Friday, June 22, 2018

LHS Band Memories

Fifty years ago mention was made that LHS band members Dean Steinmetz, Monte Muller, Jim Looker, and Phil Gudgeon had all won gold medals for their cornet and trombone playing at the 1968 state music festival.  That accomplishment, the first for brass instrument performances at LHS, brought back many memories for me of my time playing in the La Farge High school Band.
            Miss Jeanette (Jan) Stinzi ignited my interest to play an instrument in the school band.  Miss Stinzi, who hailed from Bangor, came to La Farge to teach music at the school during the 1959-60 school year.  It would be a rebuilding effort for the dynamic young teacher as the LHS band had fallen on hard times.  
            At the 1959 4thof July parade in La Farge, the school band had not marched.  I remember that many adults were very upset with the LHS band’s no-show that day and complained to Al Oaklief, La Farge Superintendent of Schools about it.  Mr. Oaklief was in the process of hiring a new band teacher to replace Hubert Groves, who was leaving the district. During the 1958-59 school year, there were only 15 students in the LHS band.   Mr. Oaklief soon hired Miss Stinzi to resurrect the program.
            When school began that fall, Stinzi set out to create interest in the music program.  She brought a representative from a LaCrosse music company (I think it was Leithold’s) to demonstrate instruments to the students in grade school.  I was in 7thgrade at the time and was thrilled to hear the instruments being played.  The students even got their turn at blowing the horns and I remember tooting on a trumpet and making a clarinet squeal.  I seem to remember that the music man stayed around that evening for a meeting with parents to arrange the purchase or rental of an instrument for their children.
            I was living with my grandmother, Isa Campbell, at the time and raced home to announce that I wanted to play in the school band.  My father wasn’t against the idea, but he did not attend the parent’s meeting to buy or lease me an instrument to play either.  When I went to school the next day, several of my classmates already had their rented instruments to begin practicing on.  Others had purchased new instruments that were on their way.  When I went home that afternoon, I let my grandmother know about my disappointment in not having an instrument.  But she had a big surprise for me.
            She had been up in the attic that day and brought down a fancy and beautiful instrument case.  Inside was a classic silver C cornet that had been my uncle’s – Berlie Campbell – which he played in the LHS school band back in the 1930’s.  He had graduated in 1937 and died in a farm accident less than two months later.  Apparently the cornet had not been played for over two decades.  It had some mechanical problems and one valve did not open properly. But I did have a horn to play!
            I took the cornet to school and Miss Stinzi marveled at the instrument.  She sent it up to LaCrosse to be repaired.  In a few weeks it came back ready to go – I remember the man from LaCrosse telling me what a beautiful instrument it was.  I was soon taking a weekly lesson from Miss Stinzi and learning to play my cornet.  
            Others in my class were learning to play as well. In her first year at La Farge, the band under Miss Stinzi’s guidance had grown to 36 members.  From my class, Ben Rastall was playing the trombone and Carlyle Stoleson was playing trumpet in the Senior Band that year.  Carlyle had started playing the cornet about the same time as me, but caught on much quicker than I did.  Both of Carlyle’s parents, Floyd and Charlotte Stoleson, were accomplished musicians and even had their own band – The Kickapoo Sweethearts. The Stoleson family’s musical talent had carried on well to Carlyle.  The LHS Band marched proudly in the hometown 4thof July Parade that summer!
            By the next year, when I was in the 8thgrade, I had made the LHS Senior Band!  (There were 34 in the Senior Band that year with another 22 students in the Junior Band.) I was the last chair in the cornet section that included Butch Donaldson, Roger Steinmetz, Carlyle Stoleson, Greg Ferries and Vera Beth Looker. The band expanded its marching performances by playing in the Horse & Colt Show Parade in Viola in September and marching in the La Farge Homecoming Parade in October.  Under the capable direction of Miss Stinzi, the La Farge High School Band was proudly returning to form.
            Alas, it was learned that Miss Stinzi would be leaving La Farge after her second year there.  She was getting married and returning to her hometown of Bangor to teach. Mr. Oaklief was busy looking for a capable replacement when he became aware of a man graduating from the music program at UW-Platteville, who also happened to be from Mr. Oaklief’s hometown of Lancaster, Wisconsin.  Marlin Pendleton was soon hired as the new bandleader at LHS.
            Mr. Pendleton began in that summer of 1961 by continuing the summer instrument lessons that Miss Stinzi had arranged. My first lesson with the new band teacher did not go well nor did my next.  My cornet playing underwhelmed Mr. Pendleton and I was soon demoted to a kind of standby position in the band.  I remember on one warm evening that summer when Butch Donaldson and Greg Ferries, who both lived about a block from my grandmother’s house, were practicing their cornets by playing outside.  Soon Butch and Greg were playing songs together from each of their houses and the neighborhood was filled with music.  So I decided to join them.  When I started to blatt out the song they were skillfully playing, the impromptu concert came to a grinding halt.  That should have been a hint as to Mr. Pendleton’s concern about my playing ability.
            When the school year began that fall, my cornet lessons with Mr. Pendleton were increased to several times a week, almost daily.  My playing improved and I was soon back playing my cornet in the Senior Band. The LHS band increased to 40 members during the year.  The cornet section increased to nine members that 1961-62 school year.  Butch Donaldson, Carlyle Stoleson and Greg Ferries occupied the first chairs.  Then Vera Beth Looker, Dennis Martin and Brent Waddell comprised the second chairs, with Roberta Putt, John Sullivan and myself playing in the third chairs.  Other members in my class in school who were in the band that year included Ann Steinmetz, Berthanna Betts, Judy Kirking, and Ben Rastall.

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