More Lenoir High School Band Memorabilia

One of the more popular posts on this blog is about the Lenoir High School Band; there seems to be a large community of people scattered all over the country who have an interest in the history of this ensemble.  Over the holidays I helped my parents go through some of the miscellaneous things left in my grandparents’ house when they passed away last summer, and among them were some very nice collector’s items related to the Lenoir High School Band. The first is a book about the LHS Band,  Lenoir’s Own: The Story of the Lenoir High School Band 1924-1977, by Lucy F. McCarl.  Published by Morris Publishing (NE) in 2008, this slim volume chronicles the history of the band and its directors from its inception until the closing of LHS in 1977.  I’m sure the book is still available, and it would make a very nice gift for anyone interested in its subject.  The brief quote below gives a good idea of the kinds of information, often in the form of anecdotes,  included in the book.  Numerous black and white photographs help give a more complete picture of the band and its history.

As the band played more and more engagements and went farther afield, they became acquainted with many excellent musicians and musical groups. Captain Harper himself enjoyed association with illustrious persons; naturally, the band was a beneficiary of the contacts he made.  Eventually he was nominated for membership in the American Bandmasters Association…His first ABA convention was in 1935 in Cincinnati.

He was one of only about three high school band directors in the ABA when he became a member. Most of the members were directors of municipal, professional, or collegiate bands. The membership also included some outstanding performers. Captain Harper recalls of these times:

“I was sitting at a supper table one night in Cincinnati with Frank Simon, Herbert Clarke, and Ernest Williams when I asked myself how on earth I ever got to eat supper with probably the three greatest living cornetists in America. I will say for these men that none of them had any pretensions to greatness, but were sincere and honest and kindly in every respect. You would have supposed that I had grown up with them and was their equal in every respect. If that was their attitude, it was not at all my own feeling, for I worshiped the very ground that they walked on.”  [p. 33]

The second item is really extraordinary – a two LP album compiled for the 50th Anniversary celebration (1924-1974) of the LHS Band.  The album includes interviews with Captain James C. Harper, the founder and longtime director of the LHS Band, as well as several recordings of the ensemble ranging from 1954-1969.  I have fond memories of my grandfather proudly showing me the album when I was a child.  Captain Harper’s autograph adorns the back – my grandfather probably asked Harper to sign it at the 50th Anniversary concert in 1974.  The interview portions of the album, conducted by John R. Craig, were recorded by Galaxie Recording Studios (Taylorsville, NC).  I’m not sure if the album has been released on CD – probably not – but you might still be able to find a copy of it somewhere.  Included below are a few short excerpts, including two interviews with Captain Harper, as well as a 1969 recording of the band performing a transcription of Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral by Richard Wagner.

Interview with Captain Harper No. 1 (John R. Craig, interviewing)

Interview with Captain Harper No. 2 (John R. Craig, interviewing)

Richard Wagner, Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral, 1969 Lenoir High School Band, conducted by Captain Harper

The Lenoir High School Band

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).

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