Harry Gaylen Strunce - Faculty
Harry Gaylen Strunce – Faculty

An Iowa native, Gaylen Strunce earned his BA at the University of Northern Iowa and his MM at the University of Michigan. He came to Virginia in 1937 and taught in Buchanan County schools and neighboring Botetourt County schools. In 1940, he moved to Charlottesville where he organized the Lane High School band.

In June 1941, he was called for active duty with the Virginia National Guard. When the United States entered World War II, he became part of the 29th Infantry Division and served 36 months overseas before being discharged in June 1945.

William H. McIlwee was the director of the first Handley High School band. The band had 14 members and functioned as part of the cadet battalion using surplus World War I band instruments. As one of the first high school bands in Virginia, the Handley band participated in the inauguration of President Herbert Hoover in 1929.

“Professor” McIlwee died during the summer of 1945 after 20 years with the Handley bands. Gaylen Strunce, just returned from the European theater, was hired as his replacement. The concert band had 32 members when he arrived.

Gaylen worked to expand the instrumental music programs in Winchester Public Schools. He was so successful that Mary Jo Sweeney joined the faculty as the assistant director to teach instrumental music in the elementary schools in 1955. The bands had 27 performances in 1959 with the junior band, the marching band, the concert band, and the Hi Notes dance band under Gaylen’s direction.

There were 300 students in 5th through 12th grades involved with the band programs in 1975 when the Handley band celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Gaylen raised the performance level of the band to Grade VI, the most difficult of graded music, in 1969 and received superior or excellent ratings. The band participated in exchange programs with Orangeville, Ontario and East Freetown, Massachusetts with 73 traveling members during the mid-1970’s.

While at Handley, Gaylen was President of the Winchester Educational Association, President of Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association, a board member of the Virginia Music Educators Association, and an adjudicator for band festivals in Virginia and Maryland.

Gaylen did not limit has musical talents to the Handley band. By 1948, he was the director of the Winchester Municipal Band that often performed at the bandstand in the City Recreation Park. He performed as a member of the Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra. His swing band, The Gay Notes, performed for the 1963 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival’s Queen’s Ball at the Winchester Armory with his wife, Martha Babb Strunce, performing vocally.

As a teacher, he patiently developed his students’ performance skills and their life long appreciation for music. His students exposed every Handley student as well as the community to a wide variety of quality music through their performances. For 33 years, Gaylen Strunce brought music to Winchester.

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