One Direction: EHS Band Program Continues on Its Path of Excellence

Long-time band director Bill Webb was honored during a tribute concert in October.

Edina High School (EHS) has a leg up on the University of Minnesota—spats and all. Both schools trumpet marching bands, but guess who has more members? Ski-U-Mah Edina! EHS features nearly 350 marchers, compared with the U of M’s 300. Consider the student populations of both institutions, and Edina’s student-to-band-member ratio is worthy of more than just a little toot of the horn.

The marching band, which draws from all the EHS bands, is one arm of the school’s successful band program, which dates back to the early 1950s, with Gale Sperry heading up the first concert band at the former Edina-Morningside High School. Today, the EHS Concert Band has more than 100 junior and senior students.

Over the years, it has performed around the country and the world, including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Beijing. Accolades include the highest rating from the Minnesota State High School League for 62 consecutive years. The National John Philip Sousa Foundation placed it on the national Historic Roll of Honor of High School Bands. In 2005, the school’s music program was designated a Grammy Signature School.

Paul Kile, director of bands and head of the concert, symphonic and jazz 1 bands since 2010, recognizes the influence of his predecessors. “Every Edina Concert Band director has put their stamp of authenticity, raised the bar and maintained the level of authenticity,” he says. “Butler Eitel (hj’53-’64) bestowed on the Edina Concert Band a level of unparalleled excellence that has been a hallmark of the program and a standard yet today,” Kile says. “Ed Melichar (’72-’87) expanded the scope and influence of the Edina Pops Concert for 23 consecutive years while raising the level of playing and exposing Edina band students to the finest repertoire of the band world, as well as the orchestral world, through transcriptions. Bill Webb took the helm from 1987-2010. He maintained and raised the level of excellence of the Edina Band program for 23 consecutive years and was instrumental in growing the program into its current robust form,” Kile says. “As for myself, I bear the burden of upholding this unbelievable tradition of excellence and hope to live up to the high standards and brilliance of my predecessors.”

Webb believes there’s another key to the band’s success. “It’s a matter of a strong foundation in the community for support of the arts,” he says. “There’s been a long-standing tradition of excellence.”

There are a lot of external enticements competing for teens’ already-fleeting attention spans, yet the band program holds steady. “We’re seeing the retention rate, which is awesome,” Kile says of participation figures. “Band is family for many of the kids,” he says. “I think it fills their souls, and they want to express themselves.” For some members, it’s also a chance to find success and participation away from the athletic arena.

Webb credits middle school band directors for helping students through periods of waning interest and encouraging them to continue with music.

For 63 years, the band program has produced the annual pops concert. Open to all Concert Band members, the event is presented in a variety show format. It allows students to perform in front of a large audience, and it has showcased some students’ hidden talents. “It’s a carrot to dangle,” Melichar says, noting the tradition and popularity of the Pops Concert serves as inspiration for the band members.Former EHS Concert Band directors: Gale Sperry (Edina-Morningside H.S.) From EHS: Butler Eitel, Robert Elledge, Edwin Melichar and William Webb. Current Edina School District Band Directors: EHS: Paul Kile and Andy Richter; South View Middle School: Geneva Fitzsimonds, Charles Weise; Valley View Middle School: Chris Gumz, Andy Richter, Melody Snyder; Elementary Schools: Nicholas Ellison and Patrick Mulligan.

The Pops Concert will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 19-20 and Feb. 25-27 at Edina High School. $13 all reserved; $10 adult general admission; $6 student general admission. One-hour Mini Pops is set for 1 p.m. Feb. 27. All seating is $3. Tickets and information available at the website here.