Dr. Herman C. Giersch has been passing his passion for music onto his sons, his fellow Rainbow band members and his students for decades.
During a 46 year career working in the Lower Merion School District, Giersch taught music, directed the Bala Cynwyd Junior and Senior Highs and wrote the Bala Cynwyd Junior High’s Alma Mater which the Middle School still sings.
Starting in 1938 and up until his retirement in 1984, Giersch woke up every day excited to see his music students.
Many of those students gathered at Granite Farms Estates in Media to celebrate Giersch’s 100th birthday on Oct. 25. Over 100 people were in attendance.
“The place was loaded,” said Herman’s son Davis.
The itinerary included live musical performances, some of which were given by Giersch’s past students.
A cardboard cut-out of Giersch in uniform stood as a throwback to his army days serving in WWII from 1942-1946 as the Commander of the 42nd Rainbow Division Band.
He conducted many marches, overtures and sings the division’s official song “There’s a Rainbow the Army” in the video above.
It’s customary to look someone in the eye when you salute but Giersch said “there was always a little bit of showbiz” with his Gen. “Hollywood Harry” Collins.
Instead of saluting at level, they saluted up, gesturing up to the sky where a rainbow would be. Giersch saluted up as he explained the tradition.
Herman said “Hollywood” always took good care of the band but there was a time he almost gave him a heart attack in 1945 while stationed in Southern Germany.
With Americans on one side of a valley and Germans on the other side, “Hollywood Harry” had Giersch march the 56 member band right up the middle to play for both sides.
Giersch’s eyes got distant when he talked about the spring of 1945 when the 42nd division liberated the Nazi concentration camp Dachau. He said he saw piles of bodies in the boxcars.
“For years I never heard a word about that," Davis said.
Davis also stated his dad only recently started opening up about this detail during his time of war.
A more commonly told story from his army days is how Giersch was permitted only a 48 hour leave to marry his wife Edith. Though the wedding and honeymoon were short, they enjoyed a long 72 year marriage until Edith’s death last December.
Edith and Herman met in 1941 when one of Giersch’s promising trumpet players George was hit by a car.
He went to see George at Bryn Mawr hospital and that’s when he saw George’s sister next to the hospital bed.
After that, Herman kept going back to visit George.
This was just another example of music being behind Giersch at every step.
Edith supported Giersch in all his musical endeavors and even helped him write. While teaching at the High School, Giersch, a '32 grad himself, was asked to come up with a piece for Black History month.
He went down to Pressers on Lancaster Pike in Bryn Mawr to see if they had a piece for Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
“They had one but it was…” Herman broke off trying to find the right word.
“Not substitutive?” Davis suggested.
“It was junk," said Herman.
Herman, with the help of his wife Edith, put Dr. King’s words to music and the high school choir performed it at the school in honor of Black History Month in 1984.
Later that same year Herman would take his select traveling choir of 50-60 students on their annual spring band trip. That year their trip was to Washington D.C.
Once there, Herman brought his choir to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to sing the song.
“You know you probably weren’t allowed to do that,” Davis said to Herman. “You probably needed a permit or something.”
Herman will always remember the spontaneous performance as something special. His choir sang “I Have a Dream” at the same spot where King delivered the speech 20 years earlier.
Music has always been behind Giersch at every step of his life.
After his retirement, Herman and Edith moved to Granite Farms Estates in 1987 and Herman directed the choir there for 25 years.
These days, you would find a keyboard piano surrounded by pictures of family and friends in Herman's room on Cherry Blossom Lane in Granite Farms. There are also two drawers full of birthday cards.
Although arthritis in his hands has limited how much he can play and his hearing isn't what it used to be, Herman is still singing and writing music.
Davis also made a music career for himself, teaching for 30 years between 1979 until 2009 at North Penn High School and still fills in at West Chester University, teaching secondary choral methods.
Herman’s other son Brian is also musically inclined and has a barbershop group in North Carolina where he lives.
After 100 years, Herman, can attribute his long life to music.
“That’s why I’m here," Giersch said. "Because I’ve been doing something I love."