The Lebanon High School Band will celebrate a century of making music, and a legacy of hundreds of lifelong musicians, at the Homecoming football game this Friday, October 11, at Lebanon Alumni Stadium.
Friday’s highlight will be a performance by an alumni band.
Band Director Colin McGrory said that at least 40 alumni, going back as far as the Class of 1954, have contacted him and expressed interest in marching at halftime.
The festivities will mark the start of a months long celebration that will culminate next year in an exhibit of the band’s history at the Lebanon County Historical Society. The exhibit is expected to run from January through May.
A 100th Anniversary concert is also scheduled for next May.
Sherie Warlow Strohman, the 1975 head drum major and a volunteer at the Historical Society, has become an unofficial band historian. She is compiling the band’s history, with an eye toward publishing a booklet in conjunction with the centennial celebration.
“They started up in November of 1920,” she said. “A couple of boys from the LHS orchestra, which was already an organization, came to George Harbold. He was a physics teacher, but they must have known that he knew something about music.”
“They said they wanted to start a band because the Armistice Day parade was coming up in November,” said Strohman. “Harbold borrowed some instruments from some organization to help them get started.”
Athletes get old and creaky and blow out shoulders and knees, but musicians can enjoy playing for the rest of their lives.
Judy Leedy Heagy, LHS Class of 1959, is a good example. She hasn’t stopped playing since the day she graduated from the “old” high school on North 8th Street.
Today, she still plays regularly with the Lebanon Community Concert Band.
Heagy learned to play the clarinet from H. Herbert Strohman (father of Sherie Strohman’s husband, jazz musician Tom Strohman) while in junior high at Henry Houck. She said modestly that she was “just third clarinet” in the LHS Band for three years after that.
Third clarinet or not, being in the band took her to Franklin Field for a Philadelphia Eagles game and to a snowy Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan.
“We were playing at the Eagles halftime and when we all turned, one of our saxophone players didn’t, so he walked up the field by himself for a little while,” she recalls to this day. “I thought [band director] Leslie Saunders was going to kill him!”
Being in the band was a big deal for Judy and her friends. “The school gave us uniforms and our instruments, but we had to buy our own shoes.” she recalls. “I cleaned neighbors’ houses on weekends to get the money.”
Those who remember the LHS band—and high school bands in general—from the 1970s and 1980s may think that bands were bigger back then. They would be right, but band participation has swelled and shrunk over the decades.
Band Director McGrory said that in the eight years he has been at LHS, “We have been trending in a steadily upward direction.”
The 2019 marching band has about 50 members. There’s a separate symphonic band with about 70 members. Some musicians just play in one or the other, but there are overlapping members.
Recruiting is part of McGrory’s job and, just like sports, success breeds success. “I believe that recruiting is easier if the band is doing well – putting out a good sound.”
“Kids see it’s good, and want to be part of it.”
The downward participation trend isn’t something new. Strohman points out that bands in the ’50s and ’60s bands weren’t nearly as big as they became in the ’70s and ’80s. She cites band competitions as the main reason for the bubble in participation.
Lebanon High competed and won at multiple state and regional competitions during that period. “During that time, the competitive circuit became really intense,” she said. “So it seemed like it became a bigger deal, and the kids stayed in the band.”
“We would take five Trailways buses wherever we went.”
But competition brought more complex routines and more time and travel demands. This, Strohman thinks, started a downward numbers trend in the late ’80s. “It got more like drum and bugle corps,” she said. “The time factor increased and kids just couldn’t devote all that time.”
Strohman also thinks the rise of standardized testing and objective measurements of academic performance further divided students’ attention and cut into their time.
Are you interested in playing in the LHS Alumni Band?
There still may be time to march on Friday, October 11. Contact Band Director Colin McGrory at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the LHS office at 717-273-9391.
Event Location: Lebanon Alumni Stadium
Friday, October 11, 2019
5:00pm – 5:30pm: Arrive and check in at the stadium using the gate on 7th Street
5:30pm – 6:00pm: Rehearse the Alma Mater and Fight Song
6:00pm – 6:20pm: Head to the stands for the game
6:35pm: Watch the visiting band’s performance
6:55pm: Play the National Anthem from the stands