From the Archives with Byron Hanson: March 2015

When a reader suggested that we trace the history of bands at Interlochen, the irony of our original name popped into mind. The Camp was founded as a home for the National High School Orchestra, where they could work for a whole summer. The original corporate title, “National High School Orchestra Camp Association,” gives no indication that the Camp would do anything else. Yet the Camp’s first public concert on July 1, 1928, was an afternoon band concert in the Interlochen Bowl. How did band enter the picture?

The simple answer answer is that Dr. Maddy’s dreams were always far ahead of even his strongest supporters. He surely expected have band eventually - and a choir too. But Maddy’s immediate concern, no doubt, was the need to garner enough applicants to pay the bills.

The answer to this problem was obvious. In 1928, few high schools had orchestras but practically all of them had bands. In fact, bands enjoyed a great deal of popularity. There were fine professional bands that toured the country. Major universities were developing fine concert bands in tandem with the growth of their music departments and schools of music. John Philip Sousa’s band had toured around the world and he enjoyed the recognition and acclaim given to rockstars today.

It would be foolish not to tap into the popularity of band - and adding opportunities to perform in band would greatly widen the field of applicants. This offer was explained in the initial description of the Camp mailed to music supervisors and school superintendents in November, 1927. The prospectus stated that orchestra would rehearse two hours daily and the band would rehearse for one. Both played a concert each Sunday, band in the afternoon, the orchestra at night.

In many circles bands were said to lack the status of other branches of music: they came from the the world of street parades, concerts in the park, the circus, military and fraternal organizations. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block in some minds was that, with a few notable exceptions, bands had no literature of their own to play so they borrowed from everybody else.

That first concert was an afternoon entertainment: the opening act for the orchestra that would perform in the choice spot later in the evening. The band program began with a Sousa march and ended with Bagley’s “National Emblem.”  In between the marches were transcriptions of Finlandia by Sibelius and Wagner’s Lohengrin.

The prospectus for the second summer of Camp in 1929 promised that the band would “be placed on an equal footing with the orchestra,” and for a time the two ensembles either shared concerts together or exchanged the afternoon and evening prime time in alternate weeks. In a future column we will document the significant yet unsung role that Interlochen was soon to play in the growth of bands and their unique literature.