A lifetime of music
With every forceful or delicate flick of his baton, Dale Cleland compels his band to strike a tone that leaves the audience with a feeling.
As the director of the Lake Oswego Millennium Concert Band and former leader of musical programming in the Lake Oswego School District, the 82-year-old has been wielding such musical powers for nearly a lifetime.
This summer, though, Cleland will pass the baton to someone else.
Cleland will step away from his role as band director after jumpstarting the band in 1999 and keeping the role ever since. In the meantime, the band will perform 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10 at Lakeridge High School and then again May 5 and July 3. For more information, visit lakeoswegoband.org.
"I had no idea it (the band) would have developed to this point. It's wonderful people to work with and they just perform so well," Cleland says. "It's a wonderful way to end my career. It's bittersweet and it's difficult for it to come to an end but my body says it's time."
Cleland's musical itch was sparked many decades ago while watching his father lead the South Bend Central High School band during illustrious coach John Wooden's basketball games.
"The kids were always happy," Cleland says. "It seemed like a great way to spend your life. He (Cleland's father) was a great role model for me."
After earning a Master's of Arts degree from University of Iowa, Cleland followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a band director for a high school in Everett, Wash.
During visits to his parent's house in Vancouver, he would drive to Portland to peruse Byron-Hoyt's sheet music store (which closed after 93 years in 2010). Interested in moving to the Portland area, Cleland would often inquire fellow band directors at the shop about local job openings. Though he heard a job was open at Lake Oswego High School, other band directors dissuaded him from pursuing it.
"I said 'Who will I contact if I want to go to Lake Oswego?' They said 'You don't want to go to Lake Oswego. They don't have any kind of music program,'" Cleland says.
But Cleland was interested in building a program from the ground up. So he took the job and the next year became the music coordinator for the Lake Oswego School District.
When Cleland first started, there were 32 band members at LOHS, seven music teachers in the district and music programs for elementary school students were virtually nonexistent.
"It wasn't a program designed to be very successful," Cleland says.
Three years later, Cleland says the band had 64 students, kindergarten through third grade had a music specialist and additional staff had been hired. Cleland went on to be Lakeridge High's band director and retired from teaching in 1992.
"From the reputation it had, which is 'You don't want to go to Lake Oswego. They don't have any music,' to now, Lake Oswego is one of the leaders in music, not just performance groups but in the classrooms," Cleland says. "It's very gratifying."
The Lake Oswego Millennium Concert Band formed in 1999 and Cleland has been the band's director from the get-go. The band started out with 32 people and had 6-8 rehearsals before the first concert. Now, the band has 72 musicians and includes three ensembles.
"Toward the end of rehearsals, someone said 'Dale, can we just keep this band going? This is a lot of fun,'" Cleland says. "That prompted the conversation amongst the group. 'Yeah why don't we keep this going?'"
As the director of the band, Cleland pours over music for hours trying to find the ideal arrangement for an upcoming show and then puts in requests to music publishers for copies of the musical scores, which can take 1-3 months to obtain.
He says each performance should begin with a resounding opener, followed by a luscious number and then a solo performance. In the final act, Cleland says the band performs a "tune that will make them (the audience) go home whistling or with a smile on their face."
Cleland also works with the school district to book performances, sets up the stage before each show and helps select band members, among other responsibilities. Though he doesn't receive pay, he estimates he works 20-30 hours a week on band related tasks.
"There's nothing that goes into running the band that I have not done," Cleland says. "I love doing it, I guess. It must be."
When it comes to music, Cleland has more of a populist than an elitist attitude. He wants the audience to have fun rather than impress upon them his sophistication.
"Their (the band director's) duty is to please your audience and to make it fun for your band members to play," he says.
Still, the band has achieved notable accolades, once earning the Sudler Silver Scroll Award by the John Philip Sousa Foundation, which Cleland says is the highest award that a community band can achieve.
"It was a real honor for us to be chosen," Cleland says. "It made us step a little higher and hold our heads up a little higher when we were picked for it."
The band is in the process of selecting a new director and two candidates will lead the band for about half the show at upcoming concerts. Though Cleland says the board will have to work hard to fill his organizational responsibilities, he thinks the new director will keep the band performing proficiently.
"I think we have two extremely talented and good candidates so I wouldn't be surprised if there's very little change," he says.
Cleland is excited to spend his newfound free time vacationing and may perform the clarinet or saxophone in the band or conduct a performance again at some point.
His official role as band director band will expire, but his love of music will not.
"There's something about music that is emotional, it motivates you, it brings out the best in people I think," Cleland says. "It's something you can do for your entire life."
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