his past Wednesday, I made a planned visit to both the Shippensburg Historical Society on King Street and the Cumberland County Historical Society in Carlisle in the hopes of maybe getting a better idea of what musical heritage this area can offer.
The results were extraordinary!!!!!
The Cumberland County Historical Society was able to give me not only specific bands and members within these distinguished groups, but also a clear time period to concentrate on that will allow me to build an organized time line and lineage from the early 1800s to the present.
Though the movement towards village and town bands began in the early Nineteenth Century, the motives for such organizations were as diverse as the bands themselves. Besides the traditional motives of entertainment at parades and outdoor concerts, town and village bands preformed at public picnics, town or county fairs, railroad openings, political rallies and events, local resorts, and (probably the most important of all for us brothers) fraternal conventions and functions, such as the Free Masons and other groups.
The growth of these bands, however, was at first stunted by a combination of limited technology due to a national crisis and inconsistent leadership. Valved brass instruments, necessary for making the town and village bands as strong and vibrant an attraction as they were to become, would not be invented until the mid-Nineteenth Century and, by that time, America would be embroiled in the American Civil War, leaving little time to the development of musical industries when all means at the nation’s disposal were needed to fight the conflict. Due to this, many of the early town and village bands consisted of only woodwinds such as flutes, bassoons, and clarinets. Also, the combination of the massive loss of men due to the war and “pass-time” nature of the membership made the groups very fluid without a strong director or leader to guide them. Such early bands tended to form and then dissolve very quickly. The American Volunteer, an old Carlisle newspaper, makes its first reference of town bands in an 1844 article, which reports of the existence of a “Carlisle Brass Band” of “well-known Musical Amateurs”. However, thought valved instruments were first developed in 1814 by German composer Gottfried Henrich Stolzel, it is hard to imagine that this technology could have been transported so quickly to the Americas. Other sources have sighted the start of town or village bands in the county as Shippensburg, who reportadly had a town band as early as 1835.
As was metioned before, the American Civil War stunnted the growth of town and village bands during the mid-Nineteenth Century, but, in a way, it also helped to propell the movement. Music was a vital part of military life (which I got the chance to research extensively through the Tri-M Music Honors Society during my high school years) and Cumberland County was fertile ground for musical influence. A great example of this is the Garrison Band at the Carlisle Army Barracks, who preformed regular weekly or twice-weekly concerts during the summer months from the 1840s through 1861. However, the Band’s main responsibility was to military ceremony, leaving one witness to report that the Band’s innvolvement in “[t]he beautiful ceremony never palled and never failed to fill [the audience] with love and loyalty [of country].”
The first civilian bands following the War Between the States, organized around the most prominent and economically-minded cities in the county: Mechanicsburg, Newville, and Carlisle. In Mechanicsburg, the most prominent band was the Silver Cornet Band, which was later renamed the Singer Cornet Band in honor of one of its directors, Davis Singer. It was originally formed in 1852 by a local merchant named I.S. Ederly for over seventy years. The Carlisle Herald noted in 1886: “[The Singer Band has] demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they as a musical organization stands second to none in the State.”
Newville witnessed the growth of its first bands in 1872. In 1885, the prominent Keystone Band was former by local entrepreneur Harry A. Durnbaugh who helped the group raise between $5,000 and $6,000 dollars for the purchase of new silver horns. He also brought in a Newport, Pennsylvania-born cornet virtuoso William Paris Chambers, who would go on to become a famous and critically-acclaimed American composer and bandleader in both the United States and Europe. Chambers began to teach himself how to play the cornet at the age of thirteen and by eighteen he was the lead soloist and leader of the Keystone Band. In 1878, he left the group to become the musical director for the Capital City Band in Harrisburg and, later, the Great Southern Band of Baltimore. During the Twentieth Century, he continued to tour and perform with various groups across Europe and North America, leaving many newspapers to wonder if he was the “greatest cornet soloist in the world”. A talented composer as well, Chambers produced many pieces during his lifetime including Cornet solos, waltzes, marches and concert overtures. His most famous works include Boys of the old Brigade and Chicago Tribune.
Carlise saw its first town band in 1855 thanks to both the influence of the Carlise Barracks and their military music, but also nearby Dickenson College and its dedicated populace of college musicians and, later, The Carlisle Indian Industrial School and its band of dedicated musicians. Town bands, in these early days, were especially important in Carlise because they provided much needed moral-boosts for the citizenry during they terrible days of the Civil War when Confederate troops shelled and occupied the city. In 1869, Dickinson College erected a bandstand on their campus and opened it to the use of local town and village bands, who gave a series of concerts their throughout the summer. In 1873, Carlise was further influenced by the arrival of the Royal Imperial German 11th Battalion Pioneer Band, who had served with distinction for the German Empire during the Fraco-Prussian War and where world-renowned. These German musicians played a series of concerts at the Carlisle Court House, due in no small part to the efforts of local physician Dr. J.J. Zitzer, who was also the treasurer for one of Carlisle’s local town bands. The performance of the Pioneer Band would have a lasting impression on local amateurs as bands copied the German-style of uniform dress (helmets and epaulets) and invigorated the populace to promote their local band scene by hosting conventions for local groups. The first of these conventions took place in Hummelstown in 1873 and was attended by bands from all over Cumberland and Dauphin Counties. The following year, Newville hosted the convention, which would become an annual event will 1876.
Dickinson College, which was established as a colonial grammar school in 1773 by Dr. Benjamin Rush (a Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence) and later chartered as the United State’s first post-colonial institution of higher education in 1783, created its own brass band in the late-Nineteenth Century under the direction of a tireless local musician and bandleader named Phil Norman. It appears from the scant accounts I was able to find on Norman that he was a great supporter of the arts, especially music, within minority communities like Native Americans and African-Americans. Whether he was a supported of American assimilation of minorities is still to be determined. Norman assisted Clara Coleman, a teacher at the Carlise Indian Industrial School, in creating a band in 1880 with the help of second-hand brass instruments from a Boston family. Since most students of the school were required to take music lessons as part of their instruction, finding recruits for the new band was not hard and the Carlise Indian School Band became a popular parade attraction and example of American enculturation policy. The band preformed at every inauguration of a new school president and became almost as well-known national as the School’s football program and athletics. Dennison Wheelock, an Oneida Indian student at the school, took over for Norman as the band’s leader, giving regular concerts at the school’s bandstand for the general public. Today a replica bandstand is on the grounds of the school and is dedicated to him, the Wheelock Bandstand. Norman also helped to found the Carlise Cornet Band, which was an all African-American group. He would be the group’s first director. A local newspaper was quoted as saying, “Carlisle can claim what none of her sister towns can claim: a first class colored band.”
All of this information itself showcases a staggeringly rich and colorful history that our brotherhood should be aware of. I hope to return to Carlisle at some point to continue the job of finding out more.