The following article was printed in the Wooster Daily Record just after the 1993 WHS Alumni Band & Reunion at Wooster High School and Maurer Field. Staff writer, David Lewellen was a participant in the festivities and managed to capture the feelings of many other alumni in his article.
From where I live, I can hear the drums of the Wooster High School Band on Friday nights. It hits me like the sound of the pied piper's flute. Sometimes I put down what I'm doing and take off at a jog, hoping to reach Maurer Field before the show ends. It's been eight years since I graduated, but the drums, and everything they conjure up, still pull me back.
I got a chance to be a part of it again last week, along with 170 other people. To mark the last homecoming at Maurer Field, current director Dan Adams invited ex-band members back to form the first-ever alumni band. The experience, and our reception at the game, reminded everyone how deep band runs in Wooster's consciousness.
Most of the alumni, I think, came back hoping to recapture some memories, and very little has changed. The band still marches down Bowman Street and blocks traffic and goes into the stadium single-file. The drummers still play the rails as they go down the concrete steps. The band still has the worst seats in the house. They still do the same cheers and play the same songs after touchdowns. Even the football team - yes, they were there, too - managed to win a game for old times' sake.
Since I graduated, I had not watched one football game at Maurer Field, although I've peeked through the fence at a few halftime shows. But as I marked time in the street outside the field, and filed down the stairs, and walked along what used to be the track, and saw hordes of people in blue and gold and football players warming up and the field under the glare of the lights - it was as if I had never left the place, as if I had played the week before and would play the next week too.
I felt the same weird sense of memory as we waited for the half to end, kneeling by the far sideline, blowing into our horns to keep them warm and getting in the way of Ashland players and fans. But I had never heard a roar from the stands like the one that greeted us as we took our places for the halftime show. We always suspected that people came just to see the band, but Friday night proved that we were right. The crowd was on its feet for the entire halftime show, and most of them stayed for the postgame show.
In the stands, I ignored the game (another tradition) and talked to two 1981 graduates behind me. I complimented them on the record of their trip to Chicago in 1979. They agreed that that was the best program they had ever played, and they remembered hours of sectional rehearsals during marching band season to prepare for the December concert, at which an audience of band directors gave them a standing ovation.
Standards were always high in Wooster. We would play a concert that would have people leaping to their feet at other schools, but at home we were simply applauded. Excellence was expected of us.
That excellence seems more remarkable in hindsight. Our packet of instructions contained letters from past directors. Robert Bayless wrote, "NEVER did I realize what great music you made! Since those years I have conducted college and numerous high school groups, but you should know you have always been the best." James Byo wrote, "You, in your best Wooster High School days, equaled and in some instances surpassed the best school bands in the world."
The best in the world. As an insecure adolescent, that's something to hang onto and gain strength from. I don't think people who weren't part of band at Wooster, or who didn't follow it closely, can understand the pride - almost arrogance - that animated those high school kids, that drove them to practice harder, to listen to the director, to bust their butts to get better.
A genuine sense for music always distinguished Wooster from other good bands. Natural talent is no more abundant here than in other towns, but listening to other players is a skill that can be taught, and one that Wooster excelled at. My father, who watched three kids go through the program, said, very accurately, that the band always got extraordinary results from ordinary players. Hundreds of people learned all they know about music (a lot) in the pressure cooker of Symphonic Band.
Marching back to the high school was always the highlight of the football games. The serious work of presenting a show was over, and with pounding drums and snake dances across the width of Bowman Street, the spinning, hopping, dancing, undisciplined band members celebrated. On Friday, though, the celebration began on the field. The high school band began long follow-the-leader chains near the north end zone, and the alumni quickly formed their own long loose lines, like a giant ant colony, where individuals are simultaneously particles of something bigger. Our ride in the time machine was nearly over, and we were trying to hang on as long as we could.
Maybe they'll have another alumni band some year, and I'm sure it'll be fun, but it won't be the same in some pile of bleachers on a windswept ex-cornfield in the north end. Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again, for a little while. I'm glad we got the chance.
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