Celebrating 60 years of POPS in Edina

Butler Eitel began the annual POPS Concert at Edina-Morningside High School 60 years ago. Edina West performing "Annie." Edina High School band directors, circa 1968.
Butler Eitel began the annual POPS Concert at Edina-Morningside High School 60 years ago.

Edina High School Concert Band students have spent the last nine weeks preparing for a concert that is 60 years in the making.

Edina High School students rehearsed for the 2013 POPS Concert on Wednesday, Feb. 6. (Sun staff photo by Lisa Kaczke)
Edina High School students rehearsed for the 2013 POPS Concert on Wednesday, Feb. 6. (Sun staff photo by Lisa Kaczke)

The high school’s annual POPS Concert has continued, from Edina-Morningside to East and West Edina to Edina High School as it stands today. Band Director Butler Eitel began the tradition of the POPS Concert at Edina-Morningside High School 60 years ago.

The original concerts were centered around a Broadway musical. Today’s POPS includes videos, skits, singing, dancing and playing instruments other than the typical band instruments.

“If it was mediocre, we wouldn’t be doing this,” Concert Band Director Paul Kile said. “We’ve been doing this for 60 years. We’ve been doing something right.”

The idea of the concert is to showcase students’ musical talents and other talents, Kile said. It’s about embracing students’ multiple talents that wouldn’t normally be seen at a band concert.

This year’s POPS Concerts will be performed at 7 p.m., Feb. 22-23, 28, and March 1-2, in Fick Auditorium at Edina High School, 6754 Valley View Road. Ticket can be purchased online at edinabands.com or in person at the Edina Performing Arts Center Box Office at door 3 at Edina High School at 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on Feb. 22 and March 1. Tickets can also be purchased at the door one hour prior to each performance.

The entire show is student-generated, and students chose the 2013 theme of “Once Upon a POPS.” This year’s Concert Band has 89 students, and most of them are high school seniors.

Paul Kile
Paul Kile

They’ll be putting their own 2013 stamp on the concert while paying homage to the past by integrating some of the history into this year’s concert, Kile said.

The concert will feature a piece by Edina High School graduate John Paulson, who went onto become a composer and made music his life. It will also recognize past band directors, including Travis Cross, who taught band at Edina High School for four years and is now a band director at Virginia Tech.

Composer Daniel Kallman of Northfield was also commissioned to compose a piece for the 60th year to bring the present day to the POPS.

After the POPS Concerts are completed, the Concert Band will be taking off to play the piece in Singapore, where they were invited to perform. Kile said the invitation shows the performance level of Edina High School’s band program.

The POPS Concert is a powerful memory, both for those in the audience and on stage.

The band puts on a fourth-grade concert, and students say they remember the concert from when they were in fourth grade and it’s what kept them going through until senior year, Kile said.

Michael Levine was a St. Louis Park High School student when he saw a POPS Concert and decided that was what he wanted to do with his life. He went on to found the Dallas Brass in the early 1980s to perform concerts similar to Edina’s POPS Concert, Kile said.

This year, staff would like alumni to come back to help celebrate 60 years of POPS. As has been done in past years, POPS Concert alumni will be invited onto the stage for the band’s last number of the evening at each concert.

“Alumni remember it and relive the memories,” Kile said.

Webb a part of POPS history

Bill Webb remembers reading about the first POPS Concert’s success in the student newspaper: “It was such a hit, it’s sure to become an annual event.”

Bill Webb
Bill Webb

Little did they know it really was the start of something.

“It’s a testament to what it brings on so many levels,” Webb said.

Webb is part of that history, directing the POPS Concert for 23 years. He now works as the elementary school band director in Edina.

The longer he’s around the concert, the more he cherishes it and is humbled by it. The depth of the endeavor continues to amaze him, he said.

“It really has a special place in the community and in the hearts of the people who take part in it,” he said.

To run a band concert for five or six performances every year is unheard of, but it has lasted because of the people involved year after year, Webb said. It’s taken decades of people behind the scenes and the continuous support of the community and parents, Webb said.

“They all are heroes in our eyes, but they don’t get all the acclaim of those on the POPS stage,” he said said.

Every year, the POPS Concert begins as a blank slate for staff and students and that allows students to do what educators hope for: be creative and break the mold.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful educational format for everybody. It’s a win-win,” he said.

Participating in POPS not only forms musicians, but leaders who “cut their teeth” on POPS, Webb said. POPS participants have gone on to star in the world in their own way, whether its the arts world or business world, and are now counted among the employees at Disney, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Air Force Band and the Marine Corps Band.

Contact Lisa Kaczke at [email protected]