The Legacy of Maurice W. Foulke

In 1929 the Indian Valley acquired a visionary. Coming in the role of music teacher, this young man might just as aptly have been titled pioneer. The extent of musical presence here, outside of local churches, was virtually nonexistent. Born of Welsh stock, with their legendary devotion to song, and having studied and trained in the artistic meccas or Reading, Philadelphia and New York City, Maurice W. Foulke foresaw that, with its strong tradition of congregational singing, what a musical gold mine this area could become. All that was needed was unflagging commitment, enthusiasm, courage, patience, ingenuity, an uncanny ability to draw out the musicality in others, and an impeccable ear. Perfectly endowed, Mr. Foulke got to work. The region couldn't have been more fortunate with an angel in disguise.

Beginning as choir director at Souderton's Emmanual Lutheran Church, Mr. Foulke soon formed a larger regional community chorus drawing from the entire North Penn and Indian Valley areas: the NorPenChor. Four years later, totaling seventy singers, their named changed to The Handel Choir as their objective had already become the full scale production of Handel's sacred works, most notably his Oratorios, complete with the Reading Symphony Orchestra and superb soloists from Philadelphia. The Choir regularly performed in the splendor of the new high school's auditorium. The map may still have read 'Souderton'. The name was beginning to mean 'music'.

In the school system, Mr. Foulke determined that everyone should have a taste of harmony's soul-lifting power. He designed and skillfully directed the musical element of each morning's assembly program in the high school auditorium. Many alumni still fondly recall of how he divided up the large group into sections, then had them singing in parts and in rounds in a rousing competitive style for a robust invigorating start of the day. Nothing more than this generated the strongly-binding school spirit Souderton was beginning to feel.

In his music classes, Mr. Foulke keenly emphasized music appreciation. Alumni have frequently remarked of how he opened up new worlds of melodic awareness and enjoyment in them, now valued more than anything else they learned. From Mr. Foulke's efforts, working with his early music classes, arose the ultimate words of the high school's Alma Mater. More than one alumni can recall from these same music classes how, if a fellow classmate couldn't quite match a tone, Mr. Foulke would take the person's head in his hands and gently roll it. Inevitably the person would come to hear the pitch and sing true. Already by the mid-1930's, Mr. Foulke's high school choruses, through his ear-training, sight-reading, and rigorous choral solfeggio drills, were winning in state-wide competitions.

Mr. Foulke's artistic impact continued to spread beyond the music room. Arising from his mutual appreciation of the fine arts, he was asked to act as agent for the school system in searching out and then purchasing class gift paintings - notably Baum and Hallman landscapes - to be hung in the high school. Musical enrichment was inescapable with Mr. Foulke as he brought to the high school various Philadelphia and New York artists - violinists, pianists, singers - allowing all Souderton students to hear the very best performers - live. Student involvement with music so important to Mr. Foulke that he produced and directed full-scale operettas - Gilbert & Sullivan, and more - with students managing every aspect as well as performing.

Mr. Foulke's absence during two years of active service overseas in World War 2 gave Souderton a chance to see what all had been done. With his return, his creative touch was immediately felt again. No student who was there will ever forget his Memorial Day service in the auditorium where, to commemorate the twelve recently-fallen graduates, twelve red carnations were placed one by one on a decorated Table of Honor, while each of the twelve names was said to a background of total silence. The twelve names done, a far-off bugler played Taps. A second even softer bugler then joined with the echo. Not a dry eye remained.

Ever mindful for distant cultural opportunities, Mr. Foulke enabled Souderton to be one of the very first schools to actively attend the then-new Philadelphia Orchestra's Youth Concert Series. This involvement he strongly endorsed for years and it still flourishes today. In 1948, the Souderton High School Band was chosen to perform at an Eagles' football game in Memorial Stadium. Also in the late 40's, to encourage high school instrumental excellence, he conceived of the idea of a band - soon called the Bux-Mont Band - made up of the finest, audition-chosen musicians from all the schools of the Bux-Mont League in Bucks and Montgomery counties. For decades this too would blossom. In 1950, of the many much larger towns that would have liked to and could have more easily hosted the South-Eastern District Band Festival, Mr. Foulke made sure that Souderton was the one who did.

By the early 1950's, awareness and appreciation of the extraordinary gains that Mr. Foulke had introduced only allowed greater musical initiatives to be explored. Working closely with high school principal LeRoy P. Rosenberger, Mr. Foulke's suggestion that Band and Chorus now be made part of the regular school curriculum was enthusiastically endorsed and promptly implemented - with Souderton, again, being one of the first regional schools to do so.

With his entry into married life, Mr. Foulke began teaching music privately in his home all year long, continuing for decades through many dozens of students. Some parents confessed later they had enrolled their child in these lessons, not merely for the music, but to experience one-to-one something of what they as students had gained from him.

Domestic life had an interesting impact on band size. Through all previous years, quality of the band's sound had prevailed regardless of quantity of players. Now owning a television and observing the intricate football half-time shows of college bands, Mr. Foulke - who previously had encouraged but never directly pursued a student's participation - now initiated a campaign to actively solicit for new student players on certain instruments. By the mid-1960's the high school band would number one hundred and twenty players.

Band expansion was just beginning. Years ago, having himself designed the majorettes' outfits as Indians, he now enlarged the band front to include a tribute to the school colors of the other Bux-Mont League schools - a flag corps carrying Foulke-designed Bux-Mont flags. Neighboring school districts sought the Souderton band for their own parades - and no wonder. Complete with majorettes, drill team, flag squad, color guard, band front, drum major, and a performing band in white spats, white gloves and bright crimson, the Big Red Marching Band brought everyone to their feet. Parade contests frequently handed them first prize. It comes as no surprise that the North Penn Reporter newspaper dubbed Mr. Foulke "the John Philip Sousa of the Bux-Mont League".

In the mid-60's, Mr. Foulke became Souderton Area School District Music Coordinator, covering elementary through senior high levels. Due to his efforts at expanding the marching band, the concert band had also grown. Concert nights saw the stage filled to capacity with players in orchestral setting. Truly symphonic, it now contained oboes, bassoons, bass and soprano clarinets, bass trombones, Zildjian cymbals, and always at least six French horns - his favorite. Many of Mr. Foulke's own players came, through successful audition, to contribute their talents to the same Bux-Mont band he had earlier created, often in first chair positions.

A momentous day occurred in 1973. Mr. Foulke, after forty-four years of teaching music at Souderton, retired. Yet the word did not fit the reality. One year before, the North Penn Symphony Orchestra had formed and Mr. Foulke, a lifelong violinist, promptly joined - later switching to viola to assist that smaller section. Along with playing in this group, Mr. Foulke had expanded his private teaching to include strings. Some interested parents came to him, asking him to consider teaching strings publicly. Of his own initiative, Mr. Foulke did just that, and remaining in the schools, he created, taught, and directed a string program that blossomed so quickly he had to enlist other "retired" string musician friends to assist with all the students. Always keen on innovation, Mr. Foulke quickly incorporated the Suzuki Method and was soon displaying his young players in full concerts and, like the old days, he packed the house. For twelve years - and without pay - he guided this newest musical baby.

In 1983, Mr. Foulke at last decided to tend his grandchildren, and his many rose bushes, a bit more. Aside from his community musical productions, he had created the Big Red Marching Band, the Big Red Concert Band, the Souderton Area High School Chorus, and the Souderton Area String Program. In the Souderton Area School District , he had been teacher, conductor, and musical director for a total of fifty seven (57!) years.

Esteem and recognition came to Mr. Foulke throughout his career. The Souderton Lions Club honored him with their Lifetime Achievement Award. For his "outstanding community service through loyal, faithful, and unselfish effort resulting in a lasting contribution to community and nation", the Souderton-Telford Jaycees bestowed on him their Distinguished Service Award. When the Souderton-Telford Rotary Club funded the construction of the new community bandshell in the park, the recipient of the dedication was the man who had taught, guided and deeply enriched the very men - as well as community - who were now giving it to him, and the Maurice W. Foulke Bandshell was born.

Attending some of those first summer evening concerts, Mr. Foulke once commented that, should it ever be possible, the addition of reflecting panels at the back might be an asset to some performances. Two years later, with his passing, tributes, memorials and gifts came in to the extent that his wife Mary decided to use those funds for the purchase of large sliding redwood doors, soon added to the back of the Bandshell.

In his lifetime, Maurice W. Foulke had created a virtual musical Renaissance. Nothing would please him more than to witness how music in our schools has developed in vigorous and varied ways, and how public appreciation of local community theatrics and fine arts has increased, and without question, how the Concert Sundaes has all these years drawn full and supportive audiences to programs of quality music in the Bandshell.

A great European philosopher once said, "Without music, life would be a mistake." Maurice W. Foulke kept us from that fate. How fortunate for the Indian Valley, and our whole region, that the Maestro's golden touch could be with us so long.
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