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America's Oldest Civic Band

One Hundred and Ten Years of Activity; and Still Flourishing


TO THOSE WHO ARE INTERESTED in band music, a span of one hundred and ten years of unbroken activity of any band must hint a tale of fascinating history. It is they who urge the musicians of home bands to bigger and better things. To such probably should go the credit of keeping an organization alive for such a period as one hundred and ten years, which is the boast of The Allentown Band, of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Up till a short time ago it was believed that America’s oldest band is a small but vigorous organization in New Hampshire, consisting of thirteen men, including the venerable leader, E. E. Wiggin, who has been the director for fifty-eight years, and who is only the third in line since its organization. In the language of this grand old director, two years ago, “The Band blew hard for one hundred and three years.” It was a great experience to stand face to face with an all American organization so old; for at the time of that meeting it was the oldest known band in the country, and it was often historically referred to as such. There was no available data to the contrary, in spite of the intense research demanded by the publisher before the acceptance of an interesting article on that organization.

New Claimants to Fame

Since that time, and because of the interest that the article aroused in band-minded persons, and musicians generally, excerpts of old newspapers were offered in evidence that the title of “The Oldest Band in America” should be conceded to The Allentown Band, which enjoys a five year seniority over its sister band in East Barrington, New Hampshire. A new interest was awakened, and satisfactory investigation confirming the claim was done. To all appearances, the distinction of being America’s oldest town band, belongs to The Allentown Band, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, which has authentic record that it was organized in 1828, one hundred and ten years ago. It is to-day a thriving organization consistng (sic) of seventy-five fine musicians and its able conductor, Albertus L. Meyers, before taking up the leadership of this organization, was a member of the famous Sousa Band.

There is this fact to be considered, however, that The United States Marine Band dates its origin back to 1800. But this musical body is part of the unit known as The United States Marines. To the minds of people interested in bands, it can not be classified with bands generally; for it was voted by Congress that “a band of about thirty drummers and fifers” was to be given to the newly organized unit of Marines, about the year 1800 or a bit earlier, and that it was to have two majors —a drum major and a fife major. This would make The United States Marine Band the oldest American musical institution of its type*; but its rank as a part of a military body still does not tear the laurels from the venerable head of The Allentown Band, as a civic institution, belonging to the common people, which is the high point in view.

Interesting American historical events of The Allentown Band includes the fact that it played at “the celebration in honor of General Lafayette, who had recently died, held on July 31, 1834, marching in the centre of the troops, leading the white horse draped in mourning, to the rumbling of the drums.”

The Human Urge for Culture

It is to be readily imagined that one of the earliest requirements of a community, composed of the stable folks who founded the lovely city of Allentown, must be a band. Named for its leading founder, Chief Justice Allen, the city nevertheless was composed of emigrants, from the German Palatinate and Switzerland, later to be identified as Pennsylvania Dutch—in reality, Deutsch. These people brought a deep-seated love of music from their homeland, many having been skilled players who not only handed down their talents to the younger generation, but who also insisted upon keeping alive the work they had begun. To-day the Allentown Band stands as a monument to the early energies and foresight of its forebears, as a great all-American musical institution composed of sincere musicians to whom the conductor gives today full credit for the high standard of the organization as it performs under his baton. It is said that a band is as good as its leader; but the leader of The Allentown Band would reverse this statement, for he insists that a band is as good as its every performer.

Realizing that a player does not belong to himself, but to the community in which he is privileged to live, the real musician feels somewhat like the missionary who is guided by the urge to “teach all nations.” From such heroic beginnings are handed down through the ages great reminders of the struggling past. Such a fair memory must belong to The Allentown Band, coming down to these days in an unbroken line and standing before us as perhaps the finest monument and tribute to the perseverance of a few performers who boasted only primitive instruments and a great love of music. When we recall that a community is to be judged largely by the standards of its musical tastes, we understand that a city of Allentown’s charm must have been blessed with good music from the beginning. And with this, to possess “The Oldest Band in America” is another and most outstanding distinction, such as might inspire a thrill of pride in any community.

   * The Stoughton Musical Society, a singing organisation of Stoughton, Massachusetts, founded in 1786, and so one hundred fifty-three years of age, is the oldest American musical group with an authenticated continuous existence.—Ed.

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