In 1912, Joliet Township High School decided to start a band. They contracted with a musician in Chicago to do the job. They terminated his contract in 1913 and the assistant shop teacher took over leading the band. 13 years later, Archie McAllister led that band to its first national championship. Until 1947 when he died, he led the band to repeated recognition nationally and was praised by people from the local mayor to John Phillip Sousa. His successor, Bruce Houseknecht led the band until he retired in 1969. They are now about three years into the tenure of their fourth director. I was privileged to play trombone in that band from 1955 to 1959. My grade school band director was a graduate of the program (as, by the way was the third director of the high school program). If you want to see where this is going, you will need to click on the continuation.
Yesterday (Sunday), was the 100th anniversary concert. Over 175 of us alumni came to participate so the band had to be divided into two bands of about 80 each. Many of us, like me, had not played our instruments since graduating and going into our life careers. The oldest musician was 92 and he was one of the few who still plays regularly. I practiced a couple hours a week since February in order to establish some sort of enbouchure for my trombone. Despite all this, the concert was not composed of easy marches and arranged show tunes as one might expect for a band made up of old farts like me. Instead, it was difficult and challenging pieces that we had worked on by ourselves prior to the three practices of three hours each on Friday evening and Saturday. I am told by members of the audience (there were about 1,400 of them) that the music was played not only well but excellently (my brother was a professor of music and assures me that that was the case). For my part, I found my goosebumps rising as we played the march from which our school fight song was abstracted (March of the Steelmen). Other pieces in the concert were by composers from Berlioz to Gershwin and Tschetsnikov (forget the spelling).
In a few weeks, I should be able to post a couple utube urls for those who assume that my view is skewed by my own desire for the music to have been excellent.
So, why am I mentioning all this? After all, reunions are really only of interest to the “reunioners”. There are two reasons. First, I have this irresistible need to brag. Second, as we listened to the first band play (I was in the second one to play), I found myself thinking about reactions to the recent statement by our president about what single individuals accomplish or do not accomplish. The fact of these concerts is that only a very few (five or ten) of the 175 of the band members could be considered as soloists or professional musicians. However, as a group working together and under leadership of directors who were confident that we could play challenging and difficult pieces, we made music. And, not just music but music that moved 1,400 or so people to rise up from their seats and cheer loudly and demand an encore. My point is, much as I said on that other string, we humans are social animals and when we work cooperatively and with trust in our coworkers, we can accomplish incredible things. As individuals, we can also do very creative and exciting things. However, building Golden Gate bridges or playing a Bach cantata so well that it brings tears of joy to an audience requires a large community of interconnected and cooperative individuals each performing to his or her best and thus creating something that could only be dreamt of by each of them individually.