A century of musical memories
By Tony Graf email@example.com July 29, 2012 9:34PM
Joliet resident Gloria Mattei Watson (right) and her daughter Kathy Watson Hanneman (left), of Lockport, stand by a music stand made by Gloria's father in 1914 as seen at the "Strike Up the Band" centennial exhibit on the Joliet Township High School Band at the Joliet Area Historical Museum Friday, July 27, 2012, at 204 N. Ottawa St. in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Alumni concert a march down memory lane for band members
JOLIET — Richard Wagner, 65, of Chicago returned to his alma mater Sunday to hear a song he played numerous times when the Joliet Township High School band gave a musical send-off to draftees and enlistees leaving for the Vietnam War.
As teens, band members complained about getting up early and often to play ‘March of the Steelmen’ before school in the cold at the Joliet Union Station in 1963. But Band Director Bruce Houseknecht set them straight.
“He said, ‘It seems to me that when their young men leave home to begin their military service for our country, the very least that we can do is be there and show them our support by sending them off with our music,’ ” Wagner recalled of the 20-minute musical send-off.
So they stopped complaining. Then, six years later in 1969, Wagner was drafted out of law school at age 22.
“There I was back at the train station. It was an awful time,” he said. “I was really pleased to see the band there and to hear them. They played ‘The March of the Steelmen,’ which has always been a real favorite of mine. … There may have been tears in my eyes.
“It was a very difficult day for me. I cannot begin to find the words to express how much it meant to me to have the band there on that morning, and to hear it play ‘The March of the Steelmen’ before I had to get on that train and leave,” Wagner said.
On Sunday, Wagner returned to Joliet Township High School for a special alumni concert and to honor the band’s 100th anniversary.
Playing for enlistees before they boarded trains and buses is a tradition that started in World War I under the leadership of Director A.R. McAllister. The USO and the Red Cross would be there with doughnuts and coffee and going-away packages as families said goodbye.
“The weeping mothers and girlfriends were a sober reminder that not all of their loved ones would return.” said Roland Garton, who graduated from the Joliet Central High School in 1971.
“I felt bad about having complained,” Wagner said. “There were a lot guys complaining. I just felt bad that I was one of them. I never complained about it again.”
From submitted reports
Updated: August 31, 2012 6:16AM
JOLIET — Bob Moore first played “March of the Steelmen” at age 15, during his time with the Joliet Township High School band, back in 1936.
On Sunday, he played it again, this time at age 91.
Moore performed with band alumni from across the country — from his Class of 1939, from many classes since then, and yes, from even before then.
The alumni performed Sunday in “A Century of Musical Excellence” at Joliet Central High School. As music played in the auditorium, the alumni commemorated the 100th year of the band.
Throughout the last century, the band has won many championships and high honors and has created lifelong memories for its many alumni and fans.
Sunday’s concert, sponsored by the Band Alumni Association, brought it all together on one special afternoon.
Today, in honor of the band centennial, The Herald-News presents memories from three alumni, going back to the early days of the band.
Joliet Township High School was founded in 1901. A.R. McAllister became the band’s full-time director in December 1913 and would remain in that role until his death in 1944. During these years, the band would win repeated state and national championships, beginning in the mid-20s and lasting throughout the 1930s.
By 1928, the band had won three national championships in a row. With the third victory, the national contest trophy gained a permanent home in Joliet.
Bob Moore, of Joliet, recently was reminded of that year.
“Last Sunday, when I came over to band practice, I parked on Herkimer Street,” Moore said of the street just east of the Joliet Central High School building. “And it reminded me of standing on the running board of my dad’s car, back in 1928, watching John Philip Sousa conduct 2,000 musicians who had traveled to Joliet for the national contest, which Joliet won.”
Sousa was the composer of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Semper Fidelis.” He was an American musical legend known as “The March King.” And here he was, on Herkimer Street in Joliet.
“Sousa was one of the judges, and the contest was on Saturday and Sunday,” Moore said. “Before they left to go home, they all assembled out there under his baton and played ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ I had no idea at that time that I would ever go into music.”
In the early 1930s, when Moore was in sixth grade at Farragut School in Joliet, an instructor suggested that the young man play oboe. Moore played in the grade school band, then in the Joliet Township High School band from 1935 to 1939.
In 1936, Moore traveled with the band to Radio City Music Hall in New York City for a week’s worth of performances with the Rockettes. The band played four times a day and five on Saturday.
“Twenty-nine times we played, and we did it all by memory,” Moore said.
When Moore graduated in 1939, McAllister assisted in getting him a scholarship to Wayne University in Detroit, which needed an oboe player. Moore played music for the Wayne University band and at Detroit Lions football games. Moore went on to serve in the U.S. Navy.
Summer of ’38
Bernard Baher, a band alumnus, came back to Joliet this weekend from his home in Avon, Mass.
Baher, a graduate from the Class of 1938, attended a celebratory dinner on Saturday night. More than 200 people attended the dinner, sponsored by the Band Alumni Association, at the Carpenters Hall on Essington Road in Joliet.
Baher remembers this time of year, 74 years ago, right after his graduation.
“It was quite a summer because we prepared for a Soldier Field concert,” Baher said. “We had to march down Michigan Avenue in Chicago, for a convention of one of the fraternal organizations. And then we played in Soldier Field, for anywhere between 85,000 and 100,000 people.”
“We played ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ Took us 20 minutes. We were right down on the field. And then we played ‘March of the Steelmen,’ ” he said.
Baher has memories of Torrie Wright, a young woman who served as band sponsor from September 1937 through the 1938 graduation to the completion of the Soldier Field show. In 1940, Baher and Wright met again, at a class reunion, when she was working on a reunion committee.
Wright went to the University of Illinois, and Baher did not see her again for almost six decades.
Wright and Baher met again in February 1999.
They married that same year.
And they remained together until Torrie’s death on March 10 of this year.
After graduating from high school, Baher went on to serve with the U.S. Navy. On Saturday night, he attended the celebratory dinner with his brother Robert Baher, of Crest Hill. Robert, a graduate from the Class of 1939, performed in the military band under McAllister.
Beauty of antiquity
Otto Mattei was born in Italy and came to this country as a boy. At Joliet Township High School, he built a music stand of cherry wood for performances during the very first years of the band.
McAllister was a wood shop teacher, and Mattei made the stand in his class. Mattei played under McAllister in the band in 1915.
Today, the music stand is displayed in the Joliet Area Historical Museum, thanks to Otto’s daughter Gloria Mattei Watson and granddaughter Kathy Hanneman.
Last week, the museum opened an exhibit, “Strike Up the Band,” recalling a century of band history at Joliet Township High School.
The exhibit is ongoing at the museum, 204 N. Ottawa St. in Joliet. The museum has captured band history in excellent visuals — with photography, artifacts and reading material. For the eyes, the ears and the heart, it makes for a good visit.
Nearby, in the regular gallery, there is a photo of Otto and McAllister together with the 1915 band. After these early years, Otto would go on to prominence in the Joliet musical scene.
In the 1920s, Otto opened a music shop on Clinton Street in downtown Joliet.
“I more or less grew up in the music shop,” Watson said.
In the early 1940s, Otto established a winning tradition as band director of what is now Chaney-Monge School in Crest Hill. Through the years, Herald-News archives show many young recipients of the Otto Mattei Award for Musical Excellence.
Mattei’s music has sounded through generations. And this is just one course that the JT band legacy has taken. There are many others, with the same source, with different destinies, all together in the march of ages.