top of page

ABOUT US NOW AND WHERE WE CAME FROM

The MVHS Band Program is under the direction of Daisy Cardona and Jacob Scherr. With a band enrollment that averages 150-200 students, the program now includes the marching band, three concert bands, two jazz bands, a percussion ensemble and several instrumental chamber ensembles.

The Band Program at Mount Vernon strives to maintain a balanced program in all facets of music education, including the development of the individual musician. Over the years, the Mount Vernon Band program has consistently produced excellent musicians who are in demand by colleges and universities throughout the Northwest and many parts of the country.

The tradition of excellence held by the MVHS Band program is developed through the hard work and dedication of current students, past members, our private instructors and directors and is proud to represent our school and community.

DIRECTORS

 

2022 - Present: Daisy Cardona *CoDirector

2015 - 2022: Omar Ordonez (7 Years) *CoDirector

2013 - 2015: Dr. Matt Frost (2 Years) *CoDirector

2012 - 2013: Dr. Maggie Weitzel (1 Years) *CoDirector
 

2009 - Present: Jacob Scherr (15 years)

1993 - 2009: Mark Condran (16 Years)

1976 - 1993: John Babraitis (17 Years)

1971 - 1976: Greg Tieman (5 Years)

1954 - 1971: Elvin Haley (17 years)

1951 -1954: Charles Easton (3 years)

1919 - 1950: Harry Steele (31 years)


 

A HISTORY OF THE MOUNT VERNON SCHOOL DISTRICT

INSTRUMENTAL PROGRAM 1919 - Present

 

Preface by Harry Steele

               This history of the Mount Vernon band program was compiled by three former band directors. It was started in 1966 by the late Harry Steele and published in the Washington Music Educators Journal in 1968 when the National Conference of MENC was hosted in Seattle. The President of the Music Educators National Conference was a former student of Harry Steele and a graduate of Mount Vernon High School.

               The original article was found a few years ago and at the urging of the state music educators group Elvin Haley and John Babraitis brought it up to date so it could become the first complete history of a band program in the State of Washington.

               The support of the community for its music program has played an important part in the success of the instrumental program in Mount Vernon for seventy-five years. I am always amazed by the number of students who continue to study music beyond high school.  It is a continuing reward to the music educator to see love for music and performance handed from one generation to the next.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Collected by: H.D. Weldon, Past Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator

 

 

CHAPTER 1: HARRY STEELE, 1919 - 1950

 

RECOLLECTIONS OF HARRY STEELE

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MOUNT VERNON MUSIC SYSTEM 1919-1950

               August 15, 1919 I arrived in Mount Vernon from Libby, Montana on the advice of Arthur Miller of the Pacific Music Company of Seattle. We had bought all our instruments from the Libby High School Band from him and had become very good friends. He wanted me to come to the coast where he felt that I would have a better opportunity for expanding the high school band idea.

               There had not been a band of any kind in Mount Vernon for many years. My first contact was a man who owned a jewelry store. When I told him what I had in mind, he said, "Sonny Boy, you had better leave town. These people would not pay thirty dollars a month if they could get Sousa's Band." he told me Mr. Elmer Nailor, owner of the drug store of that name, had played in a band at one time, but he was sure that he also would tell me the same thing. However, Mr. Nailor proved to be very enthusiastic concerning my ideas. He was a booster in the Chamber of Commerce and introduced me to Dr. Cameron of the Mount Vernon Herald, who was also a great booster for Mount Vernon.

               At length, we were able to find enough men to make up a fourteen piece band. Most of these men had played cornet. We could not make a band of all cornets so the next problem was to shift them around for band instrumentation. This we succeeded in doing and, in a few months, the people of the city began to show interest. After two years, the Camber of Commerce purchased us a set of uniforms. The band now became of some importance in the county and we picked up  a considerable amount of money from the county fair and other jobs. Most of the money was turned in to the treasurer for better instruments. We led the First Tulip Festival in Bellingham; played for the dedication of the Peace Arch at Blaine; performed every year for the island County Picnic which was fighting for the construction of the Deception Pass Bridge; and supported many other civic functions.

               During this time I worked for the Carnation Condenser to support my family, which was still living in Libby, Montana. For five months I went to work at six o'clock in the morning and got off at three in the afternoon. This gave me from three until ten or eleven o'clock at night to get the city band going. My family came just before Christmas and I gave up the job to devote all of my time to music.

               Now for the high school bands. Small town bands always had to depend more or less on "floating" bandsmen. Therefore, these organizations were always up one day and down the next. Just when they thought they had a band, someone would quit or get a better job and leave town. As a solution to this problem, I conceived the idea of building up music through the school system by starting a band there as a training school for the city band.

               After months of work with the city band I contacted Mr. C.A. nelson, superintendent of the Mount Vernon Schools, and I presented my plan to him. He was not interested, but referred me to a member of the school board and from there I made several other unfruitful board contacts. Finally I was sent back to Mr. Nelson who consented to give me the opportunity to talk to the high school student-body-- if the principal were willing and could find time for such an assembly. After dragging along for several weeks with nothing happening, I told Mr. Nailor my troubles. He took me over to the bank where Fr. Frank Jenny had just started to work. Frank had been football coach before he entered the First World War and, after returning home, had become very influential in town. Mr. Nailor introduced me to Frank Jenny and I told him what I had in mind. He said, "I will get you an assembly right now if you wish." I did not miss that opportunity. He took the phone, called the Principal, told him what we wanted. The Principal said, "sure, bring him right up and we will have the assembly ready for him." Frank gave the students a long pep talk and then introduced me. After explaining my plan, I asked those who were interested to meet me after school. Twenty-five boys signed up. Now we faced another problem -- getting the parents to buy the right kind of instruments for good band instrumentation. The only music store in town handled mostly pianos but had been taking in band instruments of different kinds -- many of which were antiques that were high pitch, while the whole country had gone to low pitch (the difference of one-half tone). The brass instruments could be adjusted by pulling the slides, but the obsolete clarinets could not. I had to tell the students to buy the brass, but the large number of clarinets could not be used. When the dealer heard of this he called me in to the store. I explained the trouble. He said he had never heard of such a thing and would sell them anyway for the kids would never know the difference. So here was a new trouble. He would sell a student one of those clarinets and I would have to send it back. He would then tell the student that Steele wanted to sell them a more expensive one so that he could make a commission. This went on for two or three years.

               Finally, to complete our original band instrumentation, I called on my old friend of the Seattle Pacific Music Company, Arthur Miller. he agreed to furnish the students all they needed at the lowest possible price if I would collect the installments and stand good for the payments. I did this and, bless their hearts, not one of the boys failed.

               Having acquired the instruments, the problem was to find a place for full band rehearsal. The high school occupied the upper floor of the Rossevelt School and that was all the room they had. The Methodist Church had a gymnasium in the basement which the school had rented some time before the basketball practice. I hunted up the minister and, after explaining my problem, asked him if it would be possible for us to rehearse in the church one day a week after school. He was quite favorable, but sent me to talk to one of his board members. The Gentleman was not very friendly to the high school students. He said they had had enough trouble with them and he could not give his consent. So back I went tot he minister. I told him that, if he could arrange this for me, I would have an extra key made for the basement, would let the band in, see that everyone was out and the church locked when we left. And if there were any damage to the church I would be personally responsible. I called him the next day and permission was granted. The next thing was to find a place for individual instruction. Mr. Smith, the school janitor, was a neighbor of ours and his two sons were in the band. So he was very glad to give me a place in the school boiler room for his work (Later an oil burner was installed and we practice in the coil bin).

               Now we were in business!! The students were very enthusiastic about their band and worked hard. Because they were not satisfied with what they got in school, many of them came to our house evenings and Saturdays. By Spring Commencement, which was held in the Mission Theatre, we played three pieces which were accepted very favorably by the parents.

               My Service this first year were without cost to the school. The Chamber of Commerce paid me seventy-five dollars a month, and, by playing in a dance orchestra and taking a few pay students out side the school district, I was able to support my family. In the summer of 1920 a committee from the Chamber of Commerce called on the school board and requested them to pay me seventy-five dollars per month for nine months. This committee, consisting of Carl Jones, Harry Hammer, and Elmer Nailor, made their statement and then introduced me. I gave the board my idea of building up community music through the school system. At this point, Mr. C.A. Nelson, who was opposed to the idea in the beginning, got up and told the committee, "Mr. Steele told me he had played in a regular army band for three years. I figured that any man who would stay in the army that long was no good. But, now that he has proven himself, it is all right with me to spend this amount of money."

               Our first job was to play for the Knights of Pythias convention in Mount Vernon. The lodge gave us a banquet and twenty-five dollars. The next year their convention was held in Bellingham and they wanted us to play. They gave us a start on uniforms with a set of caps to which the students added green and white sweaters. The music letter was designed by my wife's sister, Velma Bess, who graduated in the first class from the new high school in 1922. This was the first music letter awarded in the state and was copied, more or less, by many schools as they began to develop bands. It was worn as part of the uniform until 1936-40. After that the band members purchased their own double breasted blue serge suits for the boys and skirts for the girls. Mr. Harry Hammer of Molstad company sold these suits to the students at cost and the school purchased white Navy Officer caps and shoulder cords. These uniforms lasted us until 1949-50, the year in which I retired from the band.

               We were much in need of new uniforms by then. Mr. Joe Reeves conceived the idea of having the student body put on a magazine sale to get money for new ones. This venture was successful and we had the new uniforms for my last concert.

               Through the years the band was involved in several challenging ventures. About the year 1938 we entered the Vancouver B.C. High School Band contest at the provincial fair. The ratings were first, second, and third. We were given first rating over all of their bands and were awarded the large three year trophy. Their contests were held in the fall -- which required maintaining the band all summer, which we could not do. So we kept the trophy for one year, engraved it with a big "Mount Vernon High School Band" and sent it back to Vancouver. When the State Fair was in Yakima, we played one day and received one hundred dollars and one night's lodging. The boys and girls had a great time. In 1940 we were on the Rotary International Convention program in Bellingham. We also played in the Wenatchee Apple Blossom Parade in 1946. There we received honorable mention and a blue ribbon. So much for the city and high school bands.

               At the beginning of 1920-21 school year we started the high school orchestra which was quite an easy task because we had the band wind instruments and there were several violin players in school, including two teachers. At this time an old apple orchard was torn out and the new high school building was started. The band played for the dedication -- which was a grand affair and started all the other cities in the county building schools. To supply players for the high school orchestra, we started an orchestra in the Lincoln Elementary School. Miss Shurwood, the school principal, was a great booster for music. Until the new Lincoln was built, we went back to the boiler room for the private instruction.

               This orchestra started a demand in all the grade schools in the Union High District. First came Conway, then Avon, and all the other small schools in the district. They continued in the program until the schools were consolidated. Mount Vernon's success with instrumental music also started a demand for the same in all the high schools in the county. First was Burlington where I started both the band and orchestra, and directed them for twelve years. In Concrete I taught, but did not direct, for four years. The La Conner Indians got interested when they built their American hail. I organized and trained an orchestra for them every Sunday afternoon until the depression came. In 1930-31 we organized a fine orchestra at Edison High which lasted three years.

               After the crash in 1929, school boards began to say, "we have got to cut the frills out of the schools and music is one of them." One school after another dropped out of the music program until Mount Vernon and Burlington were all that were left. Burlington turned their organization over to one of my best students. Some of the Mount Vernon board members wanted to eliminate our organization also as the depression deepened. I told Mr. Joe Reeves that I would keep the students together without pay as long as we could get enough to live on. He finally managed to get me a salary for one hundred and twenty-five dollars per month from Mount Vernon and Conway. When the worst of the depression was over Joe put me on full salary for all schools in the Union High District. Then we had daily rehearsals for the high school band and orchestra. The rest of my time was given to grade schools. During that time I did all but the major instrument repair for the schools and students free of charge except for extra parts. Since moving to Everett, I have done all of the school string instrument repairs for the Welk Music Company. Which collects repair work from as far away as Sedro-Woolley. After doing this for over thirty years free of charge, it is hard for me to get accustomed to being paid.

               Looking back over the years in Skagit County, we are impressed with the fact that Mount Vernon is a music loving community and that it was only through the efforts of the people there that the music program in the schools is what it has come to be. We are proud to have been a part of the organization of such a program.

 

Sincerely,

 

Harry S, Steele. 1966

 

 

CHAPTER 2: ELVIN HALEY, 1950 - 1976

 

               When Harry Steele retired in 1950, instrumental music was firmly established in the Mount Vernon Schools as well as in neighboring school districts. Mr. Steele did continue with the high school orchestra for two more years. During the 1949-50 school year Charles Easton was acting as assistant director in both band and orchestra and then starting in 1950-51 school year Mr. Easton became full time band director in the Union High School District #1 and also worked in the grade schools of Mount Vernon School District #320 and at Conway School District #317 doing both band and string instruction in grades 5-8. At that time Mount Vernon School district #320 was composed of Cleveland, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Washington Elementary Schools. In the 1952-53 school year Mr. Easton also assumed the directorship of the high school orchestra at which time Harry Steele was fully retired from the three school districts. Mount Vernon Union High District #1 was one of the only two such districts left in the State of Washington. During the 1953-54 school year Charles Easton contracted polio and his wife, Edith, took over the band and orchestra program both at the high school and in the grades.

               In the fall of 1954 Elvin Haley was hired as band director for the high school and for band and string instruction in all of the elementary schools. Up until this year the music program at the Union High School was housed in a room behind the stage. At the beginning of the 1954-55 school year the music department at the Union High School Moved into renovation facilities in the industrial arts building. Also, a new elementary school, Madison, opened bringing the number of grad schools in District 320 to five. Mr. Easton returned to teaching, doing high school orchestra and filling out his schedule with social studies classes.

               As an aside, after the creation of the  Union High School District and consolidation of the elementary schools into District #320, leaving Conway District #317 as a separate district, the instrumental teachers had three contracts, one for each of the districts, and received three checks each month. This continued until the dissolution of the Union High School District at the beginning of the school year in 1967. At that time the high school and the grade schools, with the exception of Conway, became Mount Vernon School District #320 and Conway remained as a non-high school District #317. Following the consolidation Conway bought instruction time from the Mount Vernon School District and the teachers now had only one contract and one check each month.

               Mr. Haley visited each grade school twice a week, doing both band and string instruction for the fifth and sixth grades and also had a daily meeting with he combined seventh and eighth grade students in an orchestra program. At that time there was no band as such until the students reached high school. Mr. Haley also spent three afternoons a week at Conway meeting fifth grade beginners, sixth grade intermediates and seventh and eighth grade combined band. In the fall of 1956 another grade school, Jefferson, was added to the Mount Vernon School District #320 bringing the total number of grade schools to six. By this time the scheduling of elementary instrumental classes  became unwieldy, so the sixth grade intermediate students combined and met twice a week as a band. Because there was no room in any of the grade schools, the district rented the Campfire Lodge next to the YMCA and the students were bussed to that location. In about 1956 the district hired a string instructor, Evelyn Hinds, who also did some classroom general music to fill out her schedule. This allowed Mr. Haley to concentrate on just band instruction in grades five through eight, including Conway, and also allowed the formation of a band program in the seventh and eighth grades at Lincoln Elementary School.

By the 1958-59 school year the enrollment in the elementary schools was overcrowding the facilities. This also affected the band program, particularly at Lincoln with the new seventh and eighth grade band. Again the district decided to move the program out of Lincoln, and rent a Quonset hut from the Christian church across the street. Also at this time, because of the overcrowding, the seventh and eight grades were split between Lincoln and Jefferson Elementary schools, which then necessitated the busing of seventh graders daily to the Quonset hut for band.

               In the late 50's the first annual All-School Music Festival was created. Its purpose was to show students and parents what was being offered to students in the instrumental and choral programs of the Mount Vernon schools. The Festival brought together in the high school gym all of the choirs, bands and orchestra of the district, each group performing two numbers. The program started with the beginning groups and progressed up to the high school groups. This format continued for several years until, as new groups were formed, it became too large to house as schedule in one program. It was then divided into several different nights, one for band, one for orchestra and one for choral. As of the 1992-93 school year the festivals are still being continued.

               By the beginning of the 1961-62 school year it was becoming impossible to continue meeting the fifth grade beginners and the sixth grade intermediates in their own elementary schools. A plan was devised for the two groups to meet before school, at 8:00 a.m., at Jefferson School and then be bussed back to their respective elementary schools. The sixth graders met twice a week and fifth graders divided into woodwinds one day, brass another day and then a second day combined, each student meeting two days a week. Also for several years the fifth graders met one a week in their own building. Conway School was still being scheduled for band and string instruction, using Mr. Haley for band and from the 1960-61 school year, Mr. Norman Graham for strings.

               At the beginning of the 1961-62 school year the high school music program moved from the one room in the industrial arts building to a two-room suite attached to the back of the gym. That gave them one room for choral and one for instrumental which allowed for the scheduling of classes at the same time.

               At the beginning of the 1961-62 school year the seventh and eighth grades were separated, with the eighth staying at Lincoln and the seventh moving to Jefferson. The seventh and eight grade band began meeting at Jefferson, which involved busing the eighth graders from Lincoln to Jefferson and back each day. This schedule continued until the 1968-69 school year at which time the seventh and eighth graders were combined again at Lincoln School: however, because of the crowded conditions, the seventh and eighth grade band people were bused to the high school band room for practice. This situation continued until December 1971 at which time LaVenture Middle School opened and the seventh and eighth grade band finally had a permanent home.

               Beginning in 1962 and continuing until 1969 Harry Weldon assisted in the beginning and seventh and eighth grade band programs. This assignment continued until student growth forced him to assume more vocal and general classes at the middle school.

               In the 1968-69 school year, Elvin Haley had a year's sabbatical and attended the University of Michigan on a fellowship master's program. John Babraitis was hired that year for band and it was hoped that he would continue on as an assistant band director when Mr. Haley returned. But the district did not see its way clear to do this. When Mr. Haley returned Conway had hired their own music person to do all of their music and was no longer part of Mr. Haley's assignment, but there was still plenty to do in the 5-12 band program.

               At the beginning of the 1971 school year Mr. Haley elected to drop the high school band from his schedule but continued with the 5-8 band program, and filled out his schedule with elementary classroom general music. At that time Greg Tiemean was hired to do high school band and choir. During this time the fifth and sixth grade band continued to meet before school at Jefferson. Greg Tiemean left Mount Vernon at the end of the 1975-76 school year and John Babraitis returned to take over the high school band and choirs. At the beginning of the 1976-77 school year, due to crowded conditions in the elementary schools the fifth and sixth grade band was moved to LaVenture School, still meeting at 8:00 a.m. This schedule continued until the end of the 1981-82 school year at which time Elvin Haley retired and the next year John Babraitis was scheduled for the fifth grade band, sixth grade band and the seventh and eight grade band all at the middle school plus the high school band program.

Additional Information: String Teachers

               Evelyn Hinds began teaching strings about 1956; Fred Strom taught strings from about 1958-60; Norman Graham came in 1960 and taught until he retired in 1986; and Sharon Watson started teaching in 1986.

 

Sincerely,

 

Elvin Haley, Retired

 

CHAPTER 3: JOHN BABRAITIS, 1976 - 1993

 

               By the time I came back to the Mount Vernon School District the location of the bands was set for the next 18 years. The only changes I was involved with were the growth of the bands and the program. Just as a preface I might add that during Elvin Haley's sabbatical in 1968 I taught the fifth and sixth grade band program with the help of Harry Weldon, who taught general music at Lincoln Middle School.

After taking over the entire band program it was not long before I needed help. My former student teacher Amy McFeely was hired by the district to help in the elementary band program. Soon afterward Dave Reff was hired to replace her and work with me with the eighth grade band. Also, Sharon Watson, our orchestra director took over the seventh grade band when we had to split them in 1988 away from the eighth grade band. This is where the program remained until my retirement in 1993. This high school program remained structured the same with the three bands.

After my retirement, the elementary bands moved back to the elementary schools with each school having its own director.

 

So, there it is.

 

Sincerely,

 

John Babraitis, Retired 1993

 

 

CHAPTER 4: MARK CONDRAN, 1993 - 2009

 

    Beginning in the fall of 1993 the band program again saw a change with Mr. Mark Condran hired to replace John Babraitis and because of growth in the district an additional music teacher was added for the elementary level. We also had another elementary music teacher also retire that summer so we were looking for three teachers. It was recommended by the Fine and Performing Arts Team  that the elementary band program be moved back to the schools' sites. With three openings we were able to post positions looking for elementary band and general music teachers. Hired for that was Mr. Scott Rittenhouse who would teach band at Jefferson and Lincoln elementary and general music at Jefferson. Ms Denise McCallum was hired as band and general music at Washington Elementary, and Mr. Tim Behrens was reassigned to do band and general music at Centennial Elementary. Mark Condran covered Madison Elementary giving each elementary its own program. By site based the program saw a 50% increase in the number of students beginning in the fall of 1994.

During the 1994/95 school year the voters approved funds to build a second middle school and an elementary to be located on the same site off East Section St. and LaVenture Road. Plans are to see both buildings open no later than the fall of 1997. Additional Staff will be required as Mount Vernon music program moves toward the twenty first century.

 

Harry Weldon, Retired Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator

 

 

CHAPTER 5: JACOB SCHERR, 2009 - PRESENT

ENSEMBLES

concert band performing on stage at McIntyre Hall

CONCERT BAND

Concert Band a non-auditioned ensemble with emphasis on building technique and developing musical skills. Quality of sound, rhythmic precision, scale facility, and musicality will be studies. Throughout the year, the group performs various concerts featuring traditional band literature such as marches, overtures, suites, contest selections, novelty selections and other assorted concert music.

symphonic band performing on stage at McIntyre hall. David Williams photographer signature at top

SYMPHONIC BAND

Symphonic Band is an auditioned ensemble where students will be engaged in learning a variety of intermediate and advanced music literature. Students are responsible for practicing music at home, being prepared to perform the music to the best of their ability in class, and maintaining a properly working quality instrument. The Symphonic Band plays a variety of musical styles and performs several times throughout the year, including 3 home concerts, and the District Large Group Band Contest.  Members will perform with Marching Band and Pep Band during the year.

percussion ensemble performing on stage at McIntyre hall

PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE

Percussion ensemble at MVHS prepares their parts in each instrumental ensemble piece as well as additional pieces they perform on their own. Students who participate in this ensemble learn the difficult intricacies of rhythm as well as the variety of techniques across the vast amount of percussion instruments.

wind ensemble performing on stage at Carnegie Hall

WIND ENSEMBLE

This is the premier wind band at Mount Vernon High School. Sensitivity to outstanding musicianship, historical styles, and appropriate performance practices is required. In addition to the highest expectations as an instrumentalist, your ability to apply intellect and spirit in meaningful ways during rehearsals and concerts is also demanded. Membership in the Wind Ensemble is open to any student of any grade who qualifies through audition. Private instruction is highly recommended. Members will perform with the Marching Band and Pep Band during the year.

Jazz 1 performing at swing night

JAZZ I

This ensemble is our auditioned Jazz group at MVHS. These students prepare more difficult jazz tunes ranging from many styles and genres. These students become more invested in the culture surrounding jazz which adds to their stellar performances.

jazz 2 performing on stage at the Lincoln Theatre

JAZZ II

Jazz II is the non-auditioned Jazz ensemble. These students come from a range of experience levels. This class focuses on the fundamental elements of jazz music as well as educates students on the history and development of Jazz along the way.

MVHS marching band at marching at leavenworth

MARCHING BAND

Our marching band participates in several parades during the school year, including traveling to Leavenworth to compete in the Autumn Leaf Festival. With our distinguished uniforms, the MVHS marching band makes a mark in our community.

Untitled.png

PEP BAND

This ensemble plays at select MVHS Football and Basketball games as well as Assemblies during the school year. Students have a blast hyping up our student body while playing popular tunes and making friends with their fellow band mates.

bottom of page