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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BANDS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BANDS. Paid professional instrumental groups of any size, but restricted to woodwinds, brasses, and percussion, bands primarily played outdoor concerts and provided march music for parades. Until ca. 1840, Cleveland had virtually no organized bands that could qualify as professional. Among the easterners who settled the area, there were invariably amateur musicians to handle holiday celebrations, weddings, funerals, and dances. In this early era bands were hardly more advanced than the fife-and-drum groups of Revolutionary War times, according to O. V. Schubert, author of a handwritten and hand-illustrated book, "A Brief Sketch of Cleveland's Noted Bands from 1840 to 1880." Schubert was the son of B. B. (Ben) Schubert, who was born in Austria and was a cousin of the famous composer Franz Schubert.

By 1837 the Cleveland City Band, which then had 18 members, had already been formed. In 1840 B. B. Schubert organized the City Grays Band, with 2 trumpets, 2 French horns, ophicleide, clarinet, flute, drums, cymbals, and slide trombone. Its first performance was held on PUBLIC SQUARE--the favorite place for band concerts at that time and the center of Cleveland's public activities. Schubert also organized the German Guards Band in 1845. One of the early important figures in Cleveland bands was JACKSON MILLER LELAND†. First mention is made of him in 1844 in connection with the maiden voyage of the steamboat Empire. In providing the entertainment for the passengers, Leland's band demonstrated its versatility, for it was also for many years the leading marching band in Cleveland. To lead parades and processions, the colorful Leland bought a handsome bandwagon, which was later purchased by P. T. Barnum for use in circus parades. In 1848 the Jaeger Band was organized, and in 1850 Hecker's Band was noted as a favorite at public and private functions. Visiting bands were also part of the local musical diet. As early as 1851, "Dodsworth's Celebrated Cornet Band," consisting of 20 members, visited Cleveland for a concert in Melodeon Hall, and in 1852 the Newark Band visited and got good local reviews.

During the Civil War, the various bands enlisted, but not necessarily for the duration. Heck's Band joined the 4th Michigan Regiment. Jack Leland's Band returned from the war in June 1862 but left again in Nov. of that year to join the 14th Ohio Regiment. By the next May, however, it was back in Cleveland giving park concerts. Leland evidently distinguished himself as a composer of band music. In Feb. 1863, the display window in Brainard's music store featured the "Seventh Regiment March," composed by Leland and dedicated to Col. William R. Creighton of the Ohio 7th. Gradually other men became prominent in the field. Clark's Forest City Cornet Band was organized in 1863. E. Hatfield, John Messer, Geo. Burt, Wm. Heydler, and Joseph Ballhouse all organized their own bands; but a glance at the few rosters available shows that frequently the players were, interchangeable. The chief differences in the bands were the leaders and the uniforms.

With the growth of the city in the latter half of the century, largely through the influx of immigrants from Central Europe, the number of bands expanded accordingly. In 1877 the Bohemian musician J. Mudra reorganized Carl Braetz's 10-year-old Great Western Band, which was to achieve and hold prominence through the early part of the 20th century under the direction of FRANK HRUBY†, another Bohemian, who took over in 1889. Under the latter's leadership, the band of 35-50 players played both locally and for national political conventions. On 4 July 1894, the Great Western Band played for the dedication of Public Square's SOLDIERS' AND SAILORS' MONUMENT. GERMANS, one of the city's first major immigrant groups, always had in their midst some sort of "German Band" that could conveniently stretch itself from a small beer-hall outfit to one of marching and concert size. These, like the Czech and Italian bands that followed, were mostly amateur groups, though it was by no means rare for individual players to rise to professional status to join the established general-purpose bands. Visiting bands continued to be popular in the post-Civil War period. In 1871 Marble's Band of Akron played at the corner of Superior and Bank streets; it went on excursion with the Knights Templar to Sandusky. The Kaiser's own German Imperial Band, 35 pieces strong, came to town in 1876 to play in HALTNORTH'S GARDENS. Also in 1876, Gilmore's Band from Cincinnati came up for a concert performance. The CLEVELAND GRAYS had an on-again, off-again romance with bands, both their own and guests. B. B. Schubert had organized the first Grays Band in 1840, but it apparently did not become a permanent organization. Newspaper accounts in the latter half of the century did from time to time mention Grays American Band, or sometimes just Grays Band, each time under a different leader, suggesting that the Grays simply went out and hired the band of the moment for their parades and other functions.

By 1900 Cleveland had grown considerably, and the number of city parks kept pace. Most of them had bandstands, and EDGEWATER PARK, GORDON PARK, LINCOLN PARK, BROOKSIDE RESERVATION, and WADE PARK were sites of summer concerts. A major influence in local band growth during the early part of the century was the large influx of Italian immigrants. The ITALIANS brought with them the last great influx of European-trained bandleaders and musicians, many of them with extensive libraries of band music, principally arrangements of the operatic tunes and symphonic music that constituted the heart of the classical band repertoire of Italy. In Cleveland, Angelo Vitale, Frank Russo, August Caputo, and John Rinaldi were not only, brilliant instrumental performers but band conductors as well. Vitale, for example, spent his winters leading theater pit orchestras, and in the summers he conducted Vitale's Band in the various park concerts and parades.

After 1900, band music started to become associated more with national holidays and special celebratory events and less with regular concerts and parades. Despite a temporary reflowering sparked by World War I, band music waned thereafter. Cleveland's 1936 GREAT LAKES EXPOSITION, however, provided one last major outlet for organized band concerts. The exposition had its own series of band concerts under the direction of a half-dozen leaders, a special band shell having been erected for the purpose. That was the only prominent use of professional bands during the Depression. In 1946 the City of Cleveland sponsored a series of concerts on the Mall by a group called the Cleveland Band. The band was conducted by Leon Ruddick, head of music in the CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The Cleveland Band proved so popular that it was continued for several seasons, utilizing the services of guest conductors Angelo Vitale, Al Russo, and August Caputo, by then the elder statesmen of Cleveland bands. The period 1946-86 has shown 2 major developments in local band history. First, it belatedly recognized the validity of professional women musicians. Second, the period saw the twilight of professional concert bands, not only in Cleveland but also in the country as a whole. While bands did not disappear all at once, the pre-World War II bandleaders were forced to relinquish their positions because of both age and economic pressures.

The changes seriously affected professional bands. In the 1840s, according to O. V. SCHUBERT†, players were paid $3-$4 for a concert or a parade. Supplemented by income from teaching and playing for dances, that provided a living wage. Schubert compared this level of income with that of schoolteachers at $20 a month and laborers at $.75 a day. The relationship of bandsmen's pay to that of other professions was relatively constant throughout the 19th century, although because of the different natures and modes of work, comparisons must be considered imprecise. In 1986 professional bandsmen earned around $65 for a 2-hour rehearsal plus a 2-hour concert, not really a living wage when one considers that in 1986 a player could not count on as much work as in the 19th century. The size of the wage, however, had grown large enough to preclude the frequent use of professional band music on the part of municipalities or other organizations.

Such concerts as were given in the 1970s and 1980s were often billed as "Old Fashioned Band Concerts" and were a part of the general trend toward nostalgia at that time. The decline in band music in the post-World War II period can also be attributed to technological progress and changes in public taste, as well as economic shifts. The growth of high school and, college bands encouraged their use in public parades and further obviated the need for professional bands. Local municipalities found it difficult to support anything as large as these amateur groups, so the glamour of the local professional bands inevitably wore off. What professional band music there has been since 1946 has been due largely to funds won from the phonograph-recording industry by the American Fed. of Musicians, as a result of the federation's insistence on its members' being remunerated to some extent by the medium that helped wipe out a considerable portion of their work. In Cleveland during the 1980s, it is safe to say that whenever a professional band can be heard in concert or on parade, it is being paid for in large part by money earned by the music-recording industry. While most of the surviving bandstands in the older towns surrounding Cleveland are largely mute reminders of the golden age of band music, the suburb of LAKEWOOD has revived and sustained a summer series of band concerts in Lakewood Park for a quarter-century, since 1967.

Frank Hruby

See also MUSIC.

Last Modified: 02 Mar 2014 09:32:33 PM

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