Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gordon Bowie and Band Leaders: Excerpts from RB Hall Dissertation

Gordon Bowie and Band Leaders: Snippets from his Dissertation on RB Hall – 1993
(The editor’s comments are in italics; M. Strand, Feb.2012)

RB Hall lived during the heyday of town bands. Every town had a band of some kind, and larger towns and cities often had several competing bands. These bands needed instructors, as well as fresh music to play. Before the advent of instrumental music education in the schools, participation in a community band was the primary means of learning to play a band instrument. Oftentimes Itinerant music teacher were professional bandsman who offered private lessons on all instruments and rehearsed the town band and other musical groups. The role is an honored one:
The duties and rewards of the Band Leader varied, but for many hometown harmonists their professional lives conformed to certain patterns. Most were considered valuable artistes and were accorded the respect of their fellow citizens, particularly the newspaper editors who never failed to publicize musical efforts and accomplishments. Frequently the honorary title of professor was bestowed to accentuate their revered position. Such itinerant "professors" traveled from town to town in a weekly or monthly routine', giving private lessons and rehearsing small town bands. Their activities followed the form established by itinerant singing school masters of the previous generation. R. B. Hall was a prime example of just such a figure.
Today the “town band” is the place where school educated hobbyist musicians gather to play, practice, and prepare to share this favorite pastime with others.

After the heyday years (1880-1920) many former professional bandsmen and leaders became school band teachers as basic instruction on band instruments became a function of the schools rather than town bands.

Town Bands had considerable cross-membership, and also an exchange of Director/Leaders as internal band politics and external marketability changed. (Still true today, at least the member’s part.)

RB Hall's style as a band leader was that of a teacher or trainer. He taught the members how to play, and was evidently not only very patient and demanding, as Sturtevant's memoirs from Richmond have pointed out, but also personable and gracious. Years later Dr. Fred E. Maxfield, who played cornet in the Bangor Band beginning in 1884 and continuing throughout the Hall era, was to give the following reminis­cence to a reporter:
He had a delightful personality--was easy to know and talk with. He could impart his knowledge very gracefully--had a good sense of humor, too. As a leader he was no driver, but always had things under control. Musicians not only respected him--they loved him--and he inspired them to do their best. ----- Doesn’t that remind you of somebody?
The goal of RB Hall’s Band in Bangor was to become one of the best bands in the state and the band was very active in that pursuit. The Bangor Band adopted the name "Bangor Military Band," a reflection on the idea that their instrumentation should include a substantial number of woodwinds to balance the sound, as opposed to a "cornet band" (as the Bangor Band had been until 1877) which would have been at least nominally all brass and percussion. The idea of a "military" rather than "cornet" band was to become a key element in Hall's style as a leader and as a composer. There was a great deal of interest in the community for developing a quality band. The existing band would provide the necessary members to get started, but organiza­tion, leadership and funding would be necessary to shape them into a band of which the city could be proud. Hall was just the kind of leader that was needed, and over the next fifteen years he would mold the Band into an exemplary organization. (Sound like MVCB today?)

Readers should remember that every band is a union of individuals, each of whom is or was involved in the enterprise of group music-making for his or her own reasons. The social, cultural, and economic factors influencing band membership have a great deal to do with the histories of bands as musical organizations.

As we proceed with our search of our new Musical Director, some wise thoughts from our beloved Gordon may help guide our way.