Houseknecht continued Joliet Township’s winning tradition
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org January 14, 2013 10:44PM
Updated: February 16, 2013 6:20AM
Bruce Houseknecht led the Joliet Township High School Band to a state title in 1949, winning the Illinois Music Sweepstakes, with 26 of 31 soloists and ensembles achieving superior first ratings.
The band was named state champion in the Class A and AA groups, in the April contest at downstate Pekin.
This particular school year, 1948-49, was a stellar achievement for Houseknecht — the successor to longtime Director A.R. McAllister, who died in 1944 after leading the band to multiple state and national championships.
In the summer of 1948, Houseknecht led the band to a first-prize trophy for the best Class AA marching band in the Tournament of Bands at Riverview Park in Chicago. This was a large contest, with 192 bands and drum corps from six Midwestern states.
In the coming years, Houseknecht would lead the band to repeat Gold Trophy awards in this category at the Chicago contest: Joliet won from 1948 to 1951 and also in 1953.
Also in 1948-49, band soloists and ensembles excelled at the District AA contest at Mooseheart. Joliet captured 14 division solo awards, along with superior ratings in eight ensembles.
The band captured the sweepstakes at Mooseheart — in spite of a 90-point handicap.
This academic year, 1948-49, was Houseknecht’s fourth year as director of the Joliet band. And it was only the beginning of his 24-year career here, which lasted from 1945 to 1969. Today, The Herald-News continues its band history series “The Best Band in the Land.” In the next few installments, we will look at Houseknecht’s legacy.
Bruce Hilbert Houseknecht was born in 1916 in Williamsport, Pa. He started playing the violin at age 5, according to his biography in “A Century of Musical Excellence,” published by the Joliet Township High School Band Alumni Association.
Houseknecht graduated from high school in Williamsport in 1934, according to the Joliet high school yearbook.
He attended Penn State University, and was made student director of military bands and a member of the Penn State Blue Band, the yearbook said. He also was concertmaster of the college’s symphony orchestra.
In 1938, Houseknecht earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Penn State, the Joliet yearbook said.
He then earned a master’s degree in 1943 from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York — after only three years in summer school, the yearbook said.
Joliet Township High School appointed Houseknecht as band director in 1945. McAllister had died in 1944, and Alex Zimmerman had been directing the band on an interim basis.
Only the beginning
During 1945-46, Houseknecht’s first school year as director, the band competed in the district championship — the first such contest since 1938.
At the contest, held in Cicero, the Joliet band received a superior rating in all divisions.
“The band showed an example of the fine caliber of all JT championship bands. One of the judges of the contest was quoted as saying, ‘As I remember Sousa in his finest day, the band was no better than this one. An unbelievably beautiful and stirring performance has been given today by this Joliet band,’” said the Joliet yearbook, quoting a judge’s reference to music legend John Philip Sousa.
At the end of the 1946-47 school year, the Joliet band took its first long trip since the end of World War II — a five-day tour through Michigan. The band played in Detroit, Sturgis and at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Next installment: The inauguration performance, 60 years ago.