Unified JT band triumphed at ’64 World’s Fair
By Tony Graf email@example.com February 15, 2013 11:44PM
Updated: March 18, 2013 6:08AM
The Joliet Township High School Band played the “1812 Overture,” a masterpiece with its desperate plea, its heralding bells, its lightning-flash fanfare, its volcanic breakthrough cannonade, its banner of final vindication.
This was it: the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the last major event in the history of the unified band.
The musicians received a standing ovation.
From here on out, the high school would have multiple campuses and multiple bands. However, Tchaikovsky had victory in mind when he composed this overture, and there was no room for regrets. All three future campuses would go on to win musical honors of their own.
Today, The Herald-News continues its series “The Best Band in the Land,” looking at a century of musical excellence in the Joliet area.
During the World’s Fair trip in June 1964, Director Bruce Houseknecht led Concert Band A for the high school. Marshall Erickson — who would go on to lead the Joliet East band for 16 years — led Concert Band B.
The band triumphed in its June 14 performance in New York City, at the Tiparillo Band Pavilion on the Avenue of Commerce.
Chicago’s WGN-TV (Channel 9) showed part of the concert by videotape the next night on the station’s newscast, The Herald-News reported.
William Swinford, a Joliet Township band alumnus, commended Houseknecht.
“You were really great in ‘1812 Overture.’ We all wished you had played it again,” Swinford told him.
That night, the Joliet band played again, at East Meadow Long Island High School.
J. Maynard Wettlaufter, a professor at the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania, commended his former student Houseknecht.
During the school concert, Wettlaufter directed the band in the “New York Skyline March.” The Joliet band received another standing ovation at the end of the show.
The band’s trip began on June 11, as around 170 musicians and 70 parents left Joliet on a train on the Rock Island line, bound for Chicago. They then left Chicago for New York, on the New York Central.
The train arrived at Grand Central in New York on the morning of June 12. The band stayed at the Governor Clinton Hotel, and visited Radio City Music Hall — the site of the Joliet band’s memorable concerts in 1936.
On June 13, the band left Pennsylvania Station to see the 1964 World’s Fair. The musicians visited the fair’s sights and exhibits.
“The bandmen will stay through the evening to see the fireworks and colorful water fountains under the lights,” The Herald-News reported.
After its June 14 concerts, the band took a sightseeing tour of New York the next day, with scheduled stops at Central Park, Harlem, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the Little Church Around the Corner.
On the evening of June 15, the band boarded a train bound for home, to arrive in Joliet the next afternoon.
End of an era
The Joliet Township High School Band was founded in the 1912-13 school year and played for five decades at the historic limestone building, now called Central, on East Jefferson Street. This band won repeat national and state honors under two directors, A.R. McAllister and Bruce Houseknecht.
After the summer of 1964 — and for roughly two decades afterward — the high school would have three campuses and three bands: Central, East and West. Thus the band’s concert at the 1964 World’s Fair stands as a watershed in school history.
The Herald-News reported: “That the final single unit appearance should be such a grandiose site as the World’s Fair ground will put the climactic touch on the glorious traditions.”