Mar. 10, 2023 -- On Saturday, February 25, the community gathered in the Heights High auditorium for a concert that celebrated over 100 years of the high school’s instrumental music program and its many accomplishments.
The Heights High Symphony Strings began the celebration with a beautiful performance of Mozart’s Ein Kleine Nachtmusik and Lullaby by William Hofeldt. Symphonic Winds were next to take the stage with Alfred Reed’s El Camino Real and staple of the band repertoire, Second Suite In F for Military Band by Holst. Over 30 alumni joined the current IMD students on the Heights High stage to conclude the concert with the Heights High Alma Mater and long standing school fight song, Heights Victory, both of which were written by band director Jim Bane. The celebration continued at the reception with outstanding performances and improvised solos by the current Jazz Ensemble members and alumni.
Susan Kaeser, a parent of an IMD alumnus, community member and supporter of music and the arts, shared the history of the IMD throughout the concert including its founding and the many ways that it has grown and flourished over the last century. She also emphasized the impact the program has had not only on its alumni, but on the community as a whole.
Cleveland Heights High School IMD History by Susan Kaeser
The first 40 years of the music program established the framework, reputation and traditions that define the Heights High Instrumental Music Program today. As the community and school district evolved, so did the music program. The evolution reflected changes in popular culture, education philosophy, student needs, and American history.
The core of the music program is the three long-standing performing groups: band, orchestra, and jazz band that emerged one at a time between 1920 and 1960. In each case, the group started as a club and then became an official course taught by a music educator. Instrumental music grew from four students supervised after school once a week by a science teacher, to at least six ensembles supervised by two musical experts working throughout the school day and beyond. This is the period when expectations for participation and standards for quality took root. High school musicians attend music class, practice at home, perform for the public, compete and travel. Some march and some demonstrate their advanced skills as soloists. The orchestra and band currently have multiple ensembles reflecting different skill levels, a practice established by the middle of the 1930s. All of these traditions define what the program does now.
Neither time nor music stand still at Heights High. While the large performing groups remain the centerpiece of the program, the directors kept building on the tradition of excellence. The directors offer classes that reflect the students' interests and tastes. And they draw on a wide range of community resources to create new opportunities. For example, in the 1960s Heights had a Folk Music Club and a Modern Jazz Club. In the 1990s African American Music, AP Music Theory, and drum circle were new offerings. Brett Baker introduced guitar as a credit course – something Dan Heim has continued. While the marching band created excitement at football games, and at the time was often the reason people came to the games, in 1985 students started a Pep Band to bring energy and excitement to basketball. Dr. Fred Mayer was credited with “turning the IMD on its head,” when he initiated a chamber music program that has become standard fare in the department offerings and expectations for students.
The alumni of the program demonstrate the kind of impact it can also have on careers, and communities too. The IMD has produced generations of musicians who make their livelihood performing as church musicians, in symphony orchestras, chamber groups, rock and jazz ensembles, or as touring artists. Go to the musical heaven of New York City, or Atlanta, or Berlin, or LA or Hawaii or anywhere in between, you will find graduates of this program who will tell you, it was this place that solidified their aspirations as musicians. They have also affected music education across the region – at the K-12, conservatory and college level and more importantly, right here in the school district they graduated from.
Tijuana Chambers captured the key reason music is in the high school curriculum when she wrote in the 1998 Caldron: “Music is the substance that makes the world go around.”
It is also a great way to learn the value of sustained effort and teamwork, cooperation, and creativity. For some people it launches careers, for others it simply makes life fuller. This program has contributed to the lives of our students, the identity of the community, the reputation of the school district, and to the quality of life in our region.