In fall 1913, the 18-member Ann Arbor High School Band had its first-ever performance at a football game where the school faced the Big Reds of Muskegon.
To honor the first ever performance, Pioneer High School Director of Bands David Leach, in collaboration with Skyline High School, Huron High School and Community High School, plans to hold a centennial concert May 29 to celebrate the 100 academic years that have passed since the city’s first high school band performance.
All four bands will perform their own sets for the concert, and the second half of the concert will showcase a collaboration performance by the city’s Centennial Band, which consists of the top three performers for each instrument in each of the Pioneer, Skyline and Huron symphony bands.
Leach said the centennial celebration has been an idea in the making since he started his position in 2002. He worked with historian and then-president of the Pioneer Band Association Daryl Hurst in hopes of researching the organization’s background.
“When I first took this job in 2002, one thing I didn’t want to miss was any big celebration or milestone in a program,” he said. “Part of [Hurst’s] background as president and former Pioneer student and [University of] Michigan Marching Band kid, he made sure he knew when the starting date of the bands was.”
When they found the date to be in fall 1913, they began planning for the centennial celebration, setting a date for the 2013/2014 academic year. To start off the planning, he took photos of students on the steps of Ann Arbor High School before the building was taken down. Leach and the Pioneer band program then fundraised and came up with the concept for the centennial band.
One of Leach’s goals for the concert was to have a local composer create a piece for the show.
“The next big important thing was to bring somebody to commission the type of music we could kind of leave as a lasting legacy, and to have somebody that was kind of attached to who we were, not just get some composer looking for work of some kind, but who knows what we’re all about and is familiar with who we are,” Leach said.
Leach’s goal led him to Michael Daugherty, a Grammy-Award winning composer and professor of composition at the University of Michigan. Daugherty composed a three-segment, Star Trek -themed piece titled “Vulcan.”
The May 29th performance will be the world premiere of the piece. Each band director — Huron High School’s Stephen Roberts, Skyline High School’s Jason Smith, and Pioneer High School’s Leach — will conduct one segment of the piece.
“Vulcan” is Daugherty’s first piece written for a high school band. He said he usually writes for professional orchestras and college, but he wanted to help celebrate the centennial, but he saw this as an opportunity to stretch his imagination and write theStar Trek piece he has always wanted to write.
With a daughter who is a Pioneer Symphony Band graduate and as a U-M professor in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, he and Leach saw a clear connection to the Ann Arbor high school band system.
“Ann Arbor is probably the most famous city in America for bands. You have the University of Michigan Band – the symphony band – and you have the University of Michigan Marching Band, and of course you have the high school bands, which are all extremely high level. I think Ann Arbor is a very special town. I wanted to celebrate that,” Daugherty said.
Leach said that with Daugherty’s piece, he’s hoping to recognize an old tradition in the Ann Arbor schools band system — the All City concert that ended in the ‘80s. The All City program was composed of elementary, middle school and high school bands, orchestras and choirs that students from across Ann Arbor could join through auditioning. Leach performed in the All City band when he was a student in Ann Arbor schools.
“I thought that it was a really great part of my life —meeting my friends across town and playing a concert with them was really cool. And one of the things I wanted to do was say, ‘okay, one band isn’t being featured as part of this 100 years of high school bands, but everybody,’” Leach said.
“Not only Pioneer, Huron and Skyline, but Community High School’s band called Super Bad is also playing at this concert.”
The collaboration not only includes a Grammy-Award winning composer, but also a band. Pioneer High School has won multiple Grammy Awards since of the organization’s start. Other local composers, including John Stout, will be featured throughout the concert. Pioneer will be playing “And Though We Wander,” composed by Stout.
Leach added that one of the best parts of collaborating with local composers was having the chance to see the writing process. Daugherty has workshopped the piece throughout rehearsals with the Pioneer symphony band and made changes to the piece during practice.
"You struggle; you go through the process of, ‘oh, this would be really cool,’ you know? And so as a writer and a musician, as anybody, you see that that didn’t work, or that you think you can tweak it and make it that much cooler, they get a chance to see a really great collaboration. That whole process of creating is really something,” Leach said.
Not only do the students have a chance to see the writing process as work, but they also have a chance to all work together to create a musical piece.
“One of the things about music rehearsals or sports teams is that as we move into the cyberspace world, they’re some of the few places where you actually do have to collaborate with other humans,” Daugherty said. “It’s good it brings us together.”