David Gleason, a former band and choir instructor at Howard Lake-Waverly High School from 1963 to 1982, wrote the following in response to a request from the Herald.
By David Gleason
I taught for 31 years, 29 of those at Howard Lake-Waverly (HL-W).
A high school band director was what I had wanted to be from the time I was in eighth grade. When I first began at Howard Lake, I really didn't know what it meant to be a music teacher. I guess I thought it had something to do with waving your arms around and great music would spring forth. Ha!
That first year I was both choir director and band director. In those days the band met on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the choir rehearsed on Tuesday and Thursday. Boy, did that choir ever get short changed, l don't think I ever did get to know all of the choir members names.
When I started in Howard Lake in June 1963, the band had about 35 students in grades eight through 12. I think there were even a couple of seventh graders in the group. Needless to say, it was difficult to find a happy medium in which all the students could feel like they were contributing to the creation of music and having fun.
As I remember, there were five seniors in the band and about 15 eighth graders. Our first performance came after I had been in Howard Lake only a few days. I have a friend who still reminds me that when we played "The Star Spangled Banner," it was a good thing that it was announced beforehand. Not too many could tell what we were playing.
By 1965, we were starting to assume an identity. The band made great progress each and every year for many years. I believe the band received a superior rating at the state region contest for the first time in 1968. They continued to receive superior rating in Division I every year for the next 24 years.
The district consolidated with Waverly in about 1969 and the band really began to see a large increase in the number of participants.
In 1975, the instrumental department split into three bands in the top six grades. The concert band had students from grades 11 and 12 with a couple of 10th graders added. The second band, cadet band, was comprised of students from grades nine and 10. There was also a junior high band which had the seventh and eighth graders.
A few years later, the junior high band was split into separate groups because they got too big to handle.
The concert band matured a lot with only juniors and seniors in the group. We were able to expose students to music that was not played by any other bands in District 20 during those years. The choir made equally good progress during those years.
Bill Stevens, the choir director, came in 1969 and had a great influence on both students and myself during his five-year stay. Also during these years, Carole Shiraga and Paul Moen taught instrumental music in the district. They both made great contributions to the music program at the school.
These years were the most musically exciting years of my career. It was with the help of those teachers that I really began to understand what it was to create music. In 1980, the band was named as one of the 100 best in the nation. The last time I checked, the award was still hanging in the band room.
During the middle '80s, the district experienced declining enrollment. Eventually, we had to go back to a concert band that had students from the top four grades. While we were not as mature, we were still able to make a very good musical presentation.
Teachers do not make musical groups successful. It takes a tremendous amount of work from each member of the group and a lot of support from the administration.
I always felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to work under John Scheveck. He allowed me the freedom to work in my own way to help each member of the band reach their greatest potential.
Fred Nus came to the system in the late '60s and was our superintendent for a number of years. He was one who really wanted the best school possible.
As I look back, I think the greatest satisfaction comes from the many students who worked so hard to prepare solos for contest. I know the many hours of preparation that went into each. The times that tears flowed, and maybe just a few naughty words escaped some lips. I once heard a student at a solo and ensemble contest from another school tell a friend not to go into a performance area because "some HL-W student was playing and they were just too good."
There are many former HL-W band members who have gone on to make a career in music. They bring much satisfaction. I can only hope that many other students found their time in band to be rewarding. Each one of them certainly helped to make my many years in HL-W exciting.
Since I retired, I have tried to stay active in music. I perform regularly with the Class Brass, a quintet that has performed on public radio and at many concerts and functions around the state. I also play with the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra and, this winter, have been playing with the McAllen Texas City Band. I have performed with a community band in Hawaii. I give a few lessons to hard-working low brass players and, of course, play a lot of golf.
When I left HL-W, I knew that the program would continue to grow because the music department was going to get great leadership from Chris Starr and the rest of the music staff. Obviously, that has been the case.