If you are among the fortunate spectators who get to see the annual Hometown Holidays parade tomorrow evening, watch for the Foothill High School Marching Band. Keeping pace with his musicians on the sidelines will be Bob Moorefield, the man who created the band 36 years ago and who has been its guiding force ever since.
This may be your last chance to see him on our local parade route, since "Moorf" (as he is affectionately known by his students) plans to trade his baton for a golf club or fishing pole when he enters retirement in June.
At a very conservative estimate, Moorefield has paced along more than 367 miles of parade routes with teenage musicians from Foothill over the past four decades--enough to march from Pleasanton to Santa Barbara--but that doesn't count all the practice marches, nor the special events when the band was invited out of state and out of the country for command performances. Moorefield has made musical history with his band, as evidenced by an estimated 3,500 glittering first-place and sweepstakes trophies that line his band room and office on campus.
Those of us privileged to have been part of the original Foothill High School faculty vividly recall that we began in 1972-73with an unfinished campus and only freshman students. Helping to shape the spirit of the newly formed school was the band--all 17 members--and Moorefield, recruited from where he had taught at St. Mary's High School in Stockton for five years.
"I liked the idea of starting the music program for a new high school, and I liked the enthusiasm of Neil Sweeney [Foothill's first principal," said Moorefield. "He was a great person to work for--a great band supporter right from the start."
With so few young musicians to start with, Moorefield had to assign some of them different instruments in order to have an actual band. Band members had come from three feeder school districts, with varying skill levels.
"We only gave one performance that first year," recalled Moorefield, "and that was at the dedication ceremony in the school library. I recruited like crazy, and we had 56 band members that next year, just sophomores and freshmen."
Principal Sweeney ordered 80 blue-white-and-gold band uniforms.
"I told him we needed more than that, but he thought we would never have that big a band," said Moorefield with a laugh. "Now we have 180 musicians, plus 20 auxiliary unit members."
In fact, from that one very small band class, Foothill's music program has grown to include not only marching band, but also symphonic and concert bands, wind ensemble, two jazz bands, percussion, color guard, and choir classes, with about 400 students enrolled out of the current student body of 2,330. The school now has an assistant band director, plus other band staff members funded by the Foothill Band Boosters. Moorefield is justifiably proud of the band's retention record: students who join up as freshmen are still marching as seniors, including 60 members of the Class of 2009.
Those first spiffy band uniforms cost the school district between $80-90 apiece. Now band boosters raise $350 per uniform. From the very beginning, parents as band boosters have been an essential ingredient in the band's success, not only raising funds, but also serving as truck loaders and drivers, helpers and chaperones for the many band excursions. Moorefield inspires loyalty not only in his students, but also in their parents. Many stayed on to help years after their students had graduated, such as Arnold and Josephine Habestad. She began sewing flags and color guard uniforms, and he was loading equipment the second year of Foothill's existence. They continued until Josephine's death in 2005. Josephine would bring along her sewing machine on band review trips, just to make repairs as needed. Arnold carried on as part of the truck crew.
In 1973-74, Foothill's marching band attended its first band review, in Cupertino, for which they got a "participation award" for showing up. At their second band review, in Merced, they took first place--a standard they have maintained over the years. When Foothill was three years old and had juniors, Moorefield took them to the Portland Rose Festival to compete in their first field show event. At that point, the band had never even done a field show at a football game. Moorefield offered to buy every band member a steak dinner if they won sweepstakes, never dreaming that he would have to pay up--but he did! "It was worth it," he said.
Then, with all of three years of the band's existence, Moorefield decided to launch a local band review.
Held the fourth Saturday of October, the now-famous Foothill Band Review attracts dozens of outstanding bands from throughout California and (sometimes) beyond. Drawing upon past and present band parents and students, the band review involves an estimated 500 hours of volunteer time to organize. The day begins very early, as busloads of teen musicians pull into the Amador Valley High School parking lot. The concert band performances begin in the morning, followed by the marching band competition that parades down Main Street over several hours. Finishing off the evening at Foothill High School's athletic stadium is the half-time show competition.
Moorefield is no stranger to long hours, though. Typically he arrives at the Foothill campus by 6 a.m., and frequently he does not call it a day until 10 p.m. The marching band practices from 7-8 a.m. every weekday, then returns for a three-hour evening practice on Tuesday nights during fall semester. Wednesday nights are color guard's practice time (including those carrying flags or the shields that spell out the school's name); Thursdays are the percussion unit's time slot; Fridays are halftime performances at the football games, and most Saturdays involve traveling to band reviews.
Anyone who observes him in action has to conclude that Moorefield is able to do what he does because he loves it. Born John Robert Moorefield III in Meriden, Conn. on Sept. 23, 1945, Moorefield was already playing trumpet by fourth grade. By then, his family had moved to California. Moorefield attended Arroyo Grande High School, near Pismo Beach, and it was there that he decided upon his future career.
"My high school band director was Richard Dorr – an incredible musician, and an incredible teacher," said Moorefield. "Basically, he's the reason I became a teacher."
Moorefield earned both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from University of Pacific.
Just last month, Moorefield's mentor, Richard Dorr, traveled to Lincoln City to see the Foothill Band win six more trophies. Like Dorr, Moorefield has had the great pleasure of seeing former students go on to succeed in the field of music. Two former students are themselves band directors: Ed Cloyd at Monte Vista High School and Josh Butterfield at Lodi High School. Former drum major Elisse LaBarre, currently a student at University of Santa Clara, is now judging band events.
Another Foothill graduate planning to march along in Moorefield's footsteps is John Holmgren, tenor sax player from the Class of 2008.
"My son went off to UC Davis as an engineering major," said Ellen Holmgren. "Two weeks later, he called and said, 'Mom, I've changed my major.' His heart was always in music, and Mr. Moorefield is definitely John's inspiration for becoming a music teacher. John really looks up to Bob and keeps in touch with him."
In fact, John will march with the Foothill band when they return to the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona this spring.
Band students learn much more than proficiency with an instrument, according to Moorefield.
"Being in a high school band is being part of an extended band family. The kids learn self-discipline and time management," said Moorefield. "They form lifelong friendships. Some of them even get married." And by now, the second generation--children of former band members--have been Moorefield's students, "at least 10 of them," he estimated.
Two of these are the daughters of Melantha Snider Rice. She was a baritone saxophone player in the Class of 1978--the second class to graduate from Foothill. Her daughters Meleah Jones (1997) and Alyssia Jones (1999) also enjoyed being in the band.
"The experience of being in the Foothill band cannot be replaced," said Rice. "It was awesome! We were awesome! The best experience ever. And Moorf is like family to me. He helped me through hard times. Now he is part of all our family celebrations."
Rice was the head chaperone for band trips for six years. By the time her daughters were high school musicians, the band had grown.
"You join the band and you instantly have 200 friends," Rice said. "You get to travel and share a lot--and that's just not true for other [non-band freshmen."
Moorefield has noted that band participation is looked upon favorably also by college admission offices.
"At least 90 percent of the Foothill students who have gone on to Stanford have been in band," he said. "Colleges are looking for more than academic accomplishments. They want well rounded individuals, kids who have demonstrated an interest in extra-curricular activities such as music or sports."
School year after school year, the Foothill Marching Band has continued to add up awards, as have the other music groups. Asked to pick some of his proudest accomplishments, Moorefield mentions winning the Grand Championship trophy at the National Parade Championship held at the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2006. And then there was the thrill of playing for the Super Bowl XIX at Stanford University. Foothill's jazz ensemble was a finalist in the Monterey Jazz Festival, and took first place in the Reno Jazz Fest. Or how about the fact that Foothill is the only northern California high school to have been invited to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on five different New Year's Days?
"That has to be one of the biggest highs you can get, marching in that parade," said Moorefield.
But then, even bigger than that, was the invitation to make history by playing continuously aboard a train crossing beneath the English Channel in the newly opened Chunnel in 1995.
"We flew the band to London, then took the ferry across to spend New Year's Eve in Paris," Moorefield recalled. "On New Year's Day, we were at the Gare du Nord train station, playing as we boarded. The security guards wanted to stop us and check in each student, but then the tour guides presented them with cases of champagne..." and the band played on.
The musicians filled two adjacent cars on the Euro Star Express train, with the connecting doors propped open It took 5 hours and 21 minutes to make the trip, including the 31-mile Chunnel crossing that day (a trip that now takes 2 hours, 15 minutes from Paris to London), and the band played non-stop, including when they marched off the train at Waterloo Station in London, England.
"They marched three blocks to take their place at the head of the New Year's Day Parade, which had waited for our arrival to begin, then the kids played for the entire 2-mile parade route," said Moorefield, remembering the day his band made it into the Guiness Book of Work Records. "By the last mile, it was freezing cold and snowing. My wife was so excited, she walked with me without even having a coat on. The kids were exhausted, but at the end of the parade route, they wanted to do it all over again. That was a great experience!"
So many memories, so many great experiences. Moorefield admits it will be hard to walk away from it all.
"It's time to be able to spend more time with Anne," he said, referring to his wife, who has diligently served as the band's librarian, historian and hostess. Moorefield plans to "go fishing at least once a month, play golf, give clinics and maybe private music lessons, do band judging, and definitely do more traveling."
Their sons, Bob and Alan Sawyer, live in Malaysia and Arizona, respectively. Their seven grandchildren range in age from 2 to 17, and Bob and Anne Moorefield plan to spend more time with them here and in Hawaii.
"I've really enjoyed all the students I've had," said Moorefield. "The kids were in the program because they wanted to be, not because they had to. I've enjoyed being in an activity that promoted good. The band experience at Foothill High School is something I'll never regret.
"If I had it to do over again, I'd do the same thing."