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Traveling and Community Bands Encouraged
School Bands

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

November 1999

John Philip Sousa liked to wear a new pair of white calfskin gloves each time he conducted his band in performance. One day, early in 1920, he entered Centremeri's, a shop on Fifth Avenue in New York, and asked the proprietor how much it would cost to order one hundred dozen gloves. The startled man figured the cost to be six dollars a pair, a total of seventy-two hundred dollars. Sousa was satisfied, and the gloves were ordered.

Fairmont native John Carroll Carr played clarinet for a few years in the Sousa band. Years later, Carr's sister was cleaning the garage when she found a pair of old discarded white gloves in a box and threw them away. Alas, they had been given to Carr by John Philip Sousa.

Sousa’s band was one of several which toured the United States from the late 1800s through the 1930s. In 1873, Patrick Gilmore was asked by the officers of the 22nd Regiment of New York to lead their band. In 1892, John Philip Sousa resigned from the Marine Corp and organized his new band. Other bands were formed by Pat Conway, Arthur Pryor and Alessandro Liberati.

The traveling bands were immensely popular. Once, on a seventeen-week tour of the United States, Sousa’s band traveled over 10,000 miles and played in ninety-eight cities. Touring bands inspired the formation of town bands in every state. Thousands of town bands were formed between 1880 and 1930, some lasting beyond World War 11.

In West Virginia, Buckhannon organized a town band in 1875. Hedgesville, which had a singing school as early as 1858, sponsored a concert band. In 1887, the French Creek band was organized. Several coal mining companies started bands in their communities, such as the Monongah Mine Workers Band in Marion County. The Harrison County community of Johnstown had a community band which played until the late 1970s.

In his book titled A West Virginian's View of musical Life Yesterday and Today, Dr. Randolph E. Spencer wrote "...the Martinsburg City Band was organized by C.P Curtis on December 18, 1883. Weekly programs were performed by the band at the Public Square. For many years Martinsburg had two municipal bands - the McAneny and Comrey bands. A popular form of entertainment in the early 1900's were regular concerts during the summer months in the Public Square's bandstand. The increasing popularity of such things as motion pictures and radio, plus the removal of the bandstand in 1934, finally brought about the end of both bands."

Because of the interest in band concerts, parents began to want their children to experience the thrill of playing in the band. School bands began to be formed. The first band at Buckhannon High School was established in 1923 when eleven boys developed an interest in instruments. Martinsburg hired Mr. Christianson (first name unknown) in 1929 to serve as its first paid school band director. Bands were organized in many schools during the 1930s and 1940s as interest in instrumental music grew.

As WVMEA historian, I believe that it is important to have historical records about musical organizations in West Virginia’s schools. For schools that have no written history on file, I suggest that music teachers take time to write a document themselves. In doing so, I suggest that teachers research local newspapers and talk to previous teachers about earlier performances.