Beloved high school conductor returns for performance

Even today, he’s known as the Wizard of Oz.

Herman Knoll came to Greenwood Community High School and helped turn the Marching Woodmen into a juggernaut. He guided the school to its first ever Indiana State Fair band competition championship. Looking to competitive bands in the South, he transitioned to a more disciplined corps style performance group.

Fresh music invigorated the band, and Knoll started the tradition of performing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which the band still plays during warmups.

Greenwood’s band program has gone on to enjoy massive success in the years since Knoll left. The school has won 13 Indiana State School Music Association championships, and become one of the top programs in the region.

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Though he left Greenwood in 1976, Knoll remains a beloved figure in the community. He’ll reprise his band direction duties in the city on Saturday, when he serves as the guest conductor for the all-band performance of this year’s Greenwood Community Band Festival.

“He took a band that was doing fairly well, and took the ultimate step,” said Thom Dirks, director of the Greater Greenwood Community Band.

Lifelong work

Knoll dedicated his life to music education. After attending Indiana University and receiving music education degrees from Indiana State University and the VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, he went on to spend 12 years teaching instrumental music.

He worked in all levels of education, from elementary through college.

When Knoll came to Greenwood from Martinsville in 1973, the high school band had already enjoyed success. The band was getting bigger every year, and had advanced to the final 16 teams in the annual Indiana State Fair band contest for the first time in 1971 under director David Van Veld.

But Knoll saw the talent and dedication of the students at the school, as well as the exemplary network of support from parents, staff and others in the community, and was determined to push the band even higher.

“Dave Van Veld had put the foundation down. There was pride in the program and kids that really wanted to work,” he said.

Almost immediately, Knoll began building.

According to a history of the Marching Woodmen, compiled by Greenwood resident and band parent Jon Heilman for the band’s website, he favored the more disciplined and structured drum corps style of band. He replaced a pom-pom group with a flag corps.

“He showed both the students, and the community, what their potential really was,” Heilman said in an email message. “He’s an outstanding teacher who pushed everyone to new heights. Those heights brought recognition to the program and attracted the very talented directors who followed. And they have maintained the level of excellence that Herman Knoll demanded.”

For his first Indiana State Fair band competition, three weeks after he arrived in Greenwood, he implemented the music of the “Wizard of Oz” into their routines. Those selections would be a distinctive part of Knoll’s time in Greenwood, Heilman said.

In the state fair contests, Greenwood kept improving — 10th place in 1973, then 6th place the next year and 5th place the year after that.

By 1976, the band reached the pinnacle of competition. They were named grand champion in the contest.

For Knoll, the success was made possible because of the talent and dedication of the students who worked so hard to get better.

“The thing that was special about the experience in Greenwood were the students. They really worked hard. I didn’t really deserve that kind of support, and the support we got from the parents and the community was amazing,” he said. “It was very hard to leave there.”

Leaving a legacy

The victory was exhilarating for Greenwood, but bittersweet at the same time. Earlier in the summer, Knoll had announced his resignation, as he had accepted a position with his alma mater at Indiana State to lead the band. The state fair performance would be his last for the Marching Woodmen, according to Heilman.

“Beyond the band program, Herman Knoll has impacted so many students throughout his career,” Heilman said. “Many have chimed in on Facebook telling stories of how his lessons and inspiration guided them in life. I think that’s a more valuable legacy than a full trophy case. But, the trophies are impressive.”

After he left, Greenwood continued to build on the foundation that he had established. The band has been named state champions in class B 13 times during a 30-year span. Members have performed in the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Hollywood Christmas Parade and the Fiesta Bowl Parade.

“The people who have really pushed the band forward, people like Jon Sutton and John Morse, I have so much respect for them,” Knoll said.

In 1978, Knoll was hired at the Hal Leonard Corp., the world’s largest and most innovative music print publisher. By 1985, he was part of the internal management team, and worked his way to senior vice president.

Under his leadership, he helped create and market Essential Elements, a series of instructional and educational material for beginning musicians.

Though he recently retired, Knoll remains a consultant for Hall Leonard and represents the company as a clinician. He serves on the Music for All board, and is a current member and past chairman of the board of trustees at VanderCook. He is also a member of the board of directors for the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.

Homeward bound

The opportunity to come back to Greenwood came about earlier in the year. Knoll had taken a greater interest in recent years of the roles that citizen bands play in the community, and was interested in hearing more about the groups that are performing in Indiana.

As a native of Brazil, he is back in Indiana throughout the year, and Dirks invited him to come see the Greater Greenwood Community Band perform in Terre Haute during a recent concert.

Knoll couldn’t make that show, but the conversation turned to the Greenwood Community Band Festival.

Greenwood has hosted a community band festival every year since 2014. The band had participated in other such events throughout the state, and Dirks believes that it has been as successful as it has because they play regularly with other community bands.

“We started doing the festivals, which made us want to be better,” he said. “When you go to these festivals, there are six or seven bands that get on stage and play. You want to do as well as you can.”

Each year, bands come to Greenwood for a day of music in the Craig Park amphitheater.

Dirks brought up the potential of leading the mass band, where members of other bands come together in a large group to play a few simple songs.

“At the end of the festival, we invite anybody who played in any band to come onstage with us, and we play songs like ‘Stars and Stripes Forever,’ things that everybody knows,” Dirks said.

Knoll thought it sounded like fun, and as his schedule became more focused, he figured he could be there to conduct.

“We really enjoyed our time in Greenwood. It was a special time in our lives, for my family and for myself,” he said. “And secondly, I wanted to come back to honor all of the people that I worked with. They were very special, and I’d want to honor that any way I can.”

With Knoll’s reputation as a music director and educator, his appearance is more than just a treat for the Greenwood bands, Dirks said. The other bands performing in the festival, from cities such as Bloomington, Zionsville, Terre Haute and Franklin, are all excited to play under his leadership from a few songs.

“He is well-known not only around the state, but worldwide,” he said.

Knoll and his wife, Sandy, still come back to Greenwood when they can. Each time he does, he’s amazed how the small town that he remembered has grown up.

“Boy, the place has changed,” he said.

But even if Greenwood has changed, it still feels like home due to the people he bonded with during his time there.

“Music is for life. The friendships you make in band are for life. All of the blood, sweat and tears that you put into it build bonds, and those are there forever,” Knoll said. “Those friendships pick up right where they left off. That’s what I’m looking forward to coming back.”

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Greenwood Community Band Festival

What: A day-long celebration of community band music, featuring groups from all over Indiana

When: 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Greenwood Amphitheater, 100 Surina Way

Cost: Free


  • Noon: Terre Haute Community Band
  • 1 p.m.: Zionsville Concert Band
  • 2 p.m.: Indianapolis Symphonic Band
  • 3 p.m.: Crossroads Brass Band
  • 4 p.m.: Bloomington Community Band
  • 5 p.m.: Greater Greenwood Community Band
  • 6 p.m.: Mass Band and closing ceremonies