This Throwback Thursday, I thought I would share a recent trip I made to the original home of Music for All: Whitewater, Wisconsin. While driving through a cold and snowy Wisconsin late last month, I decided to take a short detour to the quaint town of Whitewater. I can’t imagine what this town looked like during the summers of the 1970s and 1980s, high school students and music educators teaching, practicing and performing. Starting in the summer of 1976, Whitewater became the center of marching music education when McCormick Enterprises took a huge risk and decided to invest in the success of young music students.
As I drove up to Perkins Stadium (originally Warhawk Stadium) in Whitewater, I was overcome by the memories made here. I could imagine the students and fans walking up the large hill to the stadium, overlooking the rolling fields of Wisconsin farmland. Bands of America Hall of Fame band directors Michael Rubino, Bob Buckner and Greg Bimm would be preparing their ensembles for a performance in the Marching Bands of America (MBA) Summer Nationals. MBA clinicians such as William D. Revelli would be providing valuable insight to young music students and band directors. If you were a music student or educator in the 1970s and 1980s, Whitewater was the place to be.
Driving through the small farm town, I wondered, “Why Whitewater?” Whitewater not only served as the home of Marching Bands of America, but also previously hosted the very first Drum Corps International Championships in 1972 and 1973. Both DCI and MFA provided placques to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater honoring the college, which still stand out today on the stadium wall. Last year, DCI providing a fascinating look at the beginnings of drum corps at Whitewater. I also looked to Music for All founder Larry McCormick’s book God Is My Drum Major for more information on Whitewater: “It was a perfect location with a beautiful stadium and facility with dorm housing available at reasonable prices.”
William D. Revelli, Gene Thrailkill and Mike Davis at the 1976 Summer Nationals
Participation in the Summer Nationals and music workshops grew and grew after the inaugural year. The original purpose of Marching Bands of America stands true to Music for All’s mission today to create, provide and expand positively life-changing experiences through music for all. In fact, you may recognize some of the language from MBA’s original purpose statement: “An individual’s choice to participate in the band, and that band’s participation in the broadening experience of competition, is a postive step toward becoming a winner in life.” That’s right, even in 1976, each of the participants was a “winner in life!”
1976 Grand National Champions, Live Oak H.S., CA and director Michael Rubino
Whitewater was home to Music for All during the formative years of the organization. From the decision to move to a fall marching band championship in 1980 to restructuring as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Whitewater was home to some of the earliest memories and first positively life-changing experiences. Still today, Perkins Stadium remains a venue for marching ensembles, including a yearly DCI show and the Wisconsin State Marching Band Championships. Although Summer Nationals ended after 1988 and the Summer Band Symposium moved to Illinois State University in 1992 to accomodate the growing camp, Whitewater remains an important part of Music for All’s story. My short trip to Whitewater was well worth the detour and provided a fulfilling look into Music for All’s earliest history.
Seth Williams is the Advocacy Coordinator at Music for All. Seth is no stranger to Music for All and Bands of America – first as a participant and as an intern in Development and Participant Relations. He is a graduate of Butler University and previously worked in the Broadway theatre industry in New York. A proud alumnus of “The Centerville Jazz Band,” Seth is likely the biggest band nerd he knows.