Unlocking History

Take a closer look at Preston’s Mother Lode Band

Arts have long played a major role in rehabilitation efforts of California’s incarcerated population and music is no exception. A vinyl recording titled “Sacramento, City of Camellias” is one such example. Published in 1983, the record features the Mother Lode Band of the now-shuttered Preston School of Industry in Ione.

Listen to the recording:

The Mother Lode Band of Preston School, 1983.

“The long history of the Preston band stretches back to a spring day of 1897 when the proud cadets of the newly opened reformatory for wayward boys in Ione, Amador County, presented their first Saturday concert for the local citizens,” reads the record cover. “Playing their hearts out on the steps of the Preston Castle, no one could foretell their future. Through the years while the castle crumbled and the modern facility of the California Youth Authority steadily engulfed the old buildings, the Mother-Lode Band played on.”

2018 marks 35 years since recording

When the band was recorded, the institution’s music instructor was Dexter A. Clement, who had been in the role since the late 1950s.

“Perhaps the oldest ‘high school’ band in the U.S., its members come from every corner of the Golden State. That this musical group is able to come together, march and make exciting music is largely due to the determined vision of their Director Mr. Dexter A. Clement. The rousing welcome accorded the band in its many parade appearances attest to the energy and dedication of this man who has guided the organization for the last 25 years,” the record cover states.

“The band arrangement of ‘Sacramento, the City of Camellias,’ with its faintly Latin flavor, is by Mr. Clement and was first performed at the graduation exercises at Present School in June 1983. This recording marks the first time many will experience a performance of the Mother Lode Band, and we hope it will serve to familiarize the people of this great state with one of their most enduring institutions.”

Found in a garage and loaned to CDCR’s Office of Public and Employee Communications, 2018 marks 35 years since the Preston youth performed for the recording.

Clement passed away June 25, 2012, at the age of 78. He worked at Preston for nearly 40 years. (See video of Clement playing Taps at the bottom of this story.)

One anonymous person left condolences on Clement’s online obituary notice, “I was an inmate at Preston in 93-95. I just have to say Mr. Clement was a true inspiration to me and I sincerely respected him.”

Music as rehabilitative program

Preston School band students wear uniforms and stand on steps.
T.F. Ehrman and the Preston School Band pose on the steps of the administration building, 1900.

Preston’s music tradition went back more than 100 years. The band often received requests to perform outside the institution including an all-day affair at the state Capitol in 1909.

“The one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln will he held in the Assembly chamber Friday afternoon, February 12th, at 2:30 o’clock. Honorable Warren R. Porter, Lieutenant Governor of the state, will preside, and the main floor of the chamber will be reserved for senators, assemblymen, and invited guests,” reported the Sacramento Union, Feb. 2, 1909.

“The gallery will be free to the public. The program follows: Overture Band Preston School of Industry, thirty-eight pieces Ode, ‘America’ (three stanzas). … Opening address, ‘Lincoln Day’ Governor James N. Gillett, Music – Preston School Band, In the evening the Preston School band of thirty-eight pieces, directed by Professor North, will give a concert in the assembly chamber, at which time the same conditions relative to admission will prevail as are in vogue in the afternoon.

“In addition to the band concert. Judge J. W. Hughes and Judge J. J. Shields of Sacramento will address those present, and President C. H. Dunton of the school will also speak. The boys in the band are looking forward to a grand time, and will give a splendid program in the evening.”

Expanding musical rehabilitation

The band’s performance impressed the legislators so much, they called for Preston to appoint a singing instructor.

“The Preston Choral society, with the enthusiasm that is shown by its members, (will be) one of the finest choral societies of the state. An appropriation made by the recent session of the legislature called for the appointment of a singing instructor at the Preston school. The directors (hired) Professor Henley, whose reputation as a singer and director of choral societies is state wide,” the newspaper reported.

Preston youth compete at State Fair

“The boys who sing in the choral have entered upon their work with all the enthusiasm that they possess, and as Professor Henley has entered upon his work with a great deal of zeal the singing of the society at the coming State Fair will be looked forward to with much pleasure by the music-loving public. In addition to the choral work, Professor Henley has entered upon a plan of instruction for the boys possessing good voices, and many soloists will be developed,” reported the Sacramento Union, April 16, 1909.

“The Preston band, which gave a concert at the recent session of the legislature, made a fine impression upon all who heard the musicians, and with the choral society in full swing the reformatory can be readily called a conservatory of music. A choral society in a reform school is distinctly an innovation, and Directors Dunton, Voorhies, and Matthews of the Preston school can justly feel proud of the good work that is being done at the institution.”

Military style fife and drum

“The Boy Scouts of the Preston School of Industry will show people what boys can do, on the hike, in military evolutions, tent pitching and striking, and playing fife and drum. The Preston Boy Band of 50 pieces has a reputation of being the best on the coast, if not in the country, and it is safe to say that they will take the bouquets at the State Fair,” reported the Truckee Republican, Aug. 19, 1911.

Following the first world war, returning soldiers were welcomed into state service and Preston was eager to have them, given its military school style.

“A number of opportunities for places in the state service are announced by the civil service commission. Returned soldiers who have had experience as corporals and sergeants, are asked to apply for positions as relief officers, company captains, and watchmen at the Preston School of Industry. The positions pay from $60 to $75 a month, with maintenance, at the start, and if technical training makes them capable as teachers in trades, from $100 to $125 may be paid,” reported the Sacramento Union, May 10, 1919.

Former Preston students find work after release

“Music is an avocation with the Preston boys. They are, meanwhile, learning a trade and attending school,” reads the June 30, 1926, report of Preston Superintendent O.H. Close. “The band boys’ program is school one half day, and work in a trade one half day, with their music in the evening. The band is organized into two divisions: The first band is for the older members, and the second band consists of beginners. The second band averages a roll call of thirty, while the first band averages forty pieces. The boys are accepted without any knowledge of music or musical instruments. They learn in a remarkably short time to play well enough to enter the first band.”

Close touted the success of the music program as rehabilitative and re-entry tools.

“There are boys who have been able to enter the music profession after leaving the school because of their rapid progress here. The boys who are naturally talented and show interest find their knowledge of music helpful to them on parole. Where there is a desire to specialize in music, efforts are made to give the boys an opportunity to progress,” Close wrote. “Perhaps the most commendable part of the musical training is that it is given in addition to a trade and school program, since the practice period for the first band is in the evening. It virtually gives each member a time and one-half program. To join the band is considered a privilege, and it has a steadying effect on the boys. Also, each member is given units of credit for his work. A part of each Sunday morning’s assembly is selections by the band.”

Experiencing life outside the walls

The State Fair also saw an opportunity for incarcerated youth to get some experience in the world outside the institution.

“Its greatest triumph is the work at the State Fair in Sacramento. The State of California invites the boys to come; offers them accommodations and amusement for an entire week. The band plays afternoons and evenings on the fair grounds, and for the exhibits. There have been many trips for celebrations and patriotic occasions and picnics. For the entertainment side there is, in addition to the band, the orchestra, composed of some of the more talented members. The orchestra is often asked to play for benefit dances and for school and church entertainments,” Close wrote.

“In addition to the band and orchestra instruction, a boys’ chorus meets twice each week under the supervision of a pianist and one of the officers of the school. Group singing is a part of the regular Sunday morning assembly. It is hoped that the vocal instruction can be further expanded. Music, both instrumental and vocal, is not only elevating and cultural, but is also an efficient aid in keeping up the morale of a correctional institution.”

Preston School building overlooks the band as they assemble in a field.
The Preston School band performs, 1945.

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Related content:

  • Learn more about CDCR’s history.
  • Explore more stories about CDCR on our YouTube channel, Facebook page or Twitter account.