The North Hills High School Marching Band is still entertaining hometown crowds in much the same way it did when it started decades ago . There ’ s no fancy high-tech front ensemble equipped with extra percussion and electronics . And the band members still march in a traditional , high-stepping style , rather than the corps style most bands use , where the feet are hardly lifted off the ground .
In fact , Band Director Len Lavelle says , “ As marching bands go , our group is pretty much a dinosaur .” And actually , that seems to suit everyone just fine .
The tradition makes the band unique , and Lavelle notes that audiences seem to enjoy the look . The band members themselves love the style and it reflects that of many Big 10 college marching bands that have also elected to go with tradition .
The NHHS Marching Band in its present structure was created when the communities of Ross and West View were combined to make the North Hills School District in 1948 . The first band director , James Caruso , served from 1946-1960 , and set the tone of band performances for decades to come . In all , there have only been five band directors at the school in its history !
“ Because of the consistency of having only a handful of directors over 75 years , we are very lucky to have many valued traditions remain in the group , like the band festival ,” says Lavelle .
The North Hills Marching Band Festival marked its 60th anniversary in September at Martorelli Stadium , with a performance based on the music of Disney . Nine other area bands performed as well , coming from as far away as Erie to participate .
And this year was the 70th year for NHHS Marching Band to host a band camp for students at YMCA Camp Kon-O-Kwee .
Another great tradition is the commissioning of a new musical work for the band each year , an annual ritual since 1965 . The NHHS band commission series is the longest running series of its kind in the country .
One thing that has been a big change over the years is the school ’ s population , which is now only one-third of what it once was . Despite the overall number of students declining , the band has actually had the largest number of band members in the school ’ s history , with more than 200 each year .
There have been numerous students from the NHHS band program who have continued on with full scholarships in college and even become professional performers and teachers .
“ But that ’ s not why we do what we do ,” says Lavelle . “ We know from research that students benefit socially , academically and behaviorally through their participation in band .”
The band doesn ’ t compete with other area marching bands , but instead believes the competitive process is to become the best versions of themselves as individuals and performers .
“ If we live well , then we have a chance to perform well ,” he adds . “ The program is here to lift all our students up . I think that ’ s why we have more kids than ever . The music and marching has to be excellent though , because it is the vehicle through which we are all learning about life together .”
Band is also important because it ’ s the ultimate in team collaboration . And “ there is no one sitting on the bench ,” as Lavelle points out .
“ Our goal has been to honor the traditions that we have been entrusted with , but share them in a way that is meaningful to students today ,” he explains . “ Despite all of the challenges that our students have been facing , they continue to accomplish amazing things together .”
Last year , the North Hills band program was recognized by the National Band Association as one of only three Program of Excellence Blue Ribbon Award winners in the country . And at the end of September , the NHHS Wind Ensemble won the 2021 American Prize for band performance among high school students . n
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