By Jon Armstrong
This year marks the 60th Sherburne Pageant of Bands, the oldest and largest contest of its kind in the northeastern United States. The pageant has grown from less than a dozen bands in the early years to over three times that amount. The number of spectators has grown from just a few thousand to well over 15,000, and sometimes nearly 20,000. Since the first pageant over 200 different schools have sent bands to compete at Sherburne. While the pageant has mainly featured bands from New York State, others have come from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New Hampshire as well as from such midwestern states as Iowa and South Dakota. The first pageant featured a concert band and parade competition, which are still the mainstays of the pageant. However, along the way other contests have been offered such as jazz band, small ensemble, cadence, color guard, field band, baton twirling and swing flags. Each year the pageant continues to grow and evolve.
While the first pageant was held in the fall of 1949, the Sherburne Pageant of Bands actually was born on the Pacific Island of Okinawa in 1944. Albert Whitney, serving in the Seabees, attended an Easter ceremony which included a full assemblage of troops and a mass service band presentation. The ceremony left a lasting impression on Whitney. Returning to Sherburne after World War II Whitney, and the local band director, Frank L. Miller, began working on staging a similar event for high schools. The Sherburne Fire Department was also involved right from the very start of the pageant. With the additional help of school principal, Thomas Lotz, and fire chiefs Jesse Chantler and Bill Champ, the Sherburne Pageant of Bands became a reality.
THE FIRST PAGEANT
Initially called the Sherburne Band Festival, the first pageant took place on the evening of September 17, 1949. While Sherburne High School acted as host, Earlville, Gilbertsville, Greene, Hamilton, New Berlin, Norwich, Oxford and West Winfield competed for prizes. The parade was held at 6:30 in the evening along Sherburne’s Main Street. It was led by the Sherburne American Legion Color Guard. Norwich, under the direction of Charles Jacobsen, won top honors in the parade, with Oxford placing second. Following the parade was the concert band contest. Norwich placed first and earned a cash prize of $50. Second place, and $35 was awarded to New Berlin, while Oxford won $15 and the third place award. Among the musical selections performed that evening were “The Mighty Midget” by Norwich, “Alegeria” from Oxford, “The Victory March” by Earlville, “The Coast Guard” by Greene amd “March of Liberty” by Hamilton. At the conclusion of the evening South Otselic joined the other bands in a massed band concert. Selections by the massed band included “Salutation”, directed by Aubrey Byer, “Fortuna” directed by Clinton Clark, “Summer Evening Seranade” directed by Richard Smith, “High School Cadets” directed by Bryan Morris and “The Mellow Moon Waltz” directed by Frank L. Miller. Approximately 400 musicians took part while a crowd of about 4,000 watched the performances. With the success of the first pageant under their belts, the committee members immediately began making plans for the following year’s pageant.
The second pageant was held on September 16, 1950 and attracted 11 competitors. Norwich captured first place in the concert and parade competitions as well as picking up an additional award for best drum major. The weather for the second pageant was unusually cold and windy. Shortly after the pageant the coordinators decided to move the competition to the third weekend in June and make it a daytime event. With more bands wishing to enter the 1951 pageant a decision was made to divide the bands into class A for larger schools and class B for smaller schools. In 1952 the pageant coordinators added class C. The weather didn’t cooperate in 1953 as heavy rains passed through the area. However, the 11:30 parade went on as scheduled. An individual baton twirling contest was also added at the 1953 pageant. In 1956 the pageant officials moved the competition to the first weekend of June, where it has remained until today. The 1956 pageant also marked the beginning of awarding a prize for the best color guard in each class. The first winners were Norwich, Oxford and Downsville. 1959 saw the addition of field band and color guard competitions. Both events were held on the fields adjacent to the school. Norwich took the first field band trophy home, while Oxford won the initial color guard award. Throughout most of the 1950's a director’s-judge’s luncheon was held prior to the parade and either a massed band concert or an all star band concert was held at the conclusion of the day.
The 1960s saw an immense growth in the Sherburne Pageant of Bands. Participation doubled from around 20 to 40 schools by the end of the decade. The first Albert Whitney Achievement Award was handed out in 1960. The award went to Norwich, under the direction of William Spang, as the band placed first in parade and second in the field band and color guard competitions. 1961 saw the addition of class AA for larger schools. That year also saw the first competitor from another state-Lake Lehman, Pennsylvania. Other bands from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New Hampshire would follow. A separate class for junior high schools was added in 1965. Also in 1965 a team baton twirling competition was added. Greene won the first title in that event.
In 1965 Frank L. Miller stepped down after many years as the Sherburne High School band director. That year was the first time an outstanding band director award was given. The award, now known as the Frank L. Miller Outstanding Band Director Award, was shared between Joseph Mone of Franklin and Aubrey Beyer. Beyer was a former student of Frank L. Miller. David Harvey of Franklin won the Miller award the next year and Bruce Burritt of West Genesee won the award in 1967, 68 and 69. Winners of the Albert Whitney Achievement Award during the 60's were as follows; Norwich in 1960 and 64, Greene in 1961 and 62, Vestal in 1963, Franklin in 1965 and 66 and West Genesee in 1967, 68 and 69.
Norwich, Vestal, Oxford and Franklin won numerous first place awards in parade during the 60's. Meanwhile, Gilbertsville dominated the class C concert band competition-collecting 5 first place awards. Edmeston and West Genesee often topped the color guard competitions and West Genesee, Vestal and Norwich led the pack in field band.
During the 1970's each Sherburne Pageant of Bands featured approximately 40 bands. There were also rather lengthy waiting lists for band wishing to participate in the pageant. In 1971 the pageant added a jazz band competition. Vestal won the first title in that event. An outbreak of hepatitis in the area forced the cancellation of the entire 1972 pageant. However, the pageant returned stronger than ever in 1973. Numerous out of state bands made appearances at Sherburne in the 70's. These included Shikellamy, Latrobe, Boyertown JHS, East Stroudsburg, Towanda and Lake Lehman from Pennsylvania and Ridgewood, Waldwick, Piscataway, West Essex and Roxbury from New Jersey. In 1975 Hialeah High School from Florida was due to perform, but had to withdraw only a few weeks prior to the pageant. Morning and early afternoon rains forced the cancellation of the parade and field competitions in 1978. Not long after the decision was made to call off the events the sun poked through. Unfortunately, several of the bands had already departed Sherburne.
Winners of the Albert Whitney Achievement Award during the 70's included Vestal in 1970, 71, 74 and 76, Aquinas Institute of Rochester in 1973, West Genesee in 1975, Laurens in 1977, Roxboro Road JHS of North Syracuse in 1978 and Auburn in 1979. Director’s receiving the Frank L. Miller Award in the 70's came from Vestal in 1970, 74 and 76, Aquinas Institute in 1973, West Genesee in 1975, Lake Lehman in 1977, Poland in 1978 and Auburn in 1979. An incredible event happened in 1971 when Lake Lehman, Vestal and Boyertown JHS tied for the award.
Poland and Lake Lehman each took home 7 concert band titles during the decade. Laurens won the same number of parade contests. Vestal placed either near the top or on the top of all of the field band competitions, while North Syracuse and Roxboro Road JHS collected quite a few color guard and twirling awards.
Several other New York State band pageants either folded or declined in size during the 1980's. However, the Sherburne Pageant of Bands continued to attract close to 40 groups each year. With higher fuel prices and an increase of music festivals sponsored by major theme parks fewer out of state bands made the trip to Sherburne. Lake Lehman from Pennsylvania and Hillsboro-Deering from New Hampshire were the only out of state bands to appear at Sherburne during the 80's. However, area bands more than made up the difference. Rain forced the cancellation of the 1982 field band contest and tiny Gilbertsville emerged as the surprise winner of the Albert Whitney Achievement Award. Participation in the jazz band contest saw a dramatic increase during the late 70's and 80's. For many years the pageant featured Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night jazz contests. Whitesboro, Auburn, norwich, Poland and South New Berlin often topped the jazz contests. Lake Lehman dominated the field band competitions. Vestal and LaFayette won several concert band awards. Lake Lehman and Liverpool JHS took home several consecutive parade awards. Richfield Springs won eight straight color guard titles.
There were several different winners of the Albert Whitney Achievement Award during the 80's. Lake Lehman won in 1980, 81, 87 and 89, Gilbertsville in 1982, Mohawk in 1983, South New Berlin in 1984, McGraw in 1985, Richfield Springs in 1986 and Herkimer in 1988. The Frank L. Miller Outstanding Band Director Award was won by Auburn in 1980, lake Lehman in 1981, 88 and 89, Gilbertsville in 1982, Mohawk in 1983, South New Berlin in 1984 and 1987, McGraw in 1985 and Richfield Springs in 1986. 1989 marked the first year for a Junior High School Overall Achievement Award. Liverpool Middle School won that title.
The Sherburne Pageant of Bands entered the 90's with something new. Awards in the parade and concert band competitions were expanded to include a 4th and 5th place trophy. This gave many fine bands the opportunity to take home more awards. By the early 1990's the baton twirling and swiss/swing flag events had all but disappeared. The final winner of the baton twirling contest was North Syracuse JHS in 1991. Sherburne celebrated its bicentennial in 1993. Even though rain came down quite heavily in the early afternoon the parade went off without a hitch. A huge alumni band participated in the parade that year, drawing partitpants from as far away as Alaska. In 1999, the 50th anniversary of the Sherburne Pageant of Bands, Sherburne, Oxford and Richfield Springs entered alumni bands in the parade. The 1999 pageant also saw the addition of class AAA for large schools.
Lake Lehman and Norwich continued to win top honors in the field band contests. Lake Lehman also took home 8 straight concert band awards in class AA. Laurens and New Berlin won quite a few jazz contests. Marion, Sidney, Richfield Springs, Pulaski, APW, Bainbridge-Guilford, Oppenheim-Ephratah, Oxford, Westmoreland, and others won numerous awards.
The Albert Whitney Achievement Award was dominated by Lake Lehman and Laurens in the 90's. Lake Lehman collected the award in 1990, 91 and 92, while Laurens won the remainder. The Frank L. Miller Outstanding Director Award was won by Lake Lehman in 1990, 91 and 96. Laurens took home the award in 1993, 94, 96, 97, 98 and 99. Westmoreland won the award in 1992. The Junior High School Overall Achievement Award went to Liverpool in 1990, 93 and 94, Camden Middle School in 1992 and North Syracuse in 1991, 95, 96, 97, 98 and 99.
Since the 50th anniversary the Sherburne Pageant of Bands has continued to change and grow. The 2000 pageant saw the first of several bands from the midwest. Roosevelt HS from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Sibley-Ocheyedan HS from Iowa picked up several awards. Mitchell, South Dakota attended the 2001 pageant. Oxford won the overall achievement award that year. The 2002 pageant saw the implementation of a percussion contest. The first winners in that event were Norwich, Pulaski, Westmoreland, Richfield Springs and Laurens. Copiague, from Long Island attended their first Sherburne pageant in 2002 and Westmoreland won both the Frank L. Miller and Albert Whitney Awards. At the 2003 pageant the number of participants in the percussion contest nearly doubled. Flandreau HS from South Dakota competed at the pageant that year. Laurens reclaimed the Miller and Whitney award in 2003, which they had also won in 2000. They also won the Miller and Whitney Award in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. North Syracuse won the JHS Grand Achievement Award every year from 2000-2007. Midwestern bands continued to make the trip to Sherburne with North HS from DesMoines and Newton, Iowa competing in 2004, Washington HS From Sioux Falls and Lead-Deadwood, South Dakota in 2008. 2008 saw the implementation of the small ensemble competition. The initial winners in that contest were APW, Bloomfield and Pulaski (in a tie), Richfield Springs, Edmeston and Laurens. 2009 will also see yet another change, with the elimination of the indoor color guard contest and the addition of an award in each class for the best parade color guard. During this decade pageant mainstays such as Norwich, Oxford and Morris were joined by such newcomers as Marathon, Newfield, West Canada Valley and Stockbridge Valley.
From 9 bands and 4,000 spectators in 1949 to over 40 bands and 25,000 spectators in recent years Albert Whitney and Frank L. Miller’s pageant has become a huge success. The Sherburne Pageant of Bands has also become, either directly or indirectly, the inspiration for current similar events in Gorham, Springville, Seneca Falls and Batavia, New York. Other pageants, such as Prattsburgh, Mohawk, Cazenovia, Mount Morris, Canisteo and North Syracuse, New York, as well as pageants in Ridgewood, NJ, Williamsport and Mill Hall, Pennsylvania, which no longer exist, were influenced by the Sherburne Pageant of Bands. The successful New York State Field Band Conference was born in Sherburne in 1972 after a director’s meeting of the pageant.
Past pageant coordinators, such as Frank L. Miller, Frank M. Miller, Mark Turner, Mark McCarty, Roger White, William Baldwin, John Trowbridg and Gary Solomon kept the pageant rolling. The Sherburne Fire Department, countless volunteers and current pageant coordinator, Jeff Manwaring, have insured the success of the pageant.