The South Dakota all-state band concert will be held for the 71st time this weekend, with the events unfolding at the state-of-the-art Mitchell High School Performing Arts Center. Nearly 200 of the best band students in the state will be on hand, playing in four different bands.
Those concerts will take place just a few blocks away from the Corn Palace, but it harkens back to the first high school music festival held at the Corn Palace on May 15, 1931.
That was not a statewide event, but it drew 300 chorus singers, along with dozens more students from bands, glee clubs and orchestras. Students from Huron, Madison and Mitchell made up most of the performers, and some of them had performed at music festivals out of state, allowing them to provide some guidance on how to help their fellow students through the rehearsals and performances.
The format is similar to the performances of today, with three-hour rehearsals in the morning, an afternoon program from performers for high school students and the evening show for the public, with all of the band, chorus and orchestra elements combining for a large concert. Directors from Augustana College and South Dakota State College (as they were known then), directed the chorus and band, respectively.
“Both directors achieved able results with the young musicians,” the Mitchell Daily Republican reported on May 16, 1931. “At times, the lack of practice became evident but that was expected. What pleased most of all was the surprising understanding of the compositions and musicianship of the performers.”
The report was struck by the boys who wore dark suits in the chorus and the women wearing “soft but live” colors, with pinks, yellows, greens and blues, a spectacle on what the newspaper said was the first hot night of the summer.
Mitchell school music supervisor Valentine Preston was in charge of producing the event, while Virginia Thomas was the accompanist for the event.
The festival can be considered a forerunner to the current all-state events sanctioned by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, even as it was held 21 years before the South Dakota Bandmasters Association, with all-state chorus and orchestra events also created in the early 1950s. The SDHSAA got involved with music events in 1961.
“For the 1,700 listeners who went to the Corn Palace last night, the concert is marked among musical memories not only as a significant step in the advancement of music culture among youth, but also as a thing of beauty,” the newspaper wrote.
This story was published with the research assistance of the Carnegie Resource Center in Mitchell, located at 119 W. Third Ave.