The Steamboat Springs High School Ski Band 1935-2005

By Isbell, Daniel | Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, October 2006 | Go to article overview

The Steamboat Springs High School Ski Band 1935-2005


Isbell, Daniel, Journal of Historical Research in Music Education


Nestled at the foot of the Zirkel and Sarvis Creek Wilderness areas in northwest Colorado sits the picturesque resort town of Steamboat Springs. The largest town in Routt County, Steamboat Springs has a population of approximately 10,000 residents. (1) Cattle and sheep ranching, together with hay and wheat farming, have been major economic sources for many years. (2) No activity, however, provides as much economic support to contemporary Steamboat Springs as tourism. The primary reason tourists flock to Steamboat Springs is an activity that has been integral to the lives of generations of Routt county residents: skiing.

In 1914 Carl Howelsen organized a Winter Carnival as a means to promote skiing and celebrate the winter season. The week-long festival continues to this day and has become a major part of the town's culture. Taking place during the second week of February, the carnival features ski races, ski jumping, chariot racing, street events, a shovel race, dog sled pulls, skijoring, and fireworks.

None of these events, however, can rival in attention and uniqueness the high school band's performance in the Diamond Hitch Parade, which traditionally takes place on the last day of the carnival. Every year since 1935 members of the Steamboat Springs High School band put on red wool uniforms, get out plastic mouthpieces, lubricate their instruments with no-freeze valve oil, attach shortened Nordic skis to their boots, and ski down Lincoln Avenue to the delight and amazement of hundreds of people.

Literature Review

It is possible that Steamboat Springs High School is not the only school in the country that has a novelty-type ensemble that performs on a regular basis. However, a search of several databases (ERIC First Search, RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, International Index to Music Periodicals, Dissertation Abstracts International, and Music Index) did not return any literature concerning novelty bands in public school music programs.

In order to formulate a perspective from which to learn more about the unique Steamboat Springs high school ski band, the following literature review examines school band history and culture, and the relationship between public school music ensembles and their communities.

School Bands and Community Relations--A Brief History

During the late-nineteenth century, outdoor professional band concerts led by such conductors as Sousa, Pryor, Conway, Liberati, and Creatore helped increase public interest in band music. The events became popular throughout the United States, but instrumental music had yet to reach the public schools. (3) At that time most public school music programs were limited to vocal music. (4) Lee's detailed account of music education and rural reform shows how, at the turn of the twentieth century, music began to be viewed as an important social tool because it promoted discipline and religious virtue. (5) After 1900 university teachers and rural reformers began organizing music education in rural schools and communities. With these new music education programs came community performances by local children. The growth of instrumental music in the schools was rapid during the 1920s and 1930s, driven in large part by instrument, uniform, and publishing companies. (6) By the mid-1930s, music education in the Steamboat Springs schools included a high school band and one of the most unique ensembles in the country.

School Culture

Morrison examines cultural themes such as identity, transmission, social dimension, organizational hierarchy, traditional song, and traditional performance practices. (7) He believes that student performing ensembles offer students an opportunity unlike any other in the schools for celebrating both diversity and unity. According to Morrison, school ensembles are "guardians of their own specific culture," and he argues that the most formal manifestation of ensemble membership occurs at performances when members wear uniforms and present themselves to the public.

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