LENOX — Local leaders have voiced dismay over the suspension this year of a longstanding local tradition during the downtown and Lenox Dale Memorial Day parades.
Because of what School Superintendent Timothy Lee described as "a perfect storm," the Lenox Memorial High School band will be unable to participate in the marches on Monday, May 30.
However, Band Director Jonathan Cade has assembled a volunteer group of about 25 players, mostly members of the middle school band, to march in the parades and perform patriotic selections at the ceremonies that follow.
At last Wednesday's Select Board meeting, Chairman Edward Lane said the absence of the high school band from the parades "is a first in my lifetime."
"When I first heard about it, I was very, very upset," he said, "but I'm mature enough to realize that sometimes there are two sides to the story."
Lane asked Lee to explain, "because I feel it's going to have people up in arms."
"Despite a desire by the school administration and the band director to have the high school band march as they have forever," Lee said, "this year due to a variety of circumstances — some unique to this particular school year, some we've dealt with before — a determination was made by the band director that he didn't think he could have a prepared group ready to march and do a good job on Memorial Day."
Lee listed some reasons:
• Declining participation in the band program this year, particularly in the percussion section.
• A number of students unable to take part in the Memorial Day observances because of other commitments such as athletics and family priorities.
• A challenging series of scheduling issues caused by weather, testing, rescheduling of the high school band concert last Tuesday night that eliminated practice time, conflict with athletic events and the school year calendar involving preparation for senior exams.
"All these factors, and others I haven't mentioned, led the band director to this decision that we learned about a week ago," Lee told the Select Board last Wednesday.
"The school, the band director and the administration all desire to represent the school district and to help the town celebrate this day of respect and civic pride," Lee added.
A similar performance by sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders will be offered, he said.
"They will march in the parade but they're not at the level of expertise yet to march and play at the same time," he said. "They will perform the National Anthem and other patriotic numbers when they get to the end of both parade routes."
"Speaking personally," Lee said, "I'm not happy about it and I think for me, the administration and for Mr. Cade, what this has done for us this year is to point out some shortcomings in the way we prioritize some important events at our school."
"It's something that I can assure the town and this board will be a main focus for us in the coming year so that we won't find ourselves in this circumstance again," he said.
In a separate interview, Lenox Memorial Middle and High School Principal Michael Knybel cited two weeks of Advanced Placement tests this month followed by MCAS exams, rain during the April school vacation that forced rescheduling of some sports events, as well as the Western Mass. track finals to be held on Memorial Day weekend.
"Our year is coming to an abrupt close because of no snow days," he added. "With 220 high school kids involved in everything, we reached our capacity on how far we can bring them in a period of time. It's important that our band marches for Memorial Day, but there's the educational component in the classroom, testing and field trips."
"It's a balance, we're doing everything we possibly can to be supportive of the town and the servicemen who have given the ultimate sacrifice," said Knybel. "We'll make sure we hold it sacred and not let anything interfere with our band rehearsals next year."
"I'm saddened that we can't march but I applaud our kids for coming to the plate with the best they can do," Knybel added. "That's all we ask for from our students every day."
Following the superintendent's statement to the board, Selectman Lane reiterated that he was "very disappointed, unhappy with the school and the situation the way it is. It is too bad."
As a member of the Lenox VFW, Selectman David Roche noted that the organization works hard to raise funds for school scholarships.
"This to me smacks of not being appreciative of the work that we do," said Roche. "I too am very disappointed on many levels." But he noted that he intended no criticism toward the superintendent.
"I just think this could have been thought out a little better, a little earlier, so we could have had some notice," Roche said. "What's a parade without a band? A lot of noisy fire trucks."
In a phone message, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said he found it "somewhat distressing that they can assemble, march down Main Street but not play music along the way. It's seriously flawed, I'm very upset about it; it doesn't make sense to me."
The downtown parade, starting at the Church on the Hill, begins at noon on Memorial Day. The guest speaker at the war monument ceremony will be Lenox native and former resident Larry Casey, a retired Air Force officer and the father of Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer.
The Lenox Dale parade and ceremony is at 8 a.m. on Memorial Day.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.