Lockport Township High ‘62 national championship band recalled
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org December 25, 2012 9:24PM
Photo from the 1964 Lockport High School yearbook of band director Herbert Tatroe. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 8, 2013 7:54PM
LOCKPORT — The Lockport Township High School Band, national champions in 1962, played for a crowd of 10,000 at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City and paraded down Second and Third avenues in Manhattan.
On this East Coast tour 50 years ago, the musicians played on the steps of New York City Hall, and were greeted by Mayor Robert Wagner. They played for 6,000 people at the opening of Coney Island Steeple Chase Pier. They played for thousands at 34th Street and Eighth Avenue for ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the National Association of Music Merchants.
Band director Ernest Caneva was interviewed on ABC-TV’s “Joe Franklin Show” and NBC’s coast-to-coast “Monitor” radio program. The band toured Manhattan and visited Radio City Music Hall, catching performances by the Rockettes and the Radio City Orchestra.
The band also traveled to Washington, D.C., visiting the White House and Capitol.
Before 2012 becomes history, The Herald-News pauses to observe the 50-year anniversary of the national championship in 1962 — the year that Lockport was named the “Music Man Band.” This story, drawing heavily on Herald-News archives, is part of the newspaper’s series “The Best Band in the Land.” In this series, we explore the history of musical excellence in Will County schools.
In June 1962, the North Iowa Music Festival brought the top bands from 30 states to Mason City, Iowa.
The contest also was known as the Music Man national competition. Meredith Wilson, composer of the Broadway and film hit “The Music Man,” was born in Mason City. In 1957, “The Music Man” — with its memorable song “Gary, Indiana” — won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The cast album won a Grammy Award.
In 1962, the film “The Music Man,” starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, premiered, became an enduring hit, and went on to be listed as a historically significant work on the U.S. National Film Registry.
The national band competition coincided with the film’s world premiere in Mason City. The winner would appear in the film’s promotion.
Lockport Township High School won the national title on June 19, 1962, defeating close competitors from Bossier City, La.; Lebanon, Pa.; Plainview, Texas; and Montgomery, Ala.
In addition to appearing in the now-historic film’s promotion, the Lockport band won 41 new musical instruments, valued at $10,700.
The band received the honor at Roosevelt Stadium in Mason City, which saw a massive gathering of the 30 contestant bands and 90 other musical groups that marched in a parade but did not compete.
“Pandemonium broke loose on all sides as the name of the Illinois band was called out before the packed stadium,” The Herald-News reported. “The band was ushered onto the field to play a special victory selection.”
Attending the June 19 ceremonies were film stars Preston and Jones; Hedda Hopper, a famous Hollywood columnist; and Arthur Godfrey, who would have the band appear on his show in New York.
Caneva accepted the medals for the band, and was greeted by Iowa Gov. Norman Erbe.
Back in Lockport, a hometown contingent hurriedly prepared a June 20 welcoming celebration for the band.
Dozens of civic, fraternal and business groups participated. So did many individuals who took time off from work to make the event special.
More than 12,000 people lined State Street as the championship band returned to Lockport.
State police initially escorted the band buses as far as Lewis College, which at that time was in Lockport. Then Lockport police took over and escorted the four large buses into downtown. The parade was led by another national championship band — the Joliet American Legion Band, directed by Archie McAllister Jr.
The parade included bands from many area schools: St. Dennis, Ludwig and Taft from Lockport; Chaney from Crest Hill; and Rockdale. The Joliet Park District Precisionettes also performed.
Crest Hill police sent a squad car, and Joliet police sent motorcycle officers. Fire departments included Lockport, Homer, East Joliet, Plainfield and Rockdale. The Lockport Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guard marched in the parade, as well as a marching unit from the high school’s student council.
After the parade, Caneva addressed a crowd from a speaker’s platform at Lockport Township High School. He expressed his appreciation for all the band’s supporters, including the parents of the musicians. He said the band won the Music Man title over tough competition.
Herbert Tatroe, assistant director, expressed appreciation for the people of Lockport and the bandsmen.
The next day, June 21, the band traveled to Chicago for a nonperforming feature on the Don McNeill Breakfast Club radio show at the Sheraton Hotel. Caneva was interviewed on the show. The band had lunch at the North Park Hotel. Then the musicians performed concerts at noon at 401 N. Wabash and at 12:30 p.m. at 435 N. Michigan.
After the Chicago performances, the 90-piece band jumped on buses and headed to New York for an East Coast tour. One of the buses broke down, and delayed the scheduled arrival by about three hours until another bus could be found.
The tour schedule, printed in the June 21 Herald-News, reads like a dream.
The band stayed at the New Yorker Hotel, at 34th Street and Eighth Avenue, during the eventful trip. The musicians played at the Rockefeller Center and during a parade down Second and Third avenues.
When the band performed in front of the New Yorker, the LeBlanc Music Co. gave the band four bass clarinets. Caneva received an E flat piccolo, termed the world’s smallest musical instrument.
Also in New York, the band attended a screening of “The Music Man” at RKO Theater. They were honored guests at the New York Newspaper Reporters Association.
The dream had a short interruption of reality when Caneva’s billfold and watch were stolen from his hotel room.
Then the band headed to Philadelphia. On June 26, the musicians paraded to city hall and took guided tours of Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross home.
Then on June 27, the band visited Washington, taking a 40-minute tour of the White House. The band played on the steps of the Capitol. There, the musicians were welcomed by U.S. Sens. Everett M. Dirksen, R-Ill., Paul H. Douglas, D-Ill., Bourke B. Hickenlooper, R-Iowa, and Jack Miller, R-Iowa, along with U.S. Rep. Noah Mason, R-Ill.
The band stayed at the Annapolis Hotel in Washington and toured the city.
Caneva, a native of Asiago, Italy, directed the Lockport band for 40 years. He started in the role in 1932 after a school official heard him playing the accordion. Caneva helped organize the band with 22 members. He retired in 1972. The Herald-News called him “The Grand Old Man of Music.”
Lockport honored Caneva in 1982 by naming the performance center in Dellwood Park after him.
Caneva also founded the Providence Catholic High School Band and served as a choral director at Lockport Township High School and St. Dennis School in Lockport. He composed more than 70 overtures, novelties and marches. Caneva died on April 4, 1992, at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet.
Tatroe, the assistant director in the national championship year, worked with the band closely on the marching drill — averaging 16 hours a week for the two months leading up to the contest. Tatroe and the band sometimes would rehearse twice a day.
Series returns to the history of the Joliet Township High School Band.