History of the Joliet Township High School Band: Part Five — “Community”

Tom Merrill • Travel/Festivals • April 10, 2019

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Last month, we shared the challenges of changing times and community. In our final installment, we share the legacy that continues through community support.

Another significant part of this tradition happens at graduation, along with performing the Houseknecht transcription of “Sine Nomine.” Stinson says, “We have a unique tradition; our seniors play with the band at graduation, both processional and recessional. The band kids don’t walk in with the seniors…they’re with the band. It’s their family.”

“Graduation was always my favorite performance of the year,” said Fiske. “We always had an audience of 4,000 to 5,000. The kids would have fun and that’s when they would play their best.” He feels it is a remarkable bookend to their high school career. “When they start, they have a freshman camp and indoctrinate them into what the program is about…and the band students graduate last because they play during the ceremony.

The kids have a choice, but this is what they choose to do. The students and parents see it as an honor. We would have student conductors perform at graduation. That’s a big tradition here.”

But it doesn’t end at graduation. Alumni of the band stay very connected to the organization, something that has gotten easier and even more widespread with the advent of social media. The Joliet Township High School Band Alumni Association encompasses graduates from Township/Central as well as Joliet West and East. “The association is GREAT about getting word out about the band,” said Stinson. They also provide scholarships for graduating seniors and maintain a website with much information about the band, its history, and upcoming events (jthsbaa.org).

They have held alumni band concerts and were very involved in 2012 when a centennial celebration concert was held. A band parent has taken on the role of social media manager, and they make it a priority to post photos of the students on Instagram and other platforms. “The WORST thing you can say about the program,” says Stinson, “is that it’s about the directors.

We get the students out there as much as possible. The use of social media allows the many alumni to stay in contact with the program and continue this strong bond.”

When older members of the community can’t make it to a concert, a video is often sent to them or posted online, usually prompting gestures of appreciation on Facebook. A number of concerts and special events are shared with groups in the community, such as an American Legion band and other community bands in the area. A large Veteran’s Day program takes place at the school and the band is involved with honoring our armed services members in the area.

When alumni and community members hear of a band member with a hardship to overcome, a donor will often step forward so they can succeed in the band. “Kids are committing and working to improve themselves, so the community will work to help them,” Stinson stated. The community supports the band, because the band supports the community—an important point of gratitude not missed. “These older adults vote on policy, and that helps maintain the school funding.”

It has been a long and exciting road since the first rehearsal of a dozen members, held in the wood shop sitting on nail kegs that had been converted into chairs. The history of the band is interwoven into the fabric of the community, so much so that one of Joliet’s nicknames is “City of Champions” because of the titles won by the bands over the decades. They try not to let the history dictate too much, but they do see the value of that history and hold onto it. “My major goals,” said Stinson, “are to make sure that we’re doing our history justice without riding on our own coattails.”

“It’s important to keep the band going for the current and future students. I just want more kids to experience this. I’ve seen the power of what this can do.” They know that this can change and improve lives in countless ways, and Stinson and the community are dedicated to continuing the journey for years to come and for students who have yet to even pick up an instrument. Mike Fiske sums it up beautifully: “That’s the reason to be here….to keep it going.”

Tom Merrill is the Executive Director of Festivals of Music. He has over 25 years of experience as a music educator, travel planner, and festival organizer.

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