First of all, let’s make it absolutely clear that the Municipal Band has never, as a group, either joined the military or fought in any battles. War has touched the Band in various ways at various times, however, and we will look at some of those here.
As an aside, there are community bands that have served in wartime, particularly during the U. S. Civil War. The Stonewall Brigade Band over in Staunton is one such example of many in both the North and South. In April of 1861 most of the Mountain Saxhorn Band (as it was then known) mustered into General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s First Brigade, Army of the Shenandoah. In addition to providing music to the troops, the bandsmen also performed a number of combat-related tasks, including guard and courier duties, and serving as stretcher-bearers and surgeons’ assistants.
The Municipal Band did not come into existence until almost 60 years after the Civil War ended, but it also has a connection to that conflict. In March of 1924 the Band was approached by officials of the Army of Northern Virginia Department of United Confederate Veterans to be the official band for that group. The Band accepted the offer and for the next decade or so attended several annual reunions of Confederate veterans held in various cities across The South.
The Municipal Band wasn’t organized until four years after the end of World War I, so it has no direct connection to that conflict either. However, on one occasion during its early years the Band was performing a concert at which General of the Armies John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front in World War I, was in attendance. It’s said that the General became so enthused by the Band’s music that he jumped up, grabbed a couple of drumsticks and joined the Band’s percussion section on one of its numbers!
As it did most people across the country, America’s entrance into World War II affected the Band drastically. Many of the men in the Band left for military duty or war work, leaving the Band seriously undermanned. Gas rationing and tire shortages limited the Band’s ability to travel to and from rehearsals and concerts. And wartime shortages of all sorts made it difficult to obtain music, supplies and parts or replacements for broken instruments. Nevertheless, under the able and resourceful direction of conductor Emil Rada the Band continued playing throughout the war, performing at local patriotic events, hospitals, bond rallies and parades, sometimes with fewer than a half dozen members present. And the war also had a more direct impact on the Band in several cases. Former conductor Harry Lowe’s oldest son, Harry Jr., enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served as a navigator and bombardier on a B-29 aircraft. He was killed when his plane was shot down during a bombing run over Japan late in the war. In the European Theater of action clarinetist Emmett Pack, Jr., was captured by the Germans in the fall of 1944 and spent the remainder of the war in Europe in a German POW camp. After the war he returned to the Band and served for many years as the Band’s first chair clarinetist, retiring in 1993 after some 58 years as a member of the Band.
The Band’s founder, Sol Kaufman, from the beginning felt that one of the Band’s primary functions should be to provide music for patriotic occasions and celebrations. In the decades since World War II the Band has done so many times. Some examples include performing at veterans’ hospitals, playing for Flag Day celebrations, providing music for local troops setting off to Korea, and performing for the United States Bicentennial Celebration. In 2001 the Band presented a memorial concert for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks just two weeks after the event itself, and on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 the Band participated in Charlottesville’s Weekend of Remembrance and Honor for victims, first responders, survivors and persons involved in the ongoing war on terrorism. Finally, the Band has on several occasions in the past few years participated in local celebrations honoring members of the United States Army.
The Band has always supported our service men and women and first responders, and a number of our former and current members are themselves veterans. We salute all who are currently serving or have served in the past, band members and audience members alike. Just as Sol Kaufman imagined nearly a century ago, we look forward to continuing to provide inspiring music for our entire community for generations to come!