McAllister band era at Joliet Township High School
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org November 24, 2012 11:22PM
A cornet used as a symbol for the late A.R. McAllister, longtime director of the Joliet Township High School Band, as seen in the auditorium at Joliet Central High School Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, at 201 E. Jefferson St. in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 27, 2012 6:06AM
JOLIET — The Minute Men marched down Jefferson Street to the train station, ready on short notice to play for troops headed off to World War I.
The war lasted from July 1914 to November 1918, and in the final 18 months, millions of Americans served and 118,000 lost their lives.
The Joliet Township High School Band greeted troops — at any time, day or night — as the troops passed through the Joliet station on their way to the battlefields.
The musicians’ quick assembly got them the nickname “Minute Men.” The high school yearbook states:
“Through the officials of the school, a signal was issued: Four minutes after this signal, the band was in full uniform and on its way to the train station to cheer en route to the fields of battle troops that by chance passed through our city or occasionally stopped over for a few minutes. So perfect had become this system that these boys would be marching down Jefferson Street ... within three minutes after the signal was given.”
The band played an important part in the war effort, by performing for rallies and parades, and greeting troops.
In 1916, the band was a part of the newly formed cadet corps — which eventually became ROTC — at the high school. By 1917, the band became a separate unit.
Director A.R. McAllister led his first performance with the band in March 1914, just a few months before the war began. His early values of discipline and precision were clearly visible for American troops by 1917 and 1918.
Later, he would add two other values: elegance and sophistication.
With these values, McAllister and his band won four national championships and three state championships between 1924 and 1931.
In 2012, Joliet Township High School is celebrating a century of band history. Today, The Herald-News continues its series on this history, titled “The Best Band in the Land.” This installment draws heavily on the work of Dr. Phillip Hash, an associate professor of music education at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.
In October, Hash gave a lecture at the Joliet Area Historical Museum. With photographs, newspaper articles and school documents, Hash gave an overview of the band’s early years.
McAllister was more than a four-time national championship winner. He was a trailblazer. This director and his band stood at the beginning of the high school band movement in the United States.
In the 1920s, McAllister became president of the Illinois School Band Association. He would go on to become president of the National Band Association. In 1931, McAllister was elected to the American Band Masters Association.
“A.R. McAllister became a prominent figure in the development of school bands in the United States,” Hash said. “He was certainly a prominent and important citizen in Joliet, but he was also prominent throughout the country. Wherever you go in the country, people who know bands still know A.R. McAllister’s name.”
“A.R. McAllister really showed us what a school band could do,” Hash said. “Through their state and national tours, and their contest participation, they were heard by a lot of civic leaders, and school administrators, and students — who were then inspired to go out and start school bands of their own.”
“There are several school bands in the state that can tie their history back to hearing the Joliet Township High School Band,” Hash said. Bloomington is one notable example.
“The Joliet band was not the first school band, by any means, in the United States. But it was certainly the first one that set a very high standard, that had not been heard before,” Hash said.
Joliet Township High School was founded in 1901. The limestone building on East Jefferson Street was designed by local architect Frank Shaver Allen, who envisioned the structure as “a palace of learning and culture, somewhat in the nature of a museum.”
Allen designed the exterior of the school in collegiate Gothic with Joliet limestone and Bedford stone trim for the windows and doors. Today, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1912, a group of senior boys organized a band — recognized as the school’s first — to build school spirit at football games, Hash said.
“They were inspired by some nearby towns, by Ottawa and Rockford, that already had established high school bands at different levels,” Hash said.
Hash quotes an article in the Joliet Evening Herald on Oct. 14, 1912: “There was a football game in Ottawa last Saturday. All over the town, the fact was made known by the music of the Ottawa high school band. The band, carrying banners, and yelling enthusiasts from the Ottawa high school were carried about the town in automobiles. That brought the crowd. That is the kind of spirit Joliet needs.”
In Joliet, the boys’ effort was short-lived, Hash said, citing the 1918 school yearbook.
In the fall of 1913, the school board decided to get involved in the formation of a band. The board hired Louis Henry Condy, who was a conductor, a teacher and an instrument dealer from Chicago.
Condy led the band in the fall of 1913, but the musicians were not ready for the football games in October, as they had hoped. On Nov. 11, the school board committee on supplies recommended the purchase of band instruments. The board approved this measure on Dec. 10.
That same month, the board hired a new band director. Historically, this should not be viewed as a negative reflection on Condy.
“He was just very busy. He lived in Chicago,” Hash said. “And eventually, Condy started the band at Aurora East High School, and became a prominent band master in Chicago. So he went on to have quite a career in music education, just not during his time at Joliet Township High School.”
In December 1913, the school board hired A.R. McAllister to become director of the band.
McAllister was born on July 28, 1881, and grew up on a farm outside of Elwood, Hash said.
Hash has studied a story about McAllister’s youth, and with some research, has determined it to be accurate.
When McAllister was 14, he was training in music. He won $5 from Dayton Hutchinson, a local businessman, for making the most progress in training.
With that $5, McAllister bought a pig. He then sold the pig at the Will County Fair, and bought his first cornet. He bought a Conn Wonder cornet, a professional model instrument.
A typical cornet plays in the key of B flat. This instrument played in that key, but also in the key of C, with the right attachments, Hash said.
And the cornet could be played in the key of A if the musician pulled out the tuning slides longer.
“So if someone were playing with an orchestra, it might be easier for them to play in the key of A,” Hash said. “If they wanted to read off a piano score, the piano is in C. Then they could put this attachment in, move the mouthpiece over, and play in the key of C without having to transpose the notes from the piano notes to the cornet notes.”
“It’s really a unique instrument,” Hash said. “I don’t know of any instrument today that is made to play in all of those keys.”
Today, the Joliet Area Historical Museum has McAllister’s first cornet on display in the exhibit “Strike Up the Band,” which commemorates the band centennial. See information at the end of the story.
If you visit the museum, you will see that the instrument is patented in 1885. Hash used this information to test the accuracy of this story of McAllister’s youth.
“I wanted to see: Do the dates line up for this instrument based on the story?” he said. “So I got the serial number off of the instrument, and discovered that, based on the serial number, it was manufactured in 1894 — which would have been the year before McAllister was 14 years old.”
“So he bought it in 1895, if the math works out. Which makes sense. This cornet would have been manufactured just a year before.”
McAllister received his first training in James Ward’s Boy Band. He became a prominent musician in town, Hash said. McAllister also played in the Dellwood Park Band and the Joliet Steelworkers Industrial Band.
In the 1950s, the Joliet Evening Herald published an old photograph of the Jackson Township Band in Elwood. A young McAllister could be seen holding the cornet right behind the snare drum.
“That’s the earliest picture that I know of A.R. McAllister holding an instrument in a band,” Hash said.
McAllister attended Lewis Institute and took some business classes. This is not the same school that later would become Lewis University.
McAllister worked as a private secretary for the Joliet & Southern Traction Co., as well as the Interurban Electrical Co.
Afterward, he taught manual arts in the Chicago public school system, under E.F. Wurst, who was the superintendent of industrial arts in Chicago and a former school superintendent in Joliet.
In 1905, McAllister became a conductor, organizing the Trinity Ladies Band, which was associated with a church in Joliet.
In October 1913, he assumed duties as an assistant manual arts instructor at Joliet Township High School.
“The position was more appealing to him, simply because he wouldn’t have to travel to Chicago. He lived here in Joliet,” Hash said.
In December 1913, McAllister was hired as band director at the high school. He started by purchasing 11 additional instruments for the band.
Initially, McAllister only recruited freshmen and sophomores. He said the upperclassmen, who already were part of the band, were not going to be at the school long enough to make progress.
The new instruments went to underclassmen. And regarding the instruments that the school already owned — the upperclassmen had to give them back.
McAllister’s plan was controversial.
Hash quoted an article from the Joliet Free Press on Jan. 9, 1914: “The school band is now composed of all freshmen and sophs, the third and fourth year students being forced to leave it, so that the whole aggregation could remain together for a longer time, thus obtaining better results. Those in the band who were forced to return their instruments have decided to start an independent organization of their own, under the instruction of Professor Condy, who is no longer connected with the high school.”
Hash could find no evidence that the band with Condy ever materialized.
Eventually, McAllister let other students join the band if they could supply their own instruments.
In January 1914, McAllister led his first band rehearsal at the school, in the manual training building.
The band’s first performance under McAllister was March 27 — just five weeks later.
Shortly thereafter, the school purchased uniforms with funds that were raised by the band, and perhaps also with help from the athletic association, and some donations from the community.
During the spring and summer of 1914, the band quickly became active in the school and community.
The band played at all home baseball games, at a meeting of the parent-teacher association, at two benefits for the united charities organization, a gymnastics exhibition for the school athletic association, and at Flag Day ceremonies.
“So once they had that initial training, the band was off and running,” Hash said.
Next installment: McAllister’s championship run.
The Joliet Area Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa St. in Joliet, is now displaying “Strike Up the Band,” an exhibit on 100 years of band history at Joliet Township High School. The museum is seeking sponsors in order to create a permanent band exhibit. Call 815-723-5201, or visit www.jolietmuseum.org.