Music is universal, timeless. Food for the heart, the mind, the soul. Music is art and self-expression.

Music also teaches discipline, team work, and time management. It develops a work ethic. Music is a unique teaching tool.

It’s for these reasons that Lebanon School District has been making beautiful music for the last century.

The school district is currently celebrating 100 years of offering a marching band and a music department to students who reside in the city of Lebanon. Because of the coronavirus, no formal ceremony will be conducted to commemorate the occasion this school year – the Lebanon Music Department hopes to reschedule for next year, but no date has been set yet.

Read More: LHS Band to celebrate 100 years of making music and lifelong musicians

Lebanon High School Band poses in front of the Harding Building, circa 1920.

Perhaps this article can help bridge the gap until then.

“When I first started teaching, I just thought it was a neat activity,” said Sherie Strohman, a 1975 graduate of LHS, former band member, and current private music teacher. “But I’ve found it’s so much more than that. If you’re taking a math test and don’t get something, you can go back to it. It’s not like that with music. Music has to happen in time. It really develops the brain in a way that no other subject does.

“If you’ve never tried to play an instrument, just making a sound takes an incredible amount of thinking and reasoning,” continued Strohman. “To have all those people do it in time, that’s amazing. There are so many things involved in it. It teaches you to deal with your daily life.”

The power of music’s influence on students has a lot to do with why Strohman is so passionate about it.

Since being formed in 1920, the school district’s music department has touched the developing lives of thousands of Lebanon students. When one looks at it from that perspective, music becomes about the greater good.

The school band plays at the intersection of Third and Green Streets, circa 1921.

Strohman, a Lebanon County Historical Society trustee, said at the time of its origin, a high school orchestra, and a musical department were already in place within the school district, and that it gave birth to the Marching Cedars, the district’s marching band.

“What’s great about music is how it can change lives,” said Strohman. “It can really help people who don’t have positive things in their lives. For some people, band has become like family. In some high schools, they have groups of kids who are always down in the band room. It provides purpose for some people who don’t have it in their lives.”

Luckily, music is everywhere.

“I think it’s a part of life that we sometimes forget that we need,” said Strohman. “It’s an inherent part of humanity. It’s an inherent part of who we are. It’s always there, and we take it for granted.”

Included in the Lebanon school district’s music department are the Marching Cedars, high school concert bands and jazz bands, and music programs at Lebanon Middle School and all five of its elementary schools. The high school music department conducts about 20 public performances during the school year, including halftime and pre-game shows at football games, at local exhibitions and parades and at graduation, and spring and winter school concerts.

Lebanon High School band, circa 1925.

At the time of the coronavirus epidemic, the Lebanon school district had about 300 students throughout its buildings participating in the music programs.

“It was started in 1920 by a group of kids who were already in orchestra,” said Strohman. “There was a musical department, but no band. They wanted to do something in the Armistice parade.”

A teacher named George Harbold knew about a Dillsburg Fire Company band that had just disbanded. The fire company had plenty of instruments laying around, Strohman recounts. Harbold retrieved them and brought them back to Lebanon for the kids to play.

“The Armistice parade was their first performance,” added Strohman. “There are pictures of them coming down the street in Lebanon wearing multi-colored beanies. It kind of snowballed from there. It was a chance to have a band out in the public’s eye.”

The high school band poses for a photograph, which was taken at some point in the 1940s.

Lebanon’s is the oldest continually performing high school band in Lebanon County. Over the years, the Marching Cedars have evolved and changed to reflect the times.

Up until 1934, the 40-instrument marching band was all boys. In 1968, the Marching Cedars participated in the Orange Bowl Parade in Florida.

“It started as a parade band and evolved into field performances,” said Strohman. “They were also known for their orchestras. Because we’re talking about a 100-year history, there’s a lot of pride involved. There are many highs and lows.”

In 1950, for example, they won a state championship. The victory made local headlines. In 1962, the band played in an event in Mason City, Iowa. When they came home, Strohman said, they were met on the turnpike by state police, who escorted them to the city.

“When they got to the city, the city police met them,” Strohman said. “It was late at night, around one in the morning, but there were thousands of people lining the streets. The bus stopped at Eighth and Walnut (Streets), and the band marched to the old high school (the current site of Lebanon Middle School), and the kids had tears in their eyes.”

The Marching Cedars, circa 1976.

To become the type of accomplished musician needed to march in the band requires dedication, focus, and complex thinking. Sure, it’s hard work, but it’s a developed work ethic that can pay huge dividends later in life.

“Sometimes band is more overlooked than it should be,” said Strohman. “Both sports and band help kids with coordination and helps them to learn to do a few things at the same time. That’s a skill very necessary to life. It develops the brain in a way that normal class work doesn’t. It develops the whole person. You don’t realize how difficult it is until you try it.”

But it takes practice, and a lot of time.

“You need to try and get it (the instrument) out every day,” Strohman said. “We’re talking about individual practice time and group practice time. As they get older, the band meets more often. And the marching band requires more time than the concert band.”

A newspaper clipping featuring the Marching Cedars during the 1977-78 season.

As our society has become more and more technology-based, participation in extra-curricular school activities has waned. It’s a trend playing out on all levels of our culture, including band.

“To speak to that, if you look at all the high schools, none of the bands have the number of kids in them that they once did,” said Strohman. “That has a lot to do with a lot of things. Some things have taken over and it’s taken its toll on the arts in general. Things like band are time-intensive.

“I think more than anything, our cultural lifestyle doesn’t include a rallying cry any more,” added Strohman. “People would go by the thousands to (local) football games. We are so divided as a culture. People aren’t drawn to the same thing at the same time.”

The Marching Cedars play during halftime in 2005.

Strohman has penned the book ‘100 Years: The History of the LHS Band’.

“When you stop and think about it, a lot of bands have come and gone,” said Strohman. “There are bands all over the place in the state that no longer exist. They’ve come and gone. The fact that we’ve had a high school band for so long is amazing.”

One hundred years is a lot of time to make an impact.

“It has touched many, many thousands of people over the years,” concluded Strohman. “We’re not talking about just band members. We’re also talking about teachers and parents and chaperones. Listening to the music and watching the kids perform, it’s just such a joy.”

Because music is so much more than simply noises and notes.

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Interested in Lebanon County music? Check out these articles from our archives…