You will perhaps remember from an earlier History Moment Municipal Band founder Sol Kaufman’s regrets in the winter of 1922 that Charlottesville had no band that could lead parades and help celebrate civic occasions. You might think that the idea for the Municipal Band sprang out of nowhere, fully formed, from Kaufman’s mind. And, with our natural emphasis on the Municipal Band and its long history, you might think that Charlottesville had never had a band previously. If so, you’d be wrong.
We can’t know for sure, of course, what thoughts Mr. Kaufman may’ve had regarding Charlottesville bands prior to 1922, but we can be sure that such bands did exist—and that Mr. Kaufman in all likelihood knew about several of them. Very likely, what he knew significantly influenced him as he went about organizing the Municipal Band. So let’s take a quick look at some of these other bands.
There was a band in Charlottesville at least as early as 1861 (1). It was called the Charlottesville Silver Cornet Band, and it consisted of eleven musicians. When the Civil War broke out, they enlisted as part of the Monticello Guard Company of the 19th Regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia. During the Civil War, the Silver Cornet Band was said to be one of the best bands in the whole Army of Northern Virginia.
Another Civil War era band that certainly would’ve been known to Sol Kaufman was the Stonewall Brigade Band from Staunton, VA. This historic band began life in 1855 as the Mountain Saxhorn Band (2), and when the Civil War broke out, they found themselves attached to General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s First Brigade in the Army of the Shenandoah, from whence they took on the name they would be known by forever after. Both the Stonewall Brigade Band and the Silver Cornet Band provided music and entertainment to the troops and served as couriers, medics, stretcher bearers and surgeon’s assistants when their units were in battle. After the war the Stonewall band returned to Staunton, where it has performed down to the present day, making this band among the oldest continually active community bands in the country. Sol Kaufman doubtless heard this band on various occasions during his life prior to 1922, and he perhaps drew some of his inspiration for the Municipal Band from it.
Back here in Charlottesville after the Civil War there are recorded instances of at least a dozen bands and orchestras of various kinds during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The years of Kaufman’s youth and young adulthood coincided with what band historians call The Golden Age of the Community Band, that period running roughly from 1880 until 1920. At its peak there were over 20,000 community bands in America (3), providing entertainment and culture to the residents of small towns and villages and on up to those of major cities. One has to recall that during most of those years there was no television, radio, record players or movies, and so the playing of live music formed a large part of a community’s cultural and social entertainment. Charlottesville was no different, and Sol Kaufman would’ve listened avidly to both local musical groups and traveling bands, such as those associated with circuses, minstrel shows and military organizations. The famed Sousa Band, for example, came to Charlottesville on several occasions during those years, and Sol and many other future members of the Municipal Band doubtless attended the concerts by this internationally famous group.
One local band that Sol Kaufman surely would’ve known about was the Charlottesville Fire Department Band and Drum Corps. A band was associated with the local fire department at least since 1900 and probably even before then. By the time Sol organized the Municipal Band, this group had around 25 members and several of them also joined the Municipal Band, including its first conductor Harry Lowe.
In addition to playing in the small orchestra for the Jefferson Theater, Harry Lowe was also a member of the Modern Woodmen of America Band in nearby Crozet, VA. This band was active during the early part of the 20th century. In the picture below Mr. Lowe is seated in the middle of the front row of players.
Around this same time there were also bands in other nearby towns, including both Scottsville, VA, and Orange, VA. Harry Lowe had a part in helping to revitalize this latter organization during the time he was also Music Director for the Charlottesville Municipal Band.
Another local band in particular perhaps influenced Mr. Kaufman more than any other, and it was the Citizens’ Band of Charlottesville. This group was organized on June 25, 1898 when Sol was 24 years old. Several of those persons named to this band would go on years later to become members of the Municipal Band or have children who would become members. The Citizens’ Band consisted of around 20 musicians at its height, and its governing structure was remarkably similar to that the Municipal Band would adopt decades later. Their stated purpose, according to a Daily Progress article of the time was to play for free for “church festivals, lawn parties and all charitable purposes within the city limits” (4). Writing to the Daily Progress in support of The Citizens’ Band, one unnamed resident wrote “…a city without a good brass band is bound to be claimed with the dead towns”. The writer went on to urge support of the new band “and thus enable them to make the organization a permanent one, and the Citizens’ Band an ornament as well as the pride of our city” (5). One can easily see these same feelings of cultural necessity and civic pride surfacing again at the time the Municipal Band was formed, so it is almost certain Sol Kaufman was strongly influenced by the career of the Citizens’ Band.
So what became of the Citizens’ Band? It eventually died out sometime just before the start of World War I, perhaps a casualty of the changing times and tastes in entertainment that would spell the demise of so many of the Golden Age bands all across the country. That demise might have been the end of community band music in Charlottesville, too, had not Sol Kaufman, Ed Joachim and their business associates and local government leaders not remembered those bands they had heard and enjoyed in the past and determined that they would recreate for their present. Thankfully, Sol and his friends were successful and the Municipal Band they organized and nurtured would go on to become “The Soundtrack of Our Community since 1922”. All of us should be grateful, too, for all the musicians in all those other bands that came before and inspired our founders and still inspire us today.
- Thomas, Hebert A., Jr. “The 19th Virginia Regiment, 1861-1865”. The Magazine of Albemarle County History, v. 25, 1966-67, p.7.
- Hazen, Margaret Hindle and Robert M. Hazen. The Music Men: an Illustrated History of Brass Bands in America, 1800-1920. Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987, p.xvii.
- Daily Progress, Charlottesville, VA. July 1, 1898.
- Daily Progress, Charlottesville, VA. August 5, 1898, No.1.