Yearbook Flip – Battle for the Bands

I’ll let you in on a secret: when researching topics for the Yearbook Flip blog series, I often look to pop culture – mostly teen rom-coms – for inspiration. While usually not as drama-filled, aspects of student life highlighted in movies often line up quite accurately with what is memorialized in the photographs printed in high school yearbooks: homecoming, sporting events, formals, talent shows, clubs, proms, the list goes on. Except in one area: the school band.

I’ve flipped through a lot of yearbooks in the St. Catharines Museum Collection, and I am only now realizing that the school band is often missing from most high school yearbooks in the collection. In simultaneous vigour and care (these are artifacts after all), I flipped through yearbooks across St. Catharines high school yearbooks up until the year 1970 in hopes of disproving my speculation, but could only confirm the upsetting truth: there is little formal record of school bands in our high school yearbooks.

Before I go further, I should note that I have one rule in the Yearbook Flip series: only flip through yearbooks printed fifty years ago or more. I don’t want to expose any awkward teenage pictures of our local blog readers without their consent! This does mean that some established high school music programs, like at Laura Secord Secondary School, were not included in my analysis.

Looking to 1970 and earlier, both the St. Catharines Collegiate Institute and Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School dedicated a page or two to the activities of their school bands in some years, sometimes with detailed description. The 1963 yearbook at Denis Morris Catholic High School even featured their school band, The Majestics, marching in a local parade downtown. However, aside from these special features, most St. Catharines high schools made no direct mention of a school band in most years. Musical instruments are expensive and band practice takes dedication, so perhaps not all high schools had a formally organized band. But surely, music still found a way into student life. So, then why is the school’s musical talent missing from the pages of the yearbooks?

The St. Catharines Collegiate by far dedicated the most amount of yearbook real estate to their concert place. This page is from the 1970 Vox Collegiensis. STCM 2016.24.6
In the 1970 yearbook of Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, a full page spread was dedicated to the school’s musical association. STCM 2016.20.2
The Majestics were also given a full page spread in the 1963 Denis Morris Catholic High School yearbook. Seeing the school band march in a parade in downtown St. Catharines highlights how music can bring people together. STCM 2006.16.5

Well, it’s not really missing. Student music may not have had a dedicated page in the yearbook, but as the unsung hero at the foundation of school spirit, it is rather sprinkled across many pages. Music was central to student variety shows and plays, dances and formals, and sporting events. In yearbook snapshots where students are gathered together dancing or cheering or laughing, you can bet that there is music. Often a band is seen playing the background of these photographs, usually part of a collage of several shots from one event. The musicians captured in these pictures may have been part of an organized school band, or just talented friends playing for their fellow students. Either way, the takeaway here while music provides the beat that pulses school spirit through student culture, sometimes this beat is louder and sometimes softer depending on the era and the school. Up until at least 1970, it seems that the music that filled St. Catharines high schools was certainly present, just more subtle. Still, even if music did not get the recognition it deserved in the yearbook, its rhythm steadfastly played in the background of so much of student life. The below selection of yearbook photos highlights the power of music to bring us together and create connection.

Music would have enlivened the parties organized for the students and faculty of Mack School of Nursing. Here are a few fun snapshots included in the 1953 Mack Data yearbook. STCM 2013.29.23
Most of the acts featured in Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School’s 1964 Variety Show centered around music. STCM 1975.171.13
The 1967 Christmas Assembly at Denis Morris Catholic Highschool featured carols from the school choir. STCM 2006.41.3

So, while the school band, or music in general, may not always have been honoured with a dedicated page in the yearbook, rest assured that it remains at the heart of the soundtrack of student life.

We’d like to call on our readers to help us with what were naming the Battle for the Bands. Help us showcase that music indeed has flowed through the spirit of high schools over the decades! If you have photos or stories of the student band at your high school, please share them in the comments or on our social media! We’d love to share these recollections on a future edition of Yearbook Flip!

Sara Nixon is a public historian and Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.

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