By Marty Lamers
The Wauwatosa East High School marching band is something truly special. While many local high schools offer their students marching bands, few will ever have an established history so rich in excellence, tradition, and travel as the Red Raider Marching Band. With its origins going all the way back to 1923, this is a band with a rich, potent legacy.
In this band, traveling to other states for parades and competitions has been an integral part of it all from early on. Starting in 1961 with a trip to New York to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, the Tosa East band continues offering its students memorable, life-changing trips to perform in all parts of the United States and beyond.
As a child in the 70s, I used to hear the band practicing in the mornings or on weekends when they were getting ready for a show. I would often ride my bike to watch in awe as the band marched in elaborate field shows, the drums pounding right into my chest and making me want to play in the worst way.
I joined the band as a freshman drummer in 1982 and was with them until I moved in 1984. In that short time, I was able to travel with them to Indianapolis (to do the Indy 500 parade) and to New York for the Macy’s parade. We also did statewide competitions, and other smaller parades. I moved the year the band traveled to Orlando…so in just the time I was attending high school, being with the band offered us many unique opportunities for travel.
I played under the direction of the legendary Orville Matthias – affectionately and accurately known as “Boss.” Though I met him toward the end of his career, Boss was an amazing man who had a huge impact on my life. Intense and driven, he demanded excellence from his players and students, and he got it. Yet Boss opened doors, and provided opportunity for many of the talented students he believed in: I saw it time and again, and even enjoyed it myself. He passionately supported our musical and personal growth. He did all he could to help us find opportunity, both in music and as people.
In researching this article, I learned that Boss was the third band director at East. He started in 1959 and he retired the year I graduated in 1985. More incredible to me, was learning that in its span of 100 years, the East band program has only had eight lead directors…suggesting this is a very special job, indeed.
To find out more about the history and legacy of the marching band at East, I reached out to the current band director, Mrs. Jennifer Lato.
The Eighth Director
Mrs. Lato told me that she attended Wauwatosa West for high school and then was a four-year graduate of the University of La Crosse in 2010. She joined the band program at East in 2011. Now married, she is proudly raising her children as the third generation of Wauwatosa residents.
Mrs. Lato said that the history of the band is an amazing and enduring one and was a big part of the draw in her pursuing this position as a career. “The history of the band goes all the way back to when there was only one high school in Wauwatosa, back in 1923. Though there were only seven lead directors before me, all of them (like me) had excellent teams to help support and drive their programs.”
She continued: “One thing that each of the marching bands at East have shared through the years, is their devotion to excellence and to delivering top level performance. It has led to us being recognized and celebrated all over the world, which is a huge honor and quite unique to our program.”
Through the years, the band has consistently scored well in competitions and has received invitations to play across the nation. Beginning in 2001, the band’s reach went global and they have since been able to perform in Paris, London, Scotland, Italy, and Ireland. Mrs. Lato told me that this was a tradition of travel started by Orville Matthias in 1961, and it is certainly unique to East’s band.
“Many bands will get the opportunity to play somewhere, but very few get as many offers for the kinds of shows and parades that East receives every year. Orville made travel a big part of the band experience from early on, and it was uniquely enriching to all the students that experienced it.”
She noted that Matthias’ pursuit of the best opportunities was unique to him, and to East’s band. She said that very few marching bands will have the depth of opportunity that East has earned and enjoyed over the years. She said that well established traditions of excellence and dependability have made East a name that parade organizers anywhere continue to trust.
The Beat Goes On
Successive directors after Matthias have tried to continue and expand those traditions and have now successfully brought East’s band to appreciative worldwide audiences. Last year, they marched in Hawaii and just before that, had traveled all the way to Dublin, Ireland to perform. Mrs. Lato is understandably proud of her traveling musicians and is grateful for their increased opportunities.
“This marching band is very unique and has an incredibly strong history,” she said. “Though every director may have approached it a little differently, the band is always clearly focused on the basic tenants of travel, performance, and community-centered activity. We consider performing anywhere an honor, and we consistently deliver top level performances on stage, in the field, or when marching in parades. Many bands enjoy competitions and performances, but no one else has the legacy and enjoys the level of respect that East’s band has achieved…it’s truly quite special.”
I can attest; traveling with the marching band in high school gave me some of the best, most lasting memories of my life. Going to Macy’s in New York was amazing for us all – like many, this was the first time I had ever been that far outside of Wisconsin. There were a lot of firsts for me on that trip. I was honored and humbled by it all, and very grateful for the opportunity.
Mrs. Lato gave me insight as to why there have only been eight band directors in 100 years, because this job is as precious and unique as the band itself. “There is a lot of responsibility tied to being the band director at East,” she said. “Of course and most importantly, there are the students, but there is also a long, rich history to take care of as well. As band director you become the archivist and custodian of this history, and we all work very hard to better understand and preserve it.”
Mrs. Lato said that being the band’s director is an incredible honor, and for her a career milestone. Unlike other jobs that might be steppingstones to finding better things, Mrs. Lato said this position is one that is, and was her ultimate destination. She considers herself very lucky to have the support and quickly credits the expertise of her assistant director and the band boosters. “Our success is always a team effort,” she says.
She encourages old band alumni (like me) to stay involved and to find ways to help boost the band. She pointed out that there are a variety of online resources now to help you stay in tune with what the band is doing, including places where you can donate or even participate in upcoming concerts or parades.
“We have a website with a calendar and all kinds of booster-related information. There are links for sheet music downloads too, so alumni can participate bi-annually in the Wauwatosa Independence Day Parade. Recently we started inviting alumni to come back to play and march with the band, so there are always fun new ways to get or stay involved.”
She added that the band is also increasing their social media presence today, keeping in-step and adapting to current trends. There is a Facebook group (Wauwatosa East Band Alumnae), an Instagram account, and even a TikTok account for the Red Raider Marching band (Follow us: @TosaEastRRB). She was proud to say that the band even recently went viral on TikTok, which is no surprise to me.
Can You Help the Band?
As the band’s unofficial historian, Mrs. Lato is working hard to try to figure out and record all the many accomplishments the band has enjoyed throughout the last 100 years. The list as it stands today is impressive and continues to grow, but it is lacking some completion in specific years where the saved documentation is a little harder to find.
Mrs. Lato wants the archive to be complete, so she asks all our Tosa Connection readers, can you help fill in any of the gaps in the timeline?
We are looking for places the band may have traveled, or competitions where they may have performed during this time. If you know of anything in the “empty” years listed here, please email email@example.com, or reach out to Mrs. Lato directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2022 – 2023 the Band performed in the Waikiki Holiday Parade
2021 – 2022
2020 – 2021 the Band was scheduled to participate in the Hollywood Christmas Parade and Disneyland Parade. Trip was canceled due to COVID-19 Pandemic.
2019 – 2020
2018 – 2019 the Band participated in the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Limerick Marching
2017 – 2018
2016 – 2017 the Band participated in the Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival Parade
2015 – 2016
2014 – 2015 the Band participated in the Rome and Frascati New Years Day Parades
2013 – 2014
2012 – 2013 the Band participated in 252nd New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade
2011 – 2012
2010 – 2011 the Band participated in the London New Years Day Parade
2009 – 2010
2008 – 2009 the Band participated in the Paris Parade Festival
2007 – 2008
2006 – 2007 the Band performed in the London New Years Day Parade
2005 – 2006
2004 – 2005 the Band performed in the 244th New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade
2003 – 2004
2002 – 2003 the Band performed in the Scotland East Parade/“Music for Edinburgh” Gala Concert Series
2001 – 2002
2000 – 2001 the Band was scheduled to perform in the London New Years Day Parade. Trip was canceled due to the events of 9/11.
1999 – 2000
1998 – 1999 the Band performed in San Antonio, TX
1997 – 1998
1996 – 1997 the Band performed at the Dixie Classic Concert and Jazz Band Festival in Richmond VA
1995 – 1996
1994 – 1995 the band performed as Featured Band for Epcot Center Futureworld March, Orlando FL
1993 – 1994
1992 – 1993 the Band performed in Washington DC for the ????? as well as the Milwaukee Great Circus Parade
1991 – 1992
1990 – 1991the Band performed in Disneyworld
1989 – 1990
1988 – 1989 the Band performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York, NY
1987 – 1988
1986 – 1987 the Band performed in Nashville for the ????
1985 – 1986
1984 – 1985 the Band performed in Magic Music Days- Walt Disney World, Orlando Florida
1983 – 1984 the Band Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade
1982 – 1983 the Band performed in the Indianapolis “500” Parade as the Honor Band
1981 – 1982
1980 – 1981 the Band performed in the St. Petersburg Festival of States in Florida
1979 – 1980
1978 – 1979
1977 – 1978 the Band performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
1976 – 1977
1975 – 1976 the Band performed in the Bicentennial Festival of States in Florida
1974 – 1975
1973 – 1974 the Band performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
1972 – 1973
1971 – 1972 the Band performed in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade
1970 – 1971
1969 – 1970 the Band participated in the Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival Parade’s
1968 – 1969
1967 – 1968
1966 – 1967
1965 – 1966
1964 – 1965
1963 – 1964
1962 – 1963
1961 – 1962 the Band participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Prior to 1961 known as Wauwatosa High School