History of the Top 100 Project

as recalled by Max McKee

When Scott Taylor (1973 Southern Oregon University grad, SOU Band President and close personal friend) and I started WIBC in 1980, we embraced the basic convention concept from the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. I started attending The Midwest in 1973 after Alfred Reed told me I had to go. (Finally stopped in 2022).

We knew we wanted to emulate the method by which they presented many of the best new band publications through their concerts. Each performing band had to perform something like 60% new music as well as two Grade 1 or Grade 2 level pieces…regardless of their stature. Along with that, they made transparencies of every page from every piece performed that could be shown on a VERY large screen at front center, high above the band on stage.

Our version of score projection was to show the pages on a large, portable screen that was situated far right and away from the stage. It was very popular and those who wanted to see those pages always sat in that zone. Over the years many directors (usually two at each concert) helped shuttle the transparencies on and off the overhead projector surface. Many times it was a potential car wreck when long repeated sections had to reappear!!! The best ever at running that was composer Mark Williams who lived in Spokane, Washington and always came to WIBC.

That tradition continued until his untimely death in 2003. By then ABC had been going for nearly 15 years. We did not use a comparable performance format since everyone was there to get their Master’s degree. So, I went to all the major publishing companies and got them to sponsor their top composers and arrangers to come to Ashland and present their new music. This was a Godsend and simultaneously a curse. Many companies sent ready-made sightreading folders of ALL their newest publications. About 30% of the music was not viable, but we had to read it anyway with our guest conductors (like Andy Balent, John O’Reilly, and Frank Erickson) on the podium.

Soon I determined that WE needed to control what was presented. So we came up with the idea of asking every publisher to send us a conductor’s scores and recordings of all new pieces for that year. Starting in 1993, we combined recommendations from our ABC Top Ten (later Top 80, Top 100 and even Top 200), the Lewis & Clark/Sheet Music Service of Portland Reading Session, and the Birch Bay Reading Clinic. At that time, many publishers opted to simply send us full sets and recordings on CDs, vinyl records or cassettes.

With all that music coming in, I realized that it was important to file all of that music somewhere. Why not in the Southern Oregon University Band Library. Once ABC got going (in 1988, as an undergrad program), I created four 100-composition books of Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3 and Grade 4 music. They were bound into four conductor books and also four corresponding part books. At least twice a week, I would assign ABC students to prepare a piece so that they could conduct right at the beginning of every band rehearsal. It helped them as students preparing to be band directors and did wonders for the growth in sightreading ability with the SOU Symphonic Band. At the beginning of the year, that ability was about Grade 2+; by the end of the year the band improved to excellent sightreading of Grade 4 compositions. Our sightreading system eliminated disbursement and refiling of dozens of band pieces. The books were placed on each stand before rehearsal and immediately collected when the sightreading ended.

After I left campus in 1994, I realized that a lot of the music in the SOU Band Library of lower levels was being thrown out or given away. My theory had always been that the library should be like a book library...the reader must decide whether or not a book is worth reading. So, I immediately kept all of the incoming scores and full band set that were sent to ABC/WIBC separate. In 2000, we built the stacks for the new ABC Center in a large, unfinished room in the basement of the SOU Music buidling. All music provided by publishers as well as any music ABC or WIBC purchased were installed in that library. It was about that time that we asked the publishers of our Top 100 compositions each year to send us a complimentary full set once those pieces were announced in Bandworld Magazine (always in the January issue starting in 1993). This also came with our promise to the publishers that we would include many of the Top 100 in our reading sessions at Western International Band Clinic in November and the American Band College in June. At the same time, all of those compositions have gone into the ABC Center Library, a research-only facility that all ABC Master’s candidates have total access each summer.

Up until the start of the ABC master’s degree program in 1992, sightreading sessions had been conducted by ABC staff or guest composer/conductors. We soon figured out that we could assign our second-year candidates to do sightreading sessions with the ABC Band. In 2002, when we split to the ROYG model (four 50-piece bands divided [by colors red, orange, yellow, and green] to RO & YG for concert music and RY & OG for sightreading sessions). We also had our third-year, graduating candidates do much of the preparation for the visiting clinicians who would be conducting on the June 26 or July 4 concerts. Meanwhile, we continued to feature sightreading sessions at Western International Band Clinic, though that practice had practically died out nationally by the year 2000. Guest conductors at WIBC were all six of the honor band conductors and long-time attendees at our WIBC conventions.

By 2002, we had the idea that we should create a computer database containing the Top 100 selections for that year. In 2005, when Randy McKee came on as full-time programmer, he quickly created an accessible, online computer program containing all the selections from each year. Now that has been growing with a combined database stretching from 2002 through 2023.

When ABC left Southern Oregon University in 2010 and joined up with Sam Houston State University, the ABC Center was moved to Lincoln School, where we annually purchased two or more large cabinets for music storage. It opened immediately for ABC summer attendee usage and continued overgrowing the available space until 2018. ABC left Sam Houston that year and joined forces with Central Washington University. Also in 2018, we purchased and installed high density units (saving 45% of the needed space for music storage). In early 2022 (after purchasing the church across from Triangle Park on the corner of Liberty Street and Siskiyou Blvd in 2021) the high density units were moved to what became known as the Al & Gladys Wright Center of the American Band College.