I grew up in Lenoir, North Carolina, a small town in the foothills region of that state. In many ways, Lenoir is a lot like other small towns, but one area where the community stands out is the arts. Lenoir and the surrounding county has a rich musical heritage, particularly in high school band programs. For many years the Lenoir High School Band was recognized as one of the premier programs in the country. And although Lenoir High School closed its doors long before I was a teenager, the various high school band programs which came along afterward were able to reap the benefits of a supportive musical community. You don’t have to take my word for it, however. Check out this excerpt from an article by Joseph Robinson, a Lenoir native (and Lenoir High School alum) and retired Principal Oboe of the New York Philharmonic.
From my era alone, the Lenoir High School Band produced the tuba player of the Minnesota Orchestra, the principal bassoonist of the Dallas Symphony, a successful New York free- lance flutist, and the first oboist of the New York Philharmonic. Another “wave” 10 years later yielded the composer in residence of the St. Louis Symphony, a percussionist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, a prominent North Carolina trumpeter, and a professor of clarinet at the University of North Carolina. There were dozens of others before and after—the stalwarts of the band who had more than enough talent for careers in music. Many of them remain in Lenoir, still recalling their band experiences as the most challenging and fulfilling of ! their lives. [This article first appeared in Wilson Quarterly, August 1995.]
The entire article is worth reading, and explains quite a bit more about the history of the band and the legacy which it left to music programs in the area. I remember reading horn parts in high school which were stamped with the Lenoir High School Band logo, and feeling proud and also a bit awed at being allowed to participate, even indirectly, in such a hallowed tradition. There is a downside to Mr. Robinson’s article, and he discusses the slow decline and eventual deterioration of the old Lenoir High School Band building – a three story complex designed specifically for the school’s instrumental music program. However, since his article was written there has been a resurgence of interest in the old band facilities, and a campaign is currently underway to renovate the building and use it as the home for the James C. Harper School of Performing Arts, a community music school named after the Lenoir High School Band’s founder. I know there are many other great band programs with their own legacies and traditions throughout this country, and it is more important now than ever to recognize the vitality, culture, and quality of life that these programs bring to even the smallest of communities. If we don’t fight to keep these programs strong during difficult economic times, they may disappear completely, leaving a gaping hole in their respective towns.
Alright, enough with the gloom and doom talk. If you’d like to hear a bit of what the Lenoir High School Band sounded like, see the clips below. They have been transferred from an LP that my old high school band director gave me. The recording is from the Lenoir High School Band’s performance – under the direction of Captain James C. Harper – at the 1958 North Carolina State Band Contest. The first clip is a Sousa march, Daughters of Texas, and the second is a transcription of J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor (not sure who the arranger was).