Big Rapids High School Stage Band

The brass are at the right, saxes and flutes at left, and rhythm section in the middle. The stage band performs in the 1964 Band Follies.
Click the year to see the stage band in 1960, 1962, 1963, or 1964.

The stage band at Big Rapids High School was one of band director Aldie Long's innovations. Formed in the early 1950's, the stage band not only played for school concerts, it played for dinners and dances around the community, and the members were paid a few dollars for their participation.

In the 1950's

Jim Newton, the older brother of Roseville Big Band director Glen Newton, played flute in the concert band and baritone saxophone in the stage band in those early years. Director Aldie Long often had only one person per part, so this gave students like Jim who played in large sections of the concert band the chance to have their own parts in the stage band. This especially applied to playing baritone sax, since the school only owned one, and no student owned his own baritone sax. For a shy student like Jim, this also provided a rare opportunity to perform solos for the public. Dorothy Newton, Jim's mother, recalled how proud she was that Jim developed the courage to play a baritone saxophone solo on "Mississippi Mud" with the stage band.

Besides seeing his brother perform, one of Glen's early memories of the Band Follies is the lighthouse sketch. This gag, done several times during the evening wtih slight variations, consisted of two guys dressed in rain gear walking in a tight circle, one clockwise and the other counterclockwise. Somehow the audience knew that one was ascending the lighthouse stairs and the other was descending. After many revolutions, they bumped into one another, reversed direction, and walked an equal number of revolutions in the opposite direction. Glen didn't think it uproarious but found it rather amusing.

By the 1960's, the stage band performed only for The Band Follies, an annual variety show that featured a stage band playing instrumental selections and backing up vocalists and dancers.

Those band members who didn't play in the stage band, sing, or dance became the technical and production crew for The Band Follies.

In the early 1960's, The Band Follies began with a performance by the concert band. After an intermission, the stage band set up on the stage, as shown above, and the focus switched to popular music. Glen Newton played lead trumpet in the stage band from fall of 1959 to the spring of 1965. By the time he graduated in 1965, the concert band's portion of The Band Follies had been eliminated, and both halves of the production were backed by the stage band.

Each Band Follies had at least two performances, on Friday and Saturday nights. In the early 1960's a third performance was added to accomodate audience demand. Aldie Long was careful to pace the songs to maintain audience interest while taking into account the time that dancers needed for costume changes. Each performance ended with a grand finale, with all of the performers on stage. One year they all sang "I'll Be Seeing You" to end the show.

The stage is full of performers. The cast of the 1963 Band Follies poses on stage after performing "I'll See You in My Dreams". In front of the 19-member stage band are the sophomore girls' trio at left, the senior girls' dance group at right, the boys' comedy ballet group and other featured singers and dancers.

One perennially popular dance feature was the black light number, for which all the stage lights were turned off, flourescent lights on the floor were turned on, and the dancers wore black costumes with patterns, such as butterflies, that would be illuminated by the flourescent lights. For the black light number, each of the dance band members had to play from memory and wear a black cloth over the white band jacket.

Band members demonstrated other talents in the Follies as well. The dance lines were comprised of band members. Cornetist Tony Wood tap danced. Various band members performed skits to entertain the audience. Drummer John King, clarinetist Gordy Brown, and trumpeter Glen Newton joined with singing non-band member Gordy Everitt in The Balladaires. Drummer Eddie Roberts led the Crusaders, which included Glen on bass guitar and non-band member guitarists Dan Kirchner (who also accompanied The Balladaires) and Jon Hansen.

In his senior year, Glen composed a fanfare to open the Band Follies and combined several traditional musical fragments into a selection he called "A Keystone Cops Episode" for one of the dance groups. Rather than complete the notation of the piano part, Glen played piano on the latter selection, which began dramatically with dancer Becky Southworth, in the role of the moustachiod villian, leaping down from the top of the piano and swooping her cape behind her.

The Roseville Big Band concerts in Roseville's Central Park have a lot in common with the BRHS Band Follies, with their fast pace and inclusion of exhibition dancers, vocalists, and featured instrumental soloists.