Essay Project 2021: Portland High School Marching Band From Past to Present and Present to Future
By: Cecelia Koster
Given the prominence of music in today’s society, most people can't go more than a few hours without hearing a song or two. In comparison, understanding the history of music is even more important. My first experience with the High School Band was in the fall of 2016. It was band night, and the Seventh and Eighth-grade band was preparing to go onto the field and perform with the Portland Marching Band. All of the high schoolers were extremely helpful and welcoming, and they made me want to come back. The next year was no different, and now, I am a Junior in High School and in my third year in the band. As the band continues to grow, it is important to remember where it came from.
The oldest record of the Portland High School Marching Band, albeit slightly vague, can be found in the school’s 1936 yearbook, The Senior Beacon, in the calendar section. On October third there was the “First Pep Meeting! New Yells! New Football Song!” (Esterline and Russman) Although it is unsure the yearbook is referencing a marching band, we do know for certain that there was an official Marching Band at Portland High School by the year 1940. In 1940s yearbook, Cardinal, a picture of the band can be seen on the bottom half of page twenty. Underneath the black-and-white picture and the list of seemingly familiar names, there is a brief description of the band’s activities for that year. “In addition to giving annual concerts, the band, under the direction of Mr. Phillips, has displayed its talent at numerous assembly programs, several athletic games, and various community events” (Holst, 20). Now, eighty-one years later, the band still participates in the same events. According to an article published in 2018 by The Portland Beacon, “[t]hey will also be marching in the Eagle Days parade Saturday, Sept 8th and the PHS Homecoming parade on September 21st” (Townsend). The band also participated in these events in the fall of 2019.
When asked what kind of impact he thinks the band has on the community as a whole, current band director, Mr. Sulecki responded, “[t]raditionally, and in the case of Portland, the Marching Band is a very important part of community events and celebrations. We are always active in patriotic services like Memorial Day and Independence Day. We provide music for community non-holiday events such as business openings and the 150th Anniversary of Portland’s founding.” In addition to that, the accomplishments of bands from past to present have allowed him to establish goals and plans for the future to encourage further growth. “[Sulecki’s] primary goal is to expand the opportunities we have for music students here in Portland overall.” In order to do that, “[n]ext year, 5th-grade band and middle school jazz band will be returning.” These classes will allow the band program to grow more than it has been able to in the past. As a current member of the Marching band, I am truly excited to see what the program will grow to become, especially now that I know how it all began. If you were to ask any member of the band what it felt like to perform they would tell you that the rush of adrenaline and the thrill of entering the field never gets old.
“A gentle breeze on your face
Comrades march in front, behind
Heads held high
Drum leads the march
All in step
Spread out among the field
The cadence stops
Major stands tall
Hands raised, ready to begin” (Kubacki, lines 1-12)
Knowing that more and more kids will understand this feeling as the program grows and more members of the community are exposed to the band, I am extremely grateful for the people that started it all.
There are festival awards in the band room dating back to 1955. Most of the awards from the years 1955-1982 are festival wins from when the band used to get ones in every category (the highest rating possible) and as the program continues to grow, I hope that it can get back to winning at Festival.
This essay is part of a writing project by students in Chandra Polasek’s ELA class at Portland High School. The project asked students to focus on elements of their own town while getting students engaged with the community. The essays were written with the intention of being published in The Portland Beacon.