A Pioneering Venture . . .
One of the first, if not the first, known conference-wide music festival for elementary and junior high students was organized by Lyle Hamel in 1957 while he was serving as band director at Forest Lake Academy in Florida. While there, he started a band program in the grade school in nearby Orlando. Following a joint concert with that group and his academy band, he was inspired to start a festival that would bring together students in Adventist music programs in Florida for a weekend of concerts. How the festival started and what happened at this historic event isdescribed in the following excerpt from Strike Up the Band, Hamel's unpublished autobiography.
Several schools in the Florida Conference had small instrumental ensembles and choirs. The thought came to me that it would be nice if all these musicians could get together in one place and play in a large band and choir. This would help them realize that they were an important part of a larger education program in the conference.
The Academy facilities were the only place where this could be done. In 1957, after sharing my plans with my principal and gaining his support, I approached the conference educational secretary, Ward Scriven, who, unsure of how his teachers would react, invited me to a meeting of all the teachers to be held in Miami.
I presented my ideas as well as I could, mentioning that the Orlando Elementary Band would be the nucleus of the massed band. I assured them there wouldn't be any problems with favoritism on my part as I worked with the group. I then answered a lot of relevant questions about the details. When I finished, Scriven said they would discuss this further and he would contact me following their meetings, when he was back in his office.
He called some time later and told me the teachers had given their approval to have the music festival at Forest Lake Academy. Then the planning really got underway in earnest. Committees were formed to select the music, and the food director at the school was contacted since all the guests would be eating in the cafeteria. Speakers for the various meetings were selected and, since each school was to have their musical group featured at one of the meetings, scheduling was worked out with each school.
When the students arrived on our campus on a Thursday afternoon, camp meeting tents were in place and other housing arrangements had been cared for, with each school supervising its students. That evening, following a welcome and instructions, we had our first rehearsal.
Everything went smoothly. Friday was spent in more rehearsals. An unexpectedly large audience attended our first public service that evening. The following morning, small music groups played during Sabbath School and the massed choir provided all the music during the morning service.
That afternoon a sacred concert featured more small groups, as well as music by the mass band and choir. A large, appreciative audience responded to Saturday evening's secular program, which featured the mass groups, with great enthusiasm. It was a wonderful affirmation for the music teachers and their students, as well as for the festival. Both the students and teachers were thrilled over the event, the chance to play in a large group, and the fellowship they had enjoyed. The obvious success of this first music festival for the Florida Conference started the wheels rolling for a repeat in the following year. From that beginning, the festival grew and improved during the remainder of my time at FLA.
The festival continues to this day. When the Florida Conference celebrated the festival's 40th anniversary, Hamel and his wife were invited to return as honored guests. ds 4/06