Franks the band moved from being strictly extracurricular to becoming part of the school curriculum. Rehearsals were held during the school day, not just after school, and partial credit was granted for band. Made up of about 50 young men and women, the band entered the district band contest at Ashland in 1933.
A significant new step was taken in the next academic year when a Band Mothers' club was constituted with its purpose to raise money to buy new uniforms. The campaign was successful and, on a hot Memorial Day, the band wore its new blue and gold wool uniforms in the 1934 parade, an experience of mixing wool, music and heat which has now been warmly shared by band members for 45 years.
WEARING their marvelous braided uniforms, 50 men and women entered the state music contest in Berea where they came in third among 14 bands. The annual spring concert which had begun in 1931 featured "beautiful and difficult numbers," including in 1935 Tschaikowsky's "1812 Overture."
In 1938, a slightly larger band received a superior rating at the district contest which sent them to Columbus for the state contest where they were rated "very good." The "Observer Annual" commented in 1939 that the WHS band in its concerts and performing for games "retained its reputation of being a superior musical organization."
A new function emerged briefly for the band under Wally Franks during World War II: playing for defense rallies and programs. The focus of the activity, however, remained preparation for the district contest at Kent. Playing at football games had expanded into the half-time show.
In the early 1940s, the single male drum major was joined by a female drum major and, also, by short-skirted majorettes. In the 17th annual spring concert of 1948, the band featured two movements of Dvorak's "New World Symphony".
WALLY Franks' efforts to produce an outstanding band were rewarded by a band which was consistently receiving high honors in district and state contests. Individual members of the band were doing well in contests and were being selected for district and state bands. The yearbook in 1949 was dedicated to Franks who was now supervisor of music in the Wooster schools.
The community support for the band continued when the Band Mothers' Club mobilized for another major effort. Tag days were begun. Rummage sales, bake sales and a benefit football game were held. Donations were solicited. In the spring of 1950, 80 new uniforms of blue and gold wool were purchased.
The tradition of excellence in performance and active community support for the band was well established by the time Wally Franks retired. He was succeeded by directors who maintained an active and growing band which each year sought to improve upon its previous performance.
Five men have served as directors: Dick Schilling, George Nickles, Jack Emig, Bill Shepherd and Bob Bayless. Schilling and Nickles were each directors for only a short period.
JACK EMIG, who came in the late 1950s, began work in the elementary schools to prepare the children for instrumental music. With the help of Brooks and Wally Franks, he introduced a program of instruction with song flutes in the fourth grade, followed by instrument lessons in the fifth. Having come from Ohio State, Emig trained the high school band in precision marching for the football game half-time shows.
As a result, the band was invited and did march for a Brown's Game in Cleveland. The first major trip was made by the band under Emig 20 years ago when they traveled to New York City to play for a Lion's Club Convention in 1959.
Bill Shepherd built on the solid instructional foundation of solo and ensemble training and the elementary program which Emig had developed. Under Shepherd, the high school band schedule was enlarged from three days a week in-school practice to five days.
The number of young people in the band also increasing until Shepherd found it necessary in 1967 to divide the single marching band into two concert bands for the winter and spring seasons. Under his direction, the Wooster Symphonic Band went to the state contest where it attained superior ratings.
IN 1969 when Robert Bayless took over the directorship of the Wooster High School bands, he inherited a growing well-trained group of young musicians. The size of the band program is graphically illustrated each spring when bands from all the elementaries, from the junior high and from the high school perform in the high school gymnasium.
With over 200 students in the high school bands, Bayless again divided the bands. The marching band had 206 people on the field this fall including eight majorettes and 17 flag corp members. The concert bands include the Wooster High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the Concert Band, and the Pep Band. Six years ago, a stage band was formed through the help of former band members in the community.
The concert bands, both on the high school level under Bayless, Lloyd Ringley, Patricia Grutzmacher and James Byo, and on the junior high level under James Nunley and Edwin Schattschneider, have attained frequent superior ratings at the district contests, and the Symphonic Wind Ensemble has received superior ratings at the state contest.
The enviable reputation of the local band has brought frequent invitations to appear at a wide variety of functions from the Kentucky Derby to the National Band Directors Association. Of these invitations, most are not accepted, unless there is an educational value to the appearance.
THE MOST prestigious trip which the Wind Ensemble has made was its trip to Europe to play at the invitation of the International Society of Music Educators at their meetings in Montreux, Switzerland, in July 1976, and at their executive meeting in Hanover, Germany. Since that was also the bicentennial year, the band was invited to play at a celebration of the American Bicentennial in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Other concerts were planned at the town square in Dinkelsbuehl, Germany, and in Lucerne.
A trip of the at magnitude was again only possible because of the solid support of the Wooster community. The Wooster Band parents worked in a multitude of ways to raise the $100,000 necessary for the trip, arrange the complicated logistics, plan the schedule, pack the instruments, chaperone the young people, and provide all the hard work which moving musicians and instruments across two continents requires.
When the Symphonic Wind Ensemble steps on the stage of McGaw Chapel next Monday at 8 p.m. to play its concert, the entire community can feel a sense of satisfaction both in the excellence of the musical performance and in the strength of support from the town which has made the performance a possibility.
The instruments, the uniforms and the music have all been purchased in one way or another by townspeople. The arrangements and financial backing for the concerts have been provided by the hard work of the Band Parents who also help in all the unnoticed ways - like sewing buttons on uniforms, washing off spats or waking children for 7 AM rehearsals.
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