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Alumni remember historic band trip

Alumni remember historic band trip

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It all came down to a stirring finale on a soccer field in the Netherlands.

The excitement that had been building for months among the Carlisle High School band had reached a crescendo with a championship performance on a world stage.

The color guard led the way carrying Old Glory and the United Nations flag from one end of the stadium to the other. The band fell in behind playing The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

“The pride we felt in representing the United States just manifested itself in that minute,” said Perry Heath, Class of 1971, recalling his days as a French horn player.

It was Sunday, July 26, 1970, and the Thundering Herd had taken the field in the show band competition during the World Music Contest in Kerkrade. The band made its entrance with a bold 270-degree turn that made their uniforms flutter in a flash of white that surprised and impressed many among the 30,000 spectators.

Unmatched record

Most were unaware of how much work the students put in just to make the trip and to perfect the precision drill that earned for Carlisle the World Championship in show band with a score of 175.5 out of a possible 180 points. “To the best of my knowledge, we still hold the record for the most number of points,” Heath said.

In Carlisle, band members first learned how to drill using lines mapped out on a football gridiron. For the Netherlands, they were forced to change their tune after finding out months in advance the field in Kerkrade had no such markings.

“That was our biggest challenge,” said Victoria Wonders of the Class of 1970. A Carlisle native now living in Dillsburg, she was the drum major of the band during its historic summer trip to 11 European counties in 32 days.

The solution to the no-lines format was to design a show where the band front members served as reference points, said Wonders whose maiden name was York in high school. But there was another adjustment the band had to make during practice sessions in Carlisle leading up the July departure.

Whistles were banned as a signaling device during the parade competition of the music contest so the Carlisle students had to learn an elaborate silent command system to march around a track in step with the rhythm of the drum major’s mace.

“Band members became like family,” Wonders said. “You really felt like you had brothers and sisters because we were doing it together.” All that practice paid off.

Carlisle had not only defeated other high schools, but semi-professional and professional ensembles to earn the gold medal in all three categories of competition – show band, parade and a concert performance.

“We really didn’t know what we were up against,” Wonders recalled. “We went into this for the experience of participating. I really don’t remember any pressure for us to be first.”

Opportunity of a lifetime

The 1970 trip to Europe was the opportunity of a lifetime made possible by band director Clyde Barr. The status of Carlisle as the champion of many regional competitions encouraged Barr to apply for a slot in the invitation-only World Music Contest.

So as not to raise the hopes of band members Barr kept the application a secret as he worked behind the scenes to gather support from the school board and boosters club. In November 1969, he asked the students and their families to attend an assembly in the auditorium of the Swartz intermediate high school.

Band members knew they were going on a trip, but expected the destination to be Florida, California or some other domestic venue. “When he told us we were going to Europe, there was just an incredible eruption of surprise and joy,” Heath recalled. “Everybody was just hugging one another. It was just an unbelievable opportunity.”

But it came with a price. Every band student had to pay $200 to participate in the trip – the equivalent of $1,200 in today’s money. The band boosters had to raise another $70,000 or the equivalent of $431,665 in less than eight months.

“We had to raise more money than any other organization ever raised,” Heath said. “We all had to participate in fundraisers. We did everything from hoagies sales to pizza sales to washing trucks to doing odd jobs in the community.”

Everything each band student earned went into the general fund for the trip. The booster club had a large musical note on the Square serving as a barometer to show the public the progress of the fundraising effort.

Thirty-three thousand hoagies were manufactured assembly line style in the high school cafeteria and sold to the community-at-large. The students even delivered the sandwiches to sportsmen during the hunting season.

“I can still smell the onions,” Wonders said of the hoagies. “They were a great money maker. We felt the community rallied around us. Every time we had a fundraiser we had a great turnout.”

Students who could not afford the individual rate could participate in a phone chain where the public was invited to call in job requests. Some band members worked in apple orchards while others did yard work. Victoria Wonders was hired by a family to serve food and wash dishes on Thanksgiving Day 1969.

“Everybody was able to earn money that way so nobody was left behind financially,” Wonders said. “I was so self-absorbed by what we were trying to accomplish, I was oblivious to other things going on at the high school. We did a lot of work on weekends and during the week. It was something you had to dedicate yourself to.”

Band practice was every weekday before and after school and every Saturday. Parents got behind the effort by lining up their cars around the field with the headlights on so the students could practice at night.

Sightseeing

For many, it was their first time overseas. By the time they landed in Holland on July 23, 1970, the students were so exhausted from the excitement and jet lag that most of them slept during the canal tour of Amsterdam.

The 89-member ensemble was in Europe until Aug. 21 touring Western Europe in three buses towing trailers loaded with their instruments, uniforms, equipment and luggage.

They played concerts in music halls, town squares and on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They performed for U.S. servicemen in Germany, had a snowball fight in July in the Swiss Alps and rode the gondolas of Venice.

The most moving experience for Wonders was to place flowers at the grave of Gen. George S. Patton Jr. in Luxembourg. He is buried with many of his men who died in the campaign to liberate Europe during World War II.

“To look out over that cemetery and to see all the people who gave their lives for our freedom…It was just so touching,” she recalled. “It really made a connection to what people had sacrificed.”

The last stop was Carlisle, England, where the students saw a castle that closely resembled the old Cumberland County jail at the northwest corner of Bedford and High streets in their hometown.

The Carlisle High School band returned to Pennsylvania as conquering heroes on Aug. 22, 1970. “There were school busses filled with McDonald’s hamburgers and milkshakes for everybody,” Wonders recalled.

The whole way to Carlisle there were local residents holding up signs and banners to welcome home the world champions. Hundreds of people packed the Thundering Herd football stadium that night to honor the band.

Remembering legacy

Every five years since that eventful summer, there has been a reunion of these band members and every single time Clyde Barr has been the guest of honor. The last reunion was held in August 2015.

Last year the Reunion Committee initiated a project to restore and preserve two historic flags that were an important part of that long ago trip overseas. Both flags were deteriorating. The first is the high school band flag Clyde and Lyn Barr had designed in 1966. It had accompanied the band in performances from 1966 to the early 1980s.

The other flag was presented to the 1970 band in Holland after their world championship performance. The hand-painted flag shows the festival logo and wording proclaiming the top honor.

The Cumberland County Historical Society put committee members in touch with a textile conservator who cleaned and repaired both flags before mounting each on a stiff archival backing. The flags were then turned over to Pat Craig Studios in Carlisle where they were sealed in frames behind UV protective glass.

Both flags will be re-presented to Carlisle High School during the May 5 spring band concert. The flags will be put on display in the high school band room and the Clyde and Lyn Barr auditorium lobby.

“Carlisle has a long history of music,” Wonders said. “We didn’t want to see a part of the history go by the wayside.” Band alumni raised $2,500 to preserve both flags.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com

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