Senn and the band contest

Vol. XXIV No. 3 - FALL 2013

Many alums are aware that the Senn High School band won a national band contest sometime in the way distant past. Here’s a little more information about the band and the contest.

School bands were on the rise after the end of World War I. The first contest came about because the Chicago Piano Clubs were having a convention and were looking for entertainment. Vitor Grabel of the Western Electric Company suggested a contest. The band instrument manufacturers were given the task of organizing the event. They raised $10,000.

The first contest was held in Chicago in Grant Park. The boys in the bands slept on cots in Navy Pier. The first winner was John Wainwright director of the Fostoria, Ohio high school band in 1923. The organizers found that the event need some standards and in the next two years these were created as well as some state contests.

In 1926 in Fostoria, Ohio 13 bands participated and Joliet won. In 1927 the contest was held in Council Bluffs Iowa and Joliet won again. More standardization followed and in 1928 the standard number of instruments was set at 72. In 1929 the organizers realized they needed a larger venue and chose Denver.

Twenty-six bands participated, and for the first time the Class B bands outnumbered the Class A bands fifteen to eleven. Despite the geographical change, the mid-west bands still held the upper hand with Senn High School of Chicago winning the Class A division and Boys Vocational School of Lansing, Michigan winning the Class B. King Stacy directed the latter band which was a correctional facility for boys between the ages of twelve and seventeen.

“Senn High School narrowly beat out a band from Modesto, California by four tenths of a percentage point. Indeed the margin of victory for the National Contest was typically very narrow, creating a very intense atmosphere.

The 1930 contest was held in Flint, Michigan with forty-four bands in competition – this despite the ongoing depression. Class C competition was introduced for the first time in the national competition, indicating the band movement had successfully spread to even smaller schools across the country. Senn won for the second year in a row, with a score of 94.8%, narrowly beating out Joliet, who scored a 94.5%. In fact, a score of only one percentage point separated the first four bands.

In 1931 the contest moved to Tulsa and the Joliet band won in the Class A contest. John Philip Sousa conducted his last combination band concert in 1931. He died later that year. In 1932 the contest was cancelled because of the funding problems brought on by the Depression

By 1938 the contest had become too large to manage so regional contests were encouraged.

This information is from (Chapter 9). If you are interested please go to this website and read more.

We are interested in any programs from these two contests that were won by the Senn Band.