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An Irish Experience

MCHS: Strike up the Band–Memories and Smiles

Classmates, the highlight of our Mason City High School (MCHS) band experience had to be traveling to Chicago to play for the Mid-West National Band Clinic.


We had the spotlight Thursday evening. The other two feature bands at the clinic were the York Community High School Band, of suburban Elmhurst, Ill., and the United States Marine Band. Not surprisingly, I remember being awed at the performance the Marine Corp’s top band.

The trip, in December 1958, came toward the end of our first semester in high school, at a time when we were still getting adjusted to the move up from junior high and competing for a spot in the band.

The pressure was on us. Ours was the third MCHS trip to the Clinic and director Paul Behm stressed more than once that officials had said it would be Mason City’s last – other bands very much wanted an invitation to the high profile event. (Over the decades, MCHS did get at least two more invitations, but not for the featured evening spotlight.)

The performance behind us, Friday was our day to play. My choices were visiting the Board of Trade in the morning, a matinee of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and an evening performance of My Fair Lady.

Memories of this trip came rushing back twice in the last six months.

In December, I got an invitation to attend a concert of the University of Iowa Saxophone Ensemble, which has received national honors, at this year’s convention.

What a contrast. We performed in the 12th clinic in the grand ballroom of the Sherman Hotel, long demolished, the site part of the State of Illinois Building. December marked the 64th anniversary of the group, which now boasts an expanded name – The Midwest Clinic, an International Band and Orchestra Conference – and has spread into larger facilities in a portion of McCormick Place, Chicago’s convention mecca.

What hasn’t changed is the smiles on the faces of musicians who work hard to perform their best on a national stage. When I saw them on the faces of the Iowa students at a post-performance reception, I imagined ours were just as wide 52 years ago.

This month, I was again reminded our our experience when I learned that, for the second year in a row, the winner of the Tatro Family Scholarship, is a vocal music student. (The scholarship, in it’s fifth year, is open to Mason City Community Schools seniors of need who excelled in music or journalism in high school and plan to concentrate their college studies in the same area.)

After doing a bit of Internet research, I learned what my classmates who live in the Mason City and environs may already know: The choral music program, clearly overshadowed by the band when we were students, has performed on national, even international, stages. In March, it sang at New York’s Lincoln Center as part of a featured evening concert.

I can only imagine their smiles were as big as ours more than a half century ago.

That’s what I still bring away from an important high school experience. Fellow classmates, especially those who made the trip, please share yours.


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