The planting years: 1971-1986
It is not likely that the history of the Quincy choral program has been written, and, one could argue, that it may have not been that significant; but, in fact, it grew to be a powerhouse in the Pacific Northwest.
In contests and festivals, Quincy was always the smallest school represented (about 350 in grades 9-12) but then started winning not just their division (mixed, non-mixed, small / medium sized / large schools) but winning entire festivals (Sweepstakes). The key was that the same person was teaching and knew students grades 4-12, and there was direct communication and continuity with families and a very supportive administration: key factors in the success of any academic, arts, or extra-curricular success.
Prior to 1971, Quincy’s choral program had starts and stops, with no feeder program or continuity from elementary to high school. Quincy was growing quickly with new water and ground developments, new interest in what Quincy was capable of producing, and a renewed sense of community. Curiously, these were linked in development. Unlike large school districts, the administrators knew each other well, worked in tandem with the Superintendent and school board, all for the benefit of each and every student. There were no large (unfunded) federal or state mandates to hamper development; teachers and community were in relative agreement about the joy of learning, and, with the aforementioned financial growth, levies and bonds were stable. It was a remarkable experience to witness and in which to participate.
My first year, beginning Autumn of 1971, I taught 11 classes per day in Pioneer Elementary, Quincy Junior High, and Quincy High School. It more resembled dazed confusion than a merry-go-round. There were two choirs at the high school, but none at the junior high. Instead, there were 30-minute general music classes with a piano stored in the teacher’s room, and pushed down the hall to one of six classrooms. By mid-day, I finished class at the junior high at 1:31 p.m. and was supposed to start classes at Pioneer Elementary at 1:30 (backward time travel), after pushing a piano down the hall into the first of two or three classrooms, for a 25-minute class. After school, it was back to the high school for piano, bass and drum lessons developing a rhythm section to accompany the growing jazz choir.
After the first year, the three principals, Jim Culp, Dick Davison, and Bob Gorman and I met and moved ahead by starting two choirs at the junior high and shifting classes at Pioneer. This model continued until 1986, when we added the Girls Select Choir at the High School.
During this time, we had begun preparing and traveling with choir concert tours. The first were exchanges with other high schools in the state, then in 1978, we prepared and concertized throughout the Bay Area and San Francisco. That event that launched the rapid and quality change in the choral program, grades 4-12 because, brothers and sisters, friends and new arrivals, understood we must prepare quality concerts for audiences of every type. We should share what that first tour entailed.
The Bay Area was chosen over Los Angeles because there was a greater variety of high schools and venues in a smaller area; but, we were simply astonished at the quality and variety we found. Beginning at Castlemont High School in Central Oakland, we found that they regularly traveled all over the world, singing at the White House, before the Queen, for the government of South Africa and Asia. Rounding the South Bay, we performed at a large high school in San Jose, the Veteran’s Hospital in Palo Alto, then into the city and a performance in Chinatown and tour of the area and Alcatraz. The last two high school concerts could not have been more different. In hindsight, we could say it was rather gutsy, but the truth was that we just didn’t know any different.
Lowell High School was the fifth highest academic high school in the nation. It was harder to get into Lowell than Stanford University. It was an exchange concert so we sang for them and they sang for us. By that point, little Quincy’s Spectrum was ready to sing wherever we went, which was a good thing because it prepared us for our last concert at Sunshine High School. While getting into Lowell, students were hand-picked from across the city. To get into Sunshine, students had to have been thrown out of every other high school. As usual, we performed “classic” choral music at the beginning. Three songs, not one person applauded, not even the faculty. We quickly realized that this was not a problem, it was a challenge, which we accepted. Those kids from the country poured themselves into the rest of the concert and by the end we earned three encores and a standing ovation. Leaving in the bus, the choir was tired but bouncing in the seats. Later we found out that the reason there was no applause at first was that no one had ever gone to Sunshine High School to perform, and they did not know how to respond as an audience…until Quincy arrived.
This began a pattern of planning concert tours every other year: three tours of British Columbia; two concert tours of Washington D.C, Virginia, Maryland and regional concert exchanges. There was no place we would not go and sing.
All of this was possible because of the remarkable, steady support of the school district and community. It should be noted that the Quincy school board enthusiastically supported our travel and local performances and operations. That was so encouraging! We never asked for money for the tours, we worked for them. Here’s a partial list of what the community supported:
In 1983, we brought five Seahawk players to play the Quincy Community basketball team. We held a Q&A event before the game and treated the players as the honored guests they were. A post-event celebration took place at Bill Weber’s house with all players. The choirs netted $2,500.
Countless times, Bill Hauber and Evan Landin offered our choirs free Lamb-Weston French fries to sell. We took orders and delivered them.
Each year, the Quincy Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions clubs generously donated to our equipment and travel plans.
Beginning in 1984, straw baling projects with students and parents baling and selling straw. The last year, summer of 1989, with the European Concert tour and Choral Competition in Vienna, the choir swathed, baled, stacked and sold 1,500 tons of straw…that’s three million pounds!
In 1985 (as I remember) we tore down the Shell station next to Bank of America, hauled and sold the metal to a BNSF railroad car on a Quincy sidetrack (then taken and sold in Moses Lake), excavated two 5,000-gallon tanks, back-filled the holes, and covered the parking lot with gravel. To this day, there are no sink-holes. All of that was coordinated by local farmers with their equipment. Their spirit and hard work was further evidence of the importance Quincy placed on music and the arts. The choir earned about $5,000.
Picking and selling donated cornrows with contracts with Albertsons, Safeway and Larry’s Markets.
Oh, and let’s not forget the forever car washes.
As the choirs grew and quality increased, so did community support. No requests for performances were ever turned down. The junior high and high school choirs accepted sight-reading and music literacy training because they realized they needed it to be able to read and perform music of higher and more challenging skill requirements. There were no complaints, but, instead the growing realization that Quincy was growing into musical par with all schools of all sizes. The better we became, the more taste for higher-level challenges grew. We partnered with a professional arranger for the jazz choir and commissioned and performed music that actually became a state-standard for quality and unique presentation. Our students knew that because when we went to competitions throughout the Pacific Northwest, we regularly heard “our” music performed by other choirs. That validated what the students knew: we were moving up the ladder because others noticed and imitated.
Local community members living and working at that time also contributed to this article.