Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A 60-minute Ceremony that Took a Year to Prepare [1960 VIII Olympic Winter Games]

04.26.11 - The Opening Ceremonies of the VIII Olympic Winter Games lasted approximately one hour— but it took almost a year to prepare for that eventful 60 minutes!

It's a story that began in March 1959, with the first preliminary meetings between officials of the Music Educators National Conference and members of the Pageantry Committee.

At that time, authority was delegated to the California and Nevada Music Educators Associations to work with the Pageantry Committee in "amassing 2,000 or more trained singers and 1,250 or more trained instrumentalists from the public high school choruses and bands of California and Nevada to perform in the Opening Ceremonies."

Authority and achievement, however, are worlds apart. What followed were months of contacting band directors and choral leaders; applications submitted to the screening committee; selection of the "cream of the crop" among applicants to participate in the Ceremonies; hours and days of local and regional rehearsals; long hours of work to earn the money to get to Squaw Valley, and finally, "opening day" at Squaw Valley.

There was another side to student preparation in the pageantry story— the Olympic Torch. At a casual glance, transporting the Torch, symbol of international athletic competition between the nations of the world, would seem a simple matter. It could be flown directly from Morgedal, Norway (the "cradle" of winter sports) to Reno and thence to Squaw Valley.

But in the traditional Olympic spirit, the Pageantry Committee enlisted the aid of hundreds of runners from member high schools in the California Interscholastic Federation to carry the Torch some 600 miles through California to the site of the Games. More than 700 high school athletes and several Olympic track and field champions participated in relaying the Olympic Torch from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum— site of the 1932 Summer Olympics — to Squaw Valley.

This, then, is the basic "book" on the Opening Ceremonies pageantry. But the chapters of that book are filled with many dramatic moments in the overwhelmingly successful story of the preparations — and performances— that turned "authority" into outstanding achievement. And each and every one of the high school bandsmen, singers and athletes who took part turned in a Gold Medal Performance!

The Band and Choral Story

When the applications to participate in the Opening Ceremonies were mailed out, in the Fall of 1959, more than 30 bands and 70 choral groups from high schools of California and Nevada applied to be included in the mass band and chorus performance.

After long hours of listening and studying the recordings submitted by more than 100 high school groups, the committee, under the direction of USC's Dr. Charles Hirt, made its selection of the "cream of the crop" — 18 bands and 37 choruses from the two states.

Meanwhile, the selection and arrangement of choral and massed band numbers was being completed. A copy of the original Olympic hymn was discovered in Japan, translated from Greek into English, the music re-written and re-orchestrated. A special arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner was prepared. An original composition, "These Things Shall Be," was written, arranged and designated as one of the selections included in the Opening Ceremonies repertory. The others: "God of Our Fathers," "March of the Olympians," and "Conquest"

Finally, in mid-December, several key members of the Pageantry Committee gathered at UCLA. There, under the batons of Choral Director Hirt and Clarence Sawhill, Band Director, recordings of both the vocal and instrument numbers were made. By early January, arrangements were in the hands of choral and band directors at each of the individual schools.

Now the 3,680 students were ready to roll up their sleeves. Practice sessions— including 20 hours and more — were carried out on an individual school basis in 46 California schools and nine more in Nevada.

Late in January, Hirt and Sawhill became travelling musical ambassadors. In Reno, San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles, bands and choruses gathered for regional rehearsals. In less than a day's time, they were integrated into "one band" and "one choir"— at four locations separated by many miles. But the major hurdles still lay ahead.

Practice and local rehearsals were not the only job assigned to the students: they also had to earn their own transportation money to Squaw Valley. Many of them sold newspapers and candy, or worked nights at local stores, to earn their way to the Games.

Complicating the situation, there had been no dress rehearsal of the 1,322 bandsmen, or the 2,358 choir members, as single units— let alone a run-through with all 3,680 together. And the Opening Ceremonies were soon to begin.

On February 17, at Squaw Valley, Sawhill directed the combined bands in a full rehearsal. A few of the choral groups were also on hand. But the big dress rehearsal, the final tune-up, awaited the morning of February 18.

And of course it snowed. With a world-wide audience awaiting the verdict of whether the United States would prove to be an efficient, imaginative, enthusiastic host for the Winter Olympic Games, the snow came down in blizzard proportions.

The rest is history: the "warm-up rehearsal" that warmed few, the performance during the Opening Ceremonies that warmed the hearts of the world!

"It was," said Army Archerd in the Hollywood trade publication Variety, "the greatest show on Earth"

"It was," said John Garland of the International Olympic Committee, "one of the deciding factors in making the Games so successful."

"It was," said Cholly Angeleno in the Los Angeles Examiner, something that "Those who witnessed ... will talk about for years to come."

Perhaps Band Director Sawhill summed up the role of student participants as well as any other: "I have had occasion to work with and observe music students in 12 countries of Europe, Canada, Mexico, 48 mainland States and Hawaii. But on all these previous occasions the horizon had been limited to the locale.

"At Squaw Valley," Sawhill continued, "the purpose of performance was of world-wide proportions. I could tell that the students and their high school directors sensed this as I started working with the bands in small units. The universal language was coupled with the courageous spirit when the students stuck to their posts even through the storm."

The true spirit of youth that could not be daunted— a Gold Medal performance!

Olympic Torch Relay

Still another drama of major proportions began to take shape on January 31, 1960 at Morgedal, Norway, the renowned "cradle" of winter sports. With King Olaf in attendance, the Olympic Torch was sent on its way to the Winter Games.

Waiting in the wings for their cue to come "on stage" were 700 runners who were to convoy the sacred flame of international athletics safely through the State of California into Squaw Valley 19 days later.

If the spirit of the Olympic Games were to be capsuled, few better examples could be found than that of the runners from California Interscholastic Federation schools who participated in carrying the flame to its huge tripod in Squaw Valley.

For here were high school athletes— each of whom had trained for the one-mile he would run by carrying an eight pound shot-put in "practice" sessions—insisting on running in T-shirts and track shorts in spite of cold and wet weather.

As they ran, these CIF athletes were also kindling the interest of the people of California in the Olympic spectacle, bringing home to them the tremendous unifying spirit of the international competition about to unfold in the California Sierras. All along the 600-mile route, people lined the roads to catch a fleeting glimpse of the flame— perhaps seeing in it, and in the athletes who carried the torch, the hope for world peace through spirited but friendly competition among men and nations.

Radio reports, newspaper pictures and stories, and television newsreels carried this same message into homes throughout the United States and into many parts of the world.

School buses brought small children to the roadways to pass the message on to the generations of tomorrow. Many cities themselves joined in the Pageantry of the Olympics with special ceremonies heralding the arrival of the Torch. Bands assembled to play for mere moments as the torch passed. In smaller towns, residents lined the streets and passed the torch from hand to hand through the community.

Kudos were in order, too, for the California Highway Patrol, which assigned many of its top officers to escort the runners on their internationally-important mission. Patrol cars sped ahead of the athletes, heralding their impending arrival, and also cruised along as a rearguard protective unit.

From Norway by airplane the Torch came, to Olympic shot-putting champion Parry O'Brien at Los Angeles International Airport. Thence by helicopter to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, site of the 1932 Summer Olympics. On to Glendale and Burbank in the pouring rain. To Gorman, 4,100 feet up on the Ridge Route on the third day. To Bakersfield and Delano, Tulare, Roseville, Modesto, where the tripods were as big as the one at Squaw Valley.

To Stockton on the ninth day, where it was carried aboard the yacht "Adventuress" Fleet Ship of San Francisco's Great Golden Fleet, to San Francisco for ceremonies at the City Hall; and on to Sacramento, where California Governor Edmund G. Brown officiated in special events on the steps of the State Capitol. Finally to Donner Pass, Emigrant Gap and the top of Papoose Mountain.

When Olympic ski champion Andrea Mead Lawrence sped down the slopes of Little Papoose, and Olympic speed skating champion Ken Henry relayed the flame to its destination, the 1960 Olympic Winter Games were underway.

But as they raced along the roadsides of California, 700 high school relay runners had performed a feat perhaps rivaling the actual lighting of the flame itself in importance: they had brought the spirit and meaning of the Olympics to the people of California and America.

From The Pageantry Story, February 1960.

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