At the time the Municipal Band was organized in August of 1922, newly hired Music Director Harry Lowe issued a startling and audacious public pronouncement. In it he stated that “…he would develop the musicians to such a point of efficiency that they could make a creditable public appearance at the expiration of six months.” (The Daily Progress, April 10, 1923) Many skeptics looked upon this statement with raised eyebrows. Few persons could have imagined that Mr. Lowe, however skilled and determined a teacher he might be, would be able to mold a group of novice bandsmen into a coherent and sonorous ensemble in such a short time. Yet—somehow he did so.
The Band members received their instruments on October 23, 1922 and made their first public appearance on April 10, 1923 in a parade up and down Main Street followed by a short concert outside Pence and Sterling’s Drug Store at the corner of Main and 2nd Street. Several additional appearances followed in short order, all to considerable public acclaim. Then in the May 23, 1923 edition of The Daily Progress all the skeptics were answered once and for all, when it was announced that a few days later on May 28th the Band would perform a concert in Lee Park, at which the Band would be formally presented to the City. At that time it would become the City’s responsibility to support and further the Band’s activities going forward. The day before the concert would also be devoted to soliciting public support for the Band, in order to help pay off the loans that the group had incurred to cover its start-up costs.
Monday the 28th rolled around and excitement built throughout the day. A Street Festival and Strawberry Fete to benefit the local YMCA boys’ summer camp advertised that for 25¢ listeners could “Sit in one of our comfortable chairs, eat strawberries and cream and enjoy the Municipal Band concert.” The YMCA itself provided as many chairs as possible to accommodate concert goers. (The Daily Progress, May 25, 1923) The Daily Progress later wrote in its May 26th edition that “The Band deserves the unstinted support of the entire community, because it is an organization whose sole purpose is community service, and our people should indicate their interest by their presence in large numbers at this performance.”
Come in large numbers they did. Long before the concert began at 7:30 PM Lee Park filled to overflowing and late comers had to seek vantage points on the steps and upper floors of nearby buildings. A spotlight had been installed on the roof of the nearby McIntire Public Library (now home to the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society) and The Progress reported “It is not saying too much to state that the band made a pleasing picture when the spot light was thrown on them from the cornice of the public library.” The Band then rendered the following program:
- Invocation by Rev. R. S. Woodson
- America – The Band
- Song – America – The Community
- Presentation of Band to City – Sol Kaufman
- Acceptance by Mayor John R. Morris
- March – Under the Double Eagle (Wagner)
- Song – There’s a Long, Long Trail (Sung by Band)
- Selection – The Sunny South (Lampe)
- Address – “Our Band” – L. D. Case
- Waltz – Three O’clock in the Morning (Robledo)
- March – King Cotton (Sousa)
- Song – Carry Me Back to Old Virginny (Sung by Band and Community)
- March – Our Director (Bigelow)
- Star Spangled Banner
It’s interesting to note the amount of singing done by both the Band and the audience. This was not an uncommon thing for the time, and it also reflected similar behavior practiced by members of the Band when they attended meetings of the various civic clubs to which most of them belonged. Public singing at Band concerts would continue for another decade or so before dying out.
The program above represents a significant proportion of all the music the Band members knew at the time of this concert and roughly 1/3 of all the pieces known to have been performed by the Band during 1923. It’s worth noting that several of the songs performed on this concert are quite challenging in various ways, especially for novice musicians, and the men who performed them that festive May night in 1923 should be commended.
As noted above, Band President Sol Kaufman formally presented the Band to the City, represented by Mayor John R. Morris. The exact wording of this presentation was not reported by The Daily Progress in its coverage of the event, but Band tradition states that Kaufman said, “Mr. Mayor, here is your band. We have tried to build well. We now turn over to the City of Charlottesville the responsibility to support it and see that it survives.” With a handshake Mayor Morris accepted the Band on behalf of the city, which went on to honor the gentlemen’s agreement between the two organizations for another 93 years.
One of the highlights of the evening was a speech entitled “Our Band” delivered by L. D. Case, Secretary of the local Chamber of Commerce and a strong supporter of the Band from its inception. In his remarks Case effusively praised both Harry Lowe and Sol Kaufman for their parts in creating the Band and likewise congratulated the citizens of Charlottesville for their support of the organization. It is evident the pride that he and everyone connected with the new Band felt for it and for the city it represented. His entire speech was printed in The Daily Progress for May 30, 1923 and is very much worth reading in its entirety. Case concluded his remarks as follows:
The spirit that you, the members of the Band, have so abundantly manifested… is a certain guarantee that the Municipal Band of Charlottesville is already a loved institution, and also a trustworthy pledge that its future will be safeguarded throughout the years to come. We are proud of you, and are honored in honoring an organization of your type and history. And though members of our band may come and go as time passes, it’s our fervent hope and prayer that our Band may be endowed with a deathless principle of life, an earthly immortality, and that its influence may spread in ever widening circles so long as Charlottesville and dear old Albemarle endure.
The Municipal Band would indeed go on in future years to represent both the City and County well in parades, concerts and at numerous civic events and ceremonial occasions. The Band would win prizes and play for many dignitaries from local leaders to state Governors to United States Presidents and even for the Queen of England. Perhaps best of all, the Band would provide countless hours of listening enjoyment for local citizens at hundreds of free concerts and civic events. If Sol Kaufman, Ed Joachim, Harry Lowe, L. D. Case and everyone else who was there on that May evening in 1923 were here today, they would indeed be proud of all the things the Municipal Band has accomplished over the 100 years since its founding. Today’s Band members are living links back through time to those first thirty-eight men who generously gave of their time, talent and treasure so that Charlottesville could have a band “second to none” in the State of Virginia. They are all part of a long and illustrious history, one that began in the heart and mind of a dedicated businessman, who loved his home town and believed Charlottesville deserved a first-class band and who, along with dozens of his colleagues, was willing to work hard to make that dream come true. That band has continued for a hundred years and – as Mr. Case said – will continue “so long as Charlottesville and dear old Albemarle endure.”