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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: Marion students took the lead in creating school's first orchestra years ago

BROOKER FAMILY PHOTO

Marion High School’s first orchestra was formed in 1905 — organized not so much by the school as by its students themselves. Initial members were, front row, from left: Stanley Forney (cornet), Mildred Harris (violin), Robert Brooker (clarinet), Marguerite Saggau (piano) and Harry Rogers (snare drum). Back row: Irene Greasart (violin), Lawrence Kelly (bass horn), John Holder (violin), student director C.C. (Charley) Brooker, Willard Tidyman (cornet), Earl Minton (clarinet), Roy Williams (bass drum), and Wallace Magathan (guitar).

The same year in which football became an official school sport, Marion High School also established its first band.

The band’s 1905 founding had nothing to do with performing at halftime of sporting events, however. In fact, it was known by a much loftier name: the Marion High School Orchestra.

It also wasn’t really founded by the school. It was organized and financed by the students themselves.

Established seven years before the year in which the musical “The Music Man” was set, the orchestra had among its first performances accompaniment of a professional traveling show staged at the city’s newly opened Auditorium in the winter of 1905-’06.

The Auditorium, an impressive stage and movie complex situated near the site of the present-day post office, not long after was destroyed by fire.

But that by no means was the only performance for the orchestra, for which students owned their own instruments and, when performing in costume, owned their own uniforms.

Even the sheet music they played from was not provided by the school. Student director C.C. (Charley) Brooker (1886-1983), who went on to become a Wichita-area advertising executive, provided it at his own expense.

Before 1905, the town hardly had been without music. Many community bands — often the pride of the town in the way athletics teams are today — existed, and students often performed in them. But adults dominated such groups, and the 1905 orchestra was the first officially recognized as being for students only.

The new student-run orchestra made far more headlines in its first year than did the equally new football team.

“The high school orchestra, under the leadership of Charley Brooker, is doing splendid work,
the Record wrote in January 1906. “It is an organization of which the school and the town should be proud. Their proficiency has been the subject of growing remark.”

The orchestra also performed in its first year at a school waltz, at the senior class play “Brother Josiah,” at a reception for a newly arrived minister at First Methodist Episcopal Church, now Valley United Methodist, and at the high school’s commencement, where the class motto, translated from German, was: “We learn not for school but for life.”

An outdoor concert on the school grounds by what the Marion Headlight termed the “quite noted” orchestra followed in June.

New uniforms also were purchased that year.

“The orchestra is doing splendid work,” wrote the Headlight, which three years later merged with the Record. “The orchestra is now fitted out with white coats, which give them a very natty appearance.”

The following school year, even after Charley Brooker’s graduation, the orchestra performed for a high school oratory and declamation competition won by the school’s Excelsior Society.

Practices were switched to evenings instead of immediately after school. The orchestra also performed for a meeting of the county’s teachers and provided accompaniment at a school production of the light opera, “The Haymakers.”

Little was written about the orchestra for a few years after that, but the school eventually created and for the most part financed its own band, which continues to this day.

Last modified April 23, 2020

 

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