by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
Last week I was on Instagram following gvbands and Eagle Strong (Grain Valley Marching Eagles). From the photographs I found online, I can tell you the percussion section is larger than the entire band “back in the day” when I was a band student. It started me thinking about our Grain Valley band history. When did band start in our schools? Let me just begin by saying, “I have no idea.”
Without yearbooks, written history is very difficult to find in a small town. When the first yearbook was published in 1936, there was no record of a band. But there was also no record of football, or basketball, or glee club either. So rather than tell you what I don’t know, I’ll tell you what I do know.
The photograph is of a Pan American instrument. It happens to be an E-flat alto saxophone which belonged to my father. It was in my attic; however, it will find a new home at the Historical Society Museum next week after I dust off the cobwebs.
According to an emblem inside the case, it was made in Elkhart, Indiana. Formation of the new instrument manufacturing company was the foundation of Conn's effort to develop the student and amateur markets. The company existed between 1917 and ca. 1930, when it was absorbed by its parent company C.G. Conn Ltd. I was always told it was my father’s sax, but it may have originally belonged to one of his older brothers. I assume my father liked football, basketball and baseball more than band because over the years I heard many stories about sports, but none about his musical skills. (And I know he could not carry a tune!)
When I entered high school, our first opportunity to join band, I planned to follow in my brother’s footsteps and play the clarinet. On the first day of class, Mr. Moyer, the band director, asked if anyone was interested in playing a French horn or a saxophone. The only French horn player and both sax players graduated the previous spring. I raised my hand to tell him that we had a saxophone at our house and I was sure my family would loan it to anyone who might need it. I also told him it was “really old” and would no doubt need new pads and new cork around the mouth piece. He ask me to bring it to school the next day…by Friday of that week, I was the only saxophone in the band that year!
I was never a great player, but I enjoyed band and I was 1st chair! Mr. Moyer loved John Philip Sousa and so did I. We had an entire book of his marches and I loved playing them. I also loved “The Victors” written by Louis Elbel in 1898. Many will recognize it as the Michigan Wolverines’ Fight Song, the most popular college fight song in America.
In the fall of 1961, Diane Harmon, a junior who moved to 1st Chair clarinet after my brother graduated, wrote new lyrics to this popular song. And thus, the Eagle’s Fight Song was born!
Go Eagles, stay right in
And fight to the very end
We’re with you all the way
So fight Eagles
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight
Keep up that winning spirit
Might and strong, let’s hear it
Fight, Fight, the whole game through
And cheer the White and Blue
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