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The Bandon Concert Band, 1901-36

by Gary Topping

Public Entertainment in Rural Oregon: The Bandon Concert Band, 1901-36

Bandon, Oregon, when the city was first incorporated in 1891, would have been considered the proverbial wide spot in the road—except there were as yet no roads worthy of the name by which the tiny town could have been reached. True, a few intrepid explorers had reached the site by arduous overland paths, and a certain amount of freighting of heavy goods was done at low tide along the banks of the Coquille River, but for the general public, water offered the only practical transportation routes, either on the river or the Pacific Ocean.1  Despite that difficulty of access, though, the community was at the beginning of a remarkable economic boom and population expansion as Bandon began to assume its role as an entrepot where the agricultural products of the Coquille River Valley were exchanged for manufactured goods from distant seaports. Its 1890 population of 219 grew to 645 by 1900—still tiny, but an increase of an amazing 194.5%--and would grow by another 179.5% over the next decade, to 1803. 2  Even at 1803, Bandon was a very small town, as it remains today, and a series of setbacks in the early twentieth century, particularly two devastating fires in 1914 and 1936, would keep it from exceeding 1800 souls again until 1970. Still, Bandon boasted a vibrant community life and offered ample opportunity for development.

One feature of urban maturity, though, was present in Bandon right from the beginning when the city consisted of only a handful of people—a concert band. True, the first band was hardly large enough to be considered more than a small ensemble and its members struggled with instruments salvaged from various junkpiles, and it is also true that over its history the band waxed and waned in size and sophistication and even went into a hiatus a time or two. But the very existence of the band bolstered a community pride and established a continuous sense that Bandon was a band town (it’s hard to avoid the pun). And at its height during the early 1930s outside observers were frequently amazed that such a small city could produce an ensemble of such excellence. Any history of the cultural life of southwestern Oregon during the early twentieth century cannot be adequate without due consideration of the Bandon Concert Band.

Although concert and marching bands still have a role in the military, we so rarely see them today, except at high school and college football games, that it requires a vigorous exercise of the imagination to understand the much more vital role they played, particularly in rural parts of the country, in American cultural life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Herbert L. Clarke, who became John Philip Sousa’s cornet soloist, remembered it in his youth as “band fever”: “My enthusiasm for bands and band music never diminished, and when ever one was heard playing I followed it. Many a mile have I walked beside a band, . . . perfectly contented to keep it up all day long and never feeling tired until reaching home. . . . I just felt [band music] all through me.”3 Band historian H. W. Schwartz notes that when Sousa created his own band in 1892 (after leaving the United States Marine Band), “he was riding the crest of an upsurge in band interest,” and cites an 1889 Harper’s Weekly article that estimated that there were some ten thousand community bands across the United States.4  “The local band outranked all other musical organizations in popularity,” wrote Lewis Atherton in his history of small-town life in American history; “Its brilliant uniforms, flashing instruments, and military cadence stimulated town pride and spirit.”5

Clarke’s “band fever,” moreover, was contagious, for community bands filled a cultural need as nothing else could. Schwartz, once again: “In such an era, without the automobile, the phonograph, the movies, or radio, adult amateur bands answered a need and soon became a kind of craze. If one town formed a band, all the surrounding towns felt they should have one, and from about 1890 to 1905, new bands sprang up by the hundreds and thousands.” Bandon was certainly not immune to that contagion. During the process of reorganizing the band after the devastation of the 1914 fire, the Western World opined, “Bandon at one time had one of the best musical organizations in the state. It was the source of much pride and entertainment and was an invaluable advertising feature for the city. At every possible occasion its services were in demand and it added wonderfully to all festivities which took place.”6

Bandon’s experience, and even more aptly, that of Coos County as a whole, bears out Atherton’s observation that those community bands tended to be evanescent. “As a rule,” he points out, “bands came into being on a wave of local enthusiasm, functioned well for a time, and then gradually declined, with the process starting over again within a few months. Inadequate financial aid caused much of the trouble.”7 Bandon avoided most of that coming and going, for it went into hiatus only briefly at the turn of the century and for a two-year period following the 1914 fire. The rest of Coos County was not so fortunate. In their history of the county, Emil R. Peterson and Alfred Powers list an amazing array of such organizations even in tiny communities like Riverton on the Coquille River between Bandon and Coquille, most of which are known to history only by their names.8

The creator of the first Bandon band was Charles S. McCulloch, who was born in Illinois and came to Bandon in 1891 at age twenty-five. He was long active in civic affairs until his death in 1931. He operated a jewelry and watch repairing business, then switched to his first love of engineering, at which he was self-taught. After working as a surveyor, he became city engineer. While running his jewelry shop, he gathered a bunch of discarded brass instruments and pounded them into something like playable condition. Himself a cornetist, he located other aspiring musicians and formed them into what was (a bit generously) termed a band. The ensemble could more accurately called a brass quintet with percussion: the instrumentation consisted of McCulloch on cornet and conducting, an alto horn, two tenor horns, a tuba and two drums. One notable member of the band was William TenBrook, the tuba player, who remained a member of every future incarnation of the group until its end in 1936 and who tried futilely to resurrect the organization even then. McCulloch even fashioned uniforms for the band from some discarded military ones which he retailored for their civilian application. Financing the band, as always, was a challenge, but the resourceful McCulloch even had resources for that: he donated two watches to the band, one of which sold for forty-three dollars—not a handsome sum, perhaps, but it was, after all, a pretty modest organization. The band assumed a role in Bandon’s cultural life by playing Sunday concerts and a tradition was born.9

The next incarnation of the Bandon Concert Band occurred on February 28, 1901. Our knowledge of that band is hampered by a paucity of sources: newspaper coverage is limited to two articles and the only other source is a posed photograph of the band in front of a rock face on the beach. Those few sources actually tell us quite a bit about the band, but answers to many vital questions must remain speculative. The first newspaper account proudly announces that “Bandon has a brass band and the instruments arrived last Sunday on the steamer Mandalay, and the boys have gone to work manfully, each to acquire his part. Of course the skill necessary to practice music has to be forged by careful effort, but the boys hope to be able by July 4 th , next, to do justice to a national holiday and Bandon should give them a rousing celebration on that occasion. The boys deserve credit for their enterprise and none more so than Geo. P. Topping, who has been the leading spirit in bringing this project to a realization.” 10

The photograph does not depict a typical volunteer community band, in which instrumentation is largely random, governed by whatever horns people might have in the back of their closets. Rather, this band bears every earmark of having been created systematically, from the ground up, just as the newspaper story indicates. To be sure, a critical bandmaster might have a few minor cavils: the valve trombone is superfluous, as band arrangements only have parts for three trombones and the slide instrument blows much more freely and better in tune. There are probably more cornets than are really needed--perhaps a function of the fact that George P. Topping was a cornet player (he is seated in the front row to the conductor’s immediate right)—and another clarinet or two would be welcome, as would a piccolo player. Other than that, the instrumentation is remarkably well balanced. The three mellophones would have produced a bigger, “mellower,” sound than the smaller E-flat alto horns often used, and though French horns would have been much better in a concert situation, they are not as effective on parade. The double-bell euphonium is largely regarded as an anachronism today, but they continued to be popular until World War II, and the single player depicted here would have been sufficient for a band that size.

Did the band live up to its promise of providing music by July 4, and if so, how did it sound? Newspaper reportage is lacking for that celebration, but we know that at least by 1904 the band was in operation. At the July 4 celebration that year, it performed creditably: “On arrival at the grounds the band opened up the exercises with one of its soul-stirring selections,” and “In the evening the band gave a concert and then gave a ball, which was largely attended, and a very enjoyable affair, lasting until morning.” 11

The fact that the band emerged, as it were, ex nihilo, leads to the speculation that Topping might have been buttonholing people on the street to try to generate interest among them to take up the trombone or whatever. Attaining proficiency on any serious musical instrument requires a great deal of persistence and work, both mental and physical. The task is rendered even more daunting if one is really starting from scratch and has to learn to read musical notation in addition to the techniques of sound production and pitch alteration for a particular instrument. Many are the aspiring musicians who fall by the wayside. Experienced instructors would have been almost completely lacking. Conservatory-trained musicians were uncommon even among the big professional bands—even Sousa’s most prominent soloists, cornetist Herbert L. Clarke and trombonist Arthur Pryor—were completely self-taught, and they would have been even more rare in rural communities like Bandon. Nothing is known about Topping’s musical background, but having grown up in rural Josephine County, it is safe to assume that he was self-taught as well. Such auto-didacticism would have involved acquiring a method book—in the case of most brass musicians it was the venerable J. B. Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for Cornet which, after almost two hundred years, is still standard practice fare—and picking up tips from more experienced players at band rehearsals or, as it were, over the backyard fence.12

There were few phenomena like Clarke or Pryor among America’s community bandsmen, and the low level of pedagogy by which most of them learned their craft would have set serious limitations on the music they attempted. That meant that the pieces they could play would have been in simple keys, say from G Major (one sharp) to A-flat Major (four flats) and with limited pitch range and technical demands.13 We will see that these speculations are corroborated by the known repertoire of the band recreated after the 1914 fire.

We would also like to know how the cost of those instruments—and the uniforms, which are not mentioned in the newspaper article—was funded. The article credits Topping with being the driving force behind the whole project, but he would not become mayor for well over a decade into the future, and had no other official position from which he might have leveraged such a budgetary allocation. We are talking about a significant amount of money: band historian Schwartz, who was himself an official of the C. G. Conn instrument company, estimates that instruments for a fifteen to twenty-piece band might range from eight or nine hundred dollars to perhaps fourteen or fifteen hundred, depending on the quality of the instruments and the number of “big” horns—euphoniums and tubas—in the purchase.14 The Bandon band was over twenty pieces and included “big” horns, so an estimate toward the upper end seems reasonable.15 And uniforms cost about forty dollars apiece.

Funding for community bands was always a close-to-the bone matter, especially if the bandsman himself had to buy both instrument and uniform (which did not seem to be the case here). Realizing that a buoyant community spirit could translate into business activity—to a point—merchants were often amenable to contributing to the band’s support. Fund-raising activities like concerts could also help. And, occasionally, city government could be talked into a budgetary appropriation.16 Which was it in this case? Extrapolating back from the post-1914 band, we can assume that the first band also put on fund-raising concerts to pay out-of-town travel expenses and music arrangements. But who paid for that initial investment in instruments and uniforms? Perhaps Topping was persuasive enough to have talked the city into footing the bill. Or perhaps he paid it himself. The impetus for resurrecting the band after the 1914 fire came from his announcement that he was thinking of selling the instruments that nobody was still around to play after the population exodus following the fire.17 But he was mayor by that time and might have been threatening to sell them on behalf of the city rather than himself.

And so we know frustratingly little about Bandon’s first experiment in sponsoring a community band. What we do know is that the band was a casualty of the fire of 1914.

Despite the rainy climate of Oregon’s Pacific slope which sustains the thick forests that account for much of the region’s proverbial beauty, the occasional hot, dry summer can turn that Edenic environment into a lethal fire trap. Bandon’s history indicates an especial vulnerability to such fires, for the vast fields of brushy Irish furze—a non-native species introduced by the homesick Irishman who founded the city--extending back from the beaches can ignite easily and burn with astonishing rapidity. Such was the immense conflagration that consumed almost the entire city in 1936 and is still remembered by Bandon old-timers as the most traumatic event of their lives.

And of course Bandon remained as vulnerable as any other city to regular sources of fire—faulty electrical wiring, bad fireplaces, and the like. Beginning in 1906, a series of fires occurring almost annually destroyed individual buildings both in Bandon and in surrounding areas. Together, they called attention dramatically to the city’s almost total lack of firefighting capability. Even after creation of a volunteer fire department in 1907 and a downtown water main with five hydrants, fire protection remained rudimentary, and in fact non-existent in the residential district on the hill, as the 1911 destruction of the Presbyterian church in that district illustrated.18

On June 11, 1914 the most devastating fire to date occurred in the downtown business district, where a chimney fire in a restaurant in a previously condemned building broke out. After having been apparently contained, the fire restarted in the middle of the night and by morning had destroyed almost three city blocks.19 Although relatively localized in extent, the fire’s larger significance was immense, for it struck right at the heart of the city’s economy. Businesses began to rebuild, but in the meantime people needed to find work, and the result was a major out-migration: between 1910 and 1920, Bandon’s population suffered a 36.8% decline, from 1,803 to 1,440, at the very time when other Coos County communities were rapidly growing.20 In a desperate attempt to stop the exodus, the Western World published a little poem, “Hesitate Before Leaving Bandon”: “Things are dull in San Francisco/ ‘On the bum’ in New Orleans/ Rather ‘punk’ in cultured Boston/ Famed for codfish, pork and beans.” After several other verses denigrating cities from Atlanta to San Diego, the poem concludes: “In the face of all such rumors/ It seems not amiss to say/ That no matter where you’re going/ In Bandon you had better stay.” 21 Later, reporting an attempt to reorganize the band, the Western World blamed this out-migration for having killed it, and hoped that “an organization could be selected which would consist wholly of home men who are permanent residents, hence one of the greatest difficulties encountered in maintaining a band organization—loss of players by their removal from the city—would be eliminated.”22

As noted above, the catalyst for this movement to recreate the band was an announcement in 1916 that Mayor Topping was about to sell the instruments left behind by musicians who had relocated elsewhere. The real force in this reorganization, though, was not Topping, although he remained a fixture in the cornet section, but rather George Manciet.23

Well liked and well known for his nervous laughter and his habit of twiddling the valves on his horn when he was not playing, Manciet was a figure to be reckoned with in Bandon’s business and cultural history. Unlike his brother Herb, who married and had several daughters, George remained a lifelong bachelor. Music might have been his avocation, but it was a pervasive one: he could always be heard whistling some popular tune or humming an operatic aria “in imitation of the horn that has been his constant companion, his solace, his comfort and refuge.”24 He was a capable singer who participated in a male quartet and in the annual Christmas cantata organized by his friend Topping at the Presbyterian church. As we shall see, he was a great song-and-dance man capable of bringing down the house with a comedy routine performed with his colleague Otto Schindler. Finally, he had a sense of humor and seemed not to mind a bit of ribbing in a humor column in the local newspaper: reporting that Manciet was scheduled to play a solo with the band at an upcoming concert, the paper alluded to his evident love for a glass of good beer by suggesting that he play “The Extract from Malt.”25

The Manciet Bros. cigar store and pool hall was one of the “heavy losers in the [1914] conflagration,” and spent the next two years struggling by in temporary quarters before finding an opportunity to relocate in the supposedly fireproof Biggs-Buckingham building facing First Street. On March 9, 1916 the Western World reported that George Manciet had left the previous week on the steamer Elizabeth for San Francisco where he proposed to buy new pool and billiard tables as well as a soda fountain which could dispense ice cream and soft drinks.26 Obviously a very public-spirited fellow, Manciet took a broad view of Bandon’s future destiny, which would embrace not only his resurrected business, but, as a dedicated and enthusiastic musician, a resurrected band as well. “Bandon at one time had one of the best musical organizations in the state,” the Western World reported in April; “ It was the source of much pride and entertainment and was an invaluable advertising feature for the city. At every possible occasion its services were in demand and it added wonderfully to all festivities which took place. Now that industry in all lines is reviving and business conditions are becoming better, it is believed that a first class band could again be maintained without much expense. Mr. Manciet hopes to get enough of the business men of the city to promise support to the total amount of several hundred dollars providing the band can be reorganized.”27

This intention was no vague pipe dream, the paper went on, for Manciet had already signed up a number of willing musicians and had even recruited a conductor: “Among musicians now available in the city are the following: Geo. P. Topping, cornet; Geo. Manciet, alto; Prof. Kausrud, cornet; Bert Patterson, baritone; Ralph Elliott, trombone; Herbert Brown, trombone; W. Tenbrook, tuba; Lawrence Thompson, clarinet; Herbert Manciet, cornet; E. Boak, alto; Tom Felger, drums; Roy Thom, baritone; Wm. LeGore, clarinet; Axel Erickson, bass drum; Chas. Bowman, bass drum; C. E. Bowman, tenor; Chas. Thompson, clarinet; Vade Gartin, snare drums; Robert Thom, cornet; Phil. Pearson, clarinet; Lawrence Stitt, trombone.” Prof. Kausrud, who was the City Recorder, agreed to be the conductor.

People in 1916 of course were yet several decades from being able to appreciate the humorous reversal of the situation of River City, Iowa in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man: in Bandon of 1916, rather than the band being created to combat the civic corruption represented by the pool hall, it was the pool hall owner who was creating the band! And he was off to a good start. Like the previous band, it was a bit heavy on cornets and spare on clarinets, but the imbalance was not crippling and the rest of the instrumentation was well chosen. Manciet himself actually seems never to have played alto horn in the band (as he had in the 1901 organization), but instead became the euphonium soloist. Even though the euphonium was not his first instrument, Manciet was highly respected for the mellifluous sound and moving expression he could produce on the horn. Although not a great technician, he would be featured frequently on melodious solos.28

As time passed, Manciet saw that his recruiting efforts were moving slowly and realized that they needed to be backed up by an instructional program; it would hardly do to hand a person a horn and a pat on the back and tell him to figure it out as best he could (though, as we have noted, many band musicians of the time got started in pretty much that way). Eventually he started a band for beginners, with the idea of integrating its members with the regular band as they grew proficient enough to handle their parts. “A beginners band is being organized in Bandon under the direction and leadership of George Manciet,” the Western World reported in April, 1921. “The first meeting was held at the City hall Monday evening and the boys got their initial lessons. Many of them already have some knowledge of band instruments but the majority are beginners. . . .The personnel Monday night numbered 14 but since it has become known that such an organization is being considered quite a few more have signified their intentions of joining. Mr. Manciet is offering his services as instructor without charge, just for the sake of getting some new musicians started, he says.”29

Crucial to the success of the new band was finding a qualified conductor, especially in view of the lack of experience on the part of many of the members, who needed instruction from the podium as well as in the practice room. “Professor” E. R. Kausrud filled that role for a time, but eventually relocated to Portland. In the interim, George P. Topping took over, but he was skilled in cornet playing, not conducting, and regarded his role as only temporary.30 Early in 1923 the band recruited one W. E. Nickerson from Washington, a cornet soloist and conductor who had acquired a reputation in Medford for his ability to develop an inexperienced band much like the one in Bandon. “As a cornet player he is an artist,” the director of the Medford Elks Band reported. “He thoroughly understands every instrument in the band. He has made great success in developing young bands. Any community in need of such a man need [not] hesitate in employing him: he can surely make you a band, and best of all he is a gentleman along with it.”31

A subscription was gotten up among Bandon’s business community to provide a salary of $75 for several months, with Nickerson hoping to make a living by supplementing that with income from private lessons.32 The arrangement seemed promising: for a time, Nickerson shared conducting duties with Topping, but by September had taken over completely and at a concert played a flashy “triple tongue” cornet solo with piano, not band, accompaniment. The band itself numbered twenty-five members, and for the first time in the band’s history, the concert program was published in the newspaper. In addition to Nickerson’s solo, the selections included a duet by George Manciet and a saxophone player, Marie McArthur, a euphonium solo by Charles E. Kaiser, an expert player brought in from North Bend, arrangements of several popular songs, and an overture, “Orpheus in the Underworld,” by Jacques Offenbach. The overture was a standard concert-in-the park feature beloved of municipal bands, but requiring a competence somewhat above the beginner level.33 The band indeed seemed to be acquiring some musical maturity.

Unfortunately, it appears that the financial arrangement Nickerson was able to strike with the city proved insufficient, and his career as band conductor lasted only some six months. Nickerson had gotten married during that time to a young woman he had met in Medford, and it is probable that the increased domestic commitment required a salary that he could not raise in Bandon.34

But the momentum Nickerson had generated was not lost. During his brief tenure as conductor, the band produced perhaps the biggest musical extravaganza in the history of the community “to buy new instruments, music, etc., and provide for the incidental expenses in building up a real band for Bandon.” The production was a comic opera called "The Merry Milkmaids,” written by one George T. Wilson and employing some fifty local musicians, actors and singers. “It is an opera of the Gilbert & Sullivan type,” the Western World reported after the performance in April, 1923, “with a good plot, original characters, tuneful music, picturesque costumes, interesting drills and witty dialogue. While it is a comic opera it is not all comedy, there being several numbers containing excellent music, tender sentiment and semi-serious thought.” The opera included a couple of numbers that brought the house down. One was an Alphonse and Gaston routine performed by “The Jolly Dudes,” George Manciet and Otto Schindler, “the dudes with a big D,” whose “clothes were louder than their songs.” The audience would not let the performance continue until the pair had returned for an encore. “But when it comes to a real musician, drill master and band leader,” the paper continued, “you will have to hand it to George Topping. As Captain of the Farmers’ Brigade and Leader of the Farmers’ Concert Band, he was there a million. In fact he was all over the stage at the same time. But then, you know, George’s pedal extremities are extremely elongated and he could do that sort of thing a man who was built close to the ground couldn’t.”35 The humor of Topping’s clowning would have been greatly enhanced by the fact that he was known for his dignified bearing and fastidious dress to the point of vanity, from his mirror-like shoeshine to the toupee he sported once his baldness had reached an intolerable point.

Nickerson’s departure by no means doomed the band, for in a truly fortuitous turn of events, the conductorship in the summer of 1924 passed into the hands of Charles F. Atwood who, over the next half dozen years, brought the band to its highest level of professionalism and its greatest importance in Bandon’s civic and cultural life. Atwood was a conservatory-trained musician from Boston with substantial experience as both a player and conductor. He had at some point abandoned his professional career in music, and when he arrived in Bandon from Los Angeles in 1924 he was acting as an agent for the E. M. Smith real estate agency. Learning of Atwood’s musical background, Topping quickly recruited him to take over the Bandon Concert Band. Although Atwood initially intended to rely on his real estate income as his livelihood and to serve the band without compensation, real estate seems to have faded rather quickly, and Atwood’s record as a Bandon citizen from that time almost exclusively concerned music. In time, he took over music instruction in the Bandon schools and gave private lessons there and in other Coos and Curry communities. He married an art teacher in Bandon and made the place his home until health problems forced his relocation in the early 1930s.36

Atwood’s contribution to the Bandon Concert Band was twofold. For one thing, he was an expert promoter who went to great efforts to ensure that the band was integrated deeply into Bandon’s civic and cultural life. Atwood worked them hard: incredibly, for a volunteer organization, they rehearsed twice a week, on Monday and Thursday evenings.37 There was rarely a public celebration, from the county fair to Independence Day or Armistice Day that did not see the band’s participation in a parade, a concert, a dance, or perhaps all three. He offered free weekly concerts outdoors in the summer and indoors in the winter. And the band traveled: in the fall of 1927 it journeyed to Crescent City, California on a publicity tour celebrating the new Roosevelt Highway (modern Hwy 101), and in 1927 participated in a Sunset Trail festival in Eugene, both on parade and in concert. The publicity value of the latter event was trumpeted by the Western World: “Those who heard the local organization state that Bandon got many hundreds of dollars worth of publicity through the presence of its band and float at Eugene, and that it was one of the best things the chamber of commerce has backed this year. Picture post cards of the band were sold all over the city after the Friday parade.”38

Atwood’s other great contribution was development of the band’s repertoire. Fortunately, through Atwood’s promotional efforts, we have a very good idea of what that repertoire consisted of, for he published advance notices of his programs in the newspaper, and the Bandon Historical Museum also has a substantial collection of handbills advertising those programs. Atwood’s repertoire choices were tightly restricted by the available literature, the instrumentation of the band, and the skill of the players, but he took good advantage of what was available.

As bands moved, during the nineteenth century, from the parade ground to the concert hall, their literature and instrumentation were slow to make the change. The march, of course, which relies heavily on brass and percussion, was already available in huge numbers of compositions, many of which were musically sophisticated and technically difficult—the works of John Philip Sousa come readily to mind. Atwood’s programs typically began and ended with a march; it was a good way to settle the audience down at the outset and send them home at the end whistling a catchy melody.

Beyond that, the choices became rather skimpy. Atwood could not count on his audiences having a very sophisticated musical taste, so his programs always included humorous novelty tunes or arrangements of popular songs or dance tunes. Nor did he usually have good soloists he could call upon. While big bands like Sousa’s could boast virtuosos like Herbert L. Clark, Arthur Pryor and Simone Mantia (on cornet, trombone and euphonium respectively) who played their own compositions displaying dazzling technical feats, Atwood had good sectional players, but no one able to step to the front of the stage in a similar manner. He often did feature George Manciet’s beautiful and expressive euphonium on tuneful solos, but Manciet had only middling technical skill.

“Serious” compositions for band were slow to emerge, and most of the meaty selections that would anchor Atwood’s programs—and even Sousa’s—were transcriptions of orchestral literature. Adapting a literature that relied mostly on strings to ensembles of brass instruments with only a limited section of reeds was a challenge. The Bandon reed section, like that of most municipal bands, consisted exclusively of clarinets and saxophones. A bass clarinet would have seemed as exotic as a giraffe, and oboes and bassoons, which are extremely expensive to own and difficult to play, were unheard of. One might reasonably have expected a flute/piccolo player to show up somewhere, but Bandon never had one. That omission is particularly eyebrow-raising because Atwood very often concluded his programs with Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” perhaps the most famous march ever written. It also features, in its Trio section, the most famous piccolo part in the band literature, the florid obbligato that dances above the stately melody and that everyone who knows the march anticipates. One of the strangest facts in the history of the Bandon band is not only that Atwood would program such a piece that frequently, but also that no one ever seems to have complained, nor even noticed, that conspicuous omission.39

Arrangers who adapt orchestral pieces for band performance often compensate for limited instrumentation by writing “cues” for instruments they do have: an important bassoon part, for example, might show up in small cue notation on the euphonium part, for example, or an oboe cue on a clarinet part. For any listener who is familiar with the original orchestral piece, those cues are poor substitutes for the original instruments, but they can work as stopgaps. One orchestral nicety that Atwood did have at his disposal was Rex Topping’s French horn, a lovely symphonic substitute for the harsher alto horns and mellophones otherwise found in that midrange.40

It seems fair to say that, inspired and instructed by Charles Atwood’s professionalism and energy, the Bandon Concert Band probably reached the height of its competence during the Atwood years of the mid-to-late 1920s. To be sure, the limited instrumentation and to a degree the limited competence of the players prohibited the band from attempting the weightier orchestral transcriptions played by the big professional bands. That, and perhaps the limited musical sophistication of its audience, restricted the band’s repertoire to easily accessible marches, “program music,” and popular and novelty tunes.41 But “Stars and Stripes Forever” is not an easy march and requires real competence to play well, while some of the weightier overtures the band played regularly—Herold’s “Zampa,” von Suppe’s “Poet and Peasant,” and Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld,”—offer real difficulties for the amateur musician. One could reasonably judge that the Bandon Concert Band ranked at least equal to most other municipal bands of the day and probably to most good high school bands in our own time.

There is no more telling measure of Atwood’s importance to the band than its rapid collapse after his departure. Early in 1933 the Atwoods moved to Portland, apparently for easier access to better health care than was available in Coos County. He did not disappear entirely, for he went to work for a Seiberling-Lucas music company, probably as a salesman, for he visited Coos County on at least two recorded occasions as their representative. 42 On October 8, 1936, though, Bandon residents received the sad news that he had passed away in Clare, Michigan, where he had gone for surgery for a bladder condition by his wife’s uncle who was a specialist, but died of blood poisoning.43

His death meant the death of the Bandon Concert Band. During the three years between his departure and death, the newspaper reported only occasional appearances by the band on a July 4 or Memorial Day, but those were dying gasps, and on April 9, 1936, the paper observed that “since the departure from the community of Chas. F. Atwood, well known leader, [the band] declined to depression levels.” Although, on one occasion, one “S. A. Selak of Bend, a band leader, came. . . to investigate the possibility of taking over the band,” the effort had failed.44 There was no indication that George P. Topping, who had largely created the band in the first place and had once been its leader, had any interest in stepping back into that role even to save the band’s life. Apparently Atwood had developed the quality of the band beyond Topping’s ability to lead.

At the same time, though, that the paper announced the decline of the band “to depression levels,” it seemed to offer the hope of salvation. Sol Driscoll, a professional tuba player for twenty-five years who was said to have played in the band of Patrick Gilmore (a rival of John Philip Sousa), various circus bands and the Portland Symphony, had recently purchased some acreage east of Bandon and proposed to spend his retirement there. 45 The local bandsmen successfully persuaded him to modify his retirement to the extent of holding band rehearsals and giving music lessons. Rehearsals were held on Thursday evenings, and new members were invited to attend “whether [they play] an instrument or not.” A harbinger of the band’s future , as we shall see, is that “new members are desired, particularly young men who are desirous of learning.”46 The newly organized band even staged an outdoor concert on Friday night, August 14, 1936, and things seemed poised to take off again.47

Alas, it was not to be. The summer of 1936 was unusually hot and dry. During September the moist ocean breezes from the west that ordinarily cooled the town shifted to the east and instead dried things even further. On the morning of Saturday, September 26, a fire in the region of Bear Creek east of town swept in rapidly. Bandon’s rudimentary fire department had no chance of stemming its spread, and by evening one could count on the fingers of one hand the buildings that had not burned to cinders. It was the greatest catastrophe in Bandon history.48

Rex Topping and his brother Paul spent the day fighting another fire south of town, unaware of what was going on in Bandon. When they returned home that evening, there was no home to return to. Rex’s sousaphone and string bass that he had played in the band at the Silver Spray Dance Pavilion were vaporized, as was the French horn he had played in the Bandon Concert Band. Most of the other bandsmen’s instruments had met a similar fate; when one has to flee for one’s life, presumably even something as small as a clarinet would not be the first thing he would grab. The Bandon Concert Band, so far as anyone could tell, was finished.

Or was it? As early as December the Western World announced that William TenBrook, a tuba player in the band from its very beginning, was mounting a courageous effort to resurrect it. During a visit to Portland, TenBrook had found a musical instrument dealer who had “an ample supply of instruments, ready to loan with privilege to buy, and he made arrangements with the firm to bring a truckload to Bandon in the near future.” Nor did that exhaust his efforts: in addition, he had polled the city’s musicians and found two dozen of them who might be signed up for a new band. He had even talked to Sol Driscoll and found that he would “in all probability be willing to resume.”49

One can only admire the courageous optimism of a people who had suffered such a devastation and were eager to rebuild. Almost immediately a plan was drafted to rebuild the community from scratch along scientific urban planning principles, a plan that was pushed by some of the residents almost to the point of obsession.50 But that went no further than the plan for a resurrected band. By June, 1937, it was apparent that Sol Driscoll was not “willing to resume” conducting whatever could be rebuilt of the band. Even George P. Topping gave up for a time on the Bandon band and turned up in Port Orford to conduct the band there in a July 4 concert. The following summer, though, Topping, who had been unwilling to replace Charles Atwood, decided that the band was now in an emaciated state commensurate with his limited conducting abilities, and led some kind of band for the Memorial Day exercises.51 But that was the band’s last gasp, and it was never heard from again as an integral unit, though some of the individual musicians continued playing as mentors to the new school music program.

As the wheels of history turned, the last phase, to date, of the history of bands in Bandon would be written in the schools and by women and children. Throughout most of its history, the Bandon Concert Band members had been mostly adult males. Although the band was always trying to recruit new members, it seems to have relied on the fluidity of the town’s population, especially after the 1914 fire, to bring in the occasional Charles Atwood or Sol Driscoll to increase its numbers and enrich its quality. To be sure, the band members during the mid-1920s had included a smattering of women and young people: a photograph of the band on stage at the Hartman Theater probably taken in 1924, shows Rex Topping, born in 1905 and still a teenager, and several other youthful faces. It also shows two women saxophonists, Marie McArthur and Helen Waldvogel.52 But there seems to have been no active recruitment effort for women and none for young people until Atwood took over the music program in the schools at about that time. On September 18, 1924 the newspaper announced that the band would be playing at the county fair in Myrtle Point and that several schoolchildren (ages not given) would be part of the band.53 By 1929, Atwood’s school involvement was paying conspicuous dividends in recruiting young members: “Mr. Atwood, director of the band, pursues the policy of having the band constantly recruited with high school boys and young men, which gives it a youthful appearance, but under his tutelage they produce the goods.”54 In the following year, Robert Zentner, a grade school trumpet player, even soloed with the band.55

With the failure of attempts to resuscitate the band after the 1936 fire, it became apparent to some that it was time for a new direction, a direction that would embrace a more inclusive and ongoing recruitment program. The schools seemed a promising place for that to occur. The music program in the schools had apparently died out with Charles Atwood’s departure and so needed to be recreated from scratch. The great engine propelling that recreation was Mrs. Celeste Truman.

Celeste Truman (nee Bell) was a native of Buhl, Idaho who had come to Bandon sometime after World War I and married John R. Truman, a local celebrity known for daredevil racing of cars and airplanes and for pioneering work in radio. He was a war veteran, and Mrs. Truman became a leader in the American Legion Auxiliary and head of a committee to start a Junior Band in the schools.56 She was motivated in that largely because one of her daughters, Gloria, was an aspiring trombone player who needed a place to perform. Although band instruments can function effectively in solos accompanied by piano or organ, their primary use is within an ensemble such as a band or orchestra. Mrs. Truman, a sister of George Topping’s daughter-in-law, was very familiar with the Bandon Concert Band and realized that a resurrected version of that band would likely not welcome Gloria as a member; thus her promotion of a school program.

The new Junior Band program met with immediate enthusiasm. “Student started immediately looking around for instruments,” the newspaper reported, “and quite a number have been located.” Within a week, some eleven high school and twenty-nine grade school students had signed up for the band and twelve of them had acquired instruments. Funding for the band was not part of the schools’ budget; rather it was provided partly by the American Legion Auxiliary and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). If Sol Driscoll had been uninterested in resurrecting the Bandon Concert Band, he did agree to take over the Junior Band (perhaps under some prodding by Mrs. Truman). By the end of April, 1938, the newspaper could report that the energetic Driscoll was giving lessons to grade school students in the mornings and high school students in the afternoons, with a total of fifty-six students involved. By the time school opened in the fall, the band program was running at full speed, and the newspaper could complain that the school district was benefitting from a program in which it had invested nothing: “The band is composed of school children but the schools can take but little credit for the organization.”57 But funding would come in time, even in the difficult days of the Great Depression, and Bandon’s musical culture would be henceforth centered in the schools, not the municipal band.

As noted earlier in this essay, it is enormously difficult for us, in our noisy, busy and diffuse world of the mid-twenty-first century, to grasp the importance of organizations like the Bandon Concert Band in the quiet world of rural America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In a time when even a radio was a luxury, people keenly anticipated the holiday celebrations, the county fairs and the weekly concerts where the municipal band could be heard. The band was a source of civic pride matched today, if at all, only by high school athletic teams. Louis D. Felsheim, long-time editor and publisher of the Western World, was a tireless backer of the Bandon Concert Band, and filled his newspaper with articles and editorials praising the quality of the band and its cultural, social and economic importance to the community, always urging greater support from the Bandon people.

Let us, however, give the final word to Mrs. Margaret Murphy Wade. Speaking to the Bandon Women’s Civic Club at the end of 1925, she reminisced about her arrival in Bandon in 1900 at age seventeen after a five-hour steamboat ride down the river from Coquille. The natural beauty of the place dazzled her, of course, as it has visitors and natives alike ever since. “[When I] beheld for the first time a sunset in the Pacific Ocean, I considered it a privilege to be alive. Within the next few weeks I often marveled at Nature’s generosity in bestowing such natural beauty as a background for so small a town.” The town’s urban amenities, though, were appallingly backward. “Our only lighting system consisted of a half dozen kerosene street lamps, lighted each evening at dusk by the town marshal. Cattle and all kinds of livestock roamed the streets at will. The small reservoir, under private ownership, was our only water supply. There was a long distance telephone pay station at Manciet’s cigar store with only three telephones connected to the switchboard. . . .There was no city tax at that time, no debt, and no automobiles. . . . There was no modern sanitary plumbing in the homes. The population in 1900 was given at 650. However, the town even at that time boasted of Mr. Topping and his band.”58

1 The history of early overland (and maritime) travelers to the site of Bandon and other places in southwestern Oregon is ably told in Stephen Dow Beckham, Requiem for a People: The Rogue Indians and the Frontiersmen (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), chapter II. The relative merits of water and overland transportation in early Coos County history are discussed in Dow Beckham, Bandon By-the-Sea: Hope and Perseverance in a Southwestern Oregon Town (Coos Bay, Oregon: Arago Books, 1997), 93-96.
2 Emil R. Peterson and Alfred Powers, A Century of Coos and Curry (Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1952), 113.
3 Herbert L. Clarke, How I Became a Cornetist: The Autobiography of a Cornet-playing Pilgrim’s Progress (n. p.: J. L. Huber, 1934; rev. ed., n. p.:, 2011), 21-22.
4 H. W. Schwartz, Bands of America: A Nostalgic Illustrated History of the Golden Age of Band Music (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1957), 169; 128.
5 Lewis Atherton, Main Street on the Middle Border (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1954), 147. Most of us, seduced by the colorful uniforms of the community band in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, like to think of them, as Atherton does, as “brilliant.” The more prosaic truth, though, is that most community bands emulated the professional bands of the likes of John Philip Sousa and Arthur Pryor in wearing dark hues. Even the Barnum and Bailey circus band, which one would expect to dress flashily, wore dark uniforms. The Bandon band was a partial exception: in mid-1924 they added white trousers to their dark uniform jackets and caps.
6 Western World, April 6, 1916, p. 1.
7 Atherton, Main Street, 147.
8 Peterson and Powers, A Century of Coos and Curry, 309-11. Since Arcadia Publishing began producing their multitude of photographic histories, we have been fortunate to have several volumes on Coos County, all of which contain photographs of some of the bands listed by Peterson and Powers. See, for example, Robert Miller and Reg Pullen, Bandon (2013), which has no photographs of the long-lived post-1901 Bandon Concert Band, but on p 119 shows members of the original Bandon band playing a July 4 parade along a muddy street; Andie E. Jensen and the Coos Historical & Maritime Museum, Coos Bay (2012) which depicts two different bands (39 and 110); and Dick Wagner and Judy Wagner and the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum, North Bend (2010), 35. All volumes Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing.
9 Western World, December 24, 1931, p. 1.
10 Bandon Recorder, February 28, 1901, p. 1.
11 Ibid., July 7, 1904, p. 1.
12 The Arban method is as applicable to other brass instruments, except the French horn, as it is to the cornet, and has long been available in bass clef editions for lower brass instruments. The French horn is different enough from other brass instruments that it his its own pedagogical literature. And of course trombonists have to learn techniques of slide manipulation from other sources than Arban, which deals only with valve instruments.
13 Schwartz, Bands of America, 171 supports these speculations.
14 Ibid,
15 Schwartz seems to suggest that a twenty-piece band was about the largest one could expect for a community organization. If so, then the Bandon Concert Band was remarkably large for a total population of only 645 in 1900, the year before the first band was created (that band totaled 23 pieces) and only 14 in 1920 shortly after the reconstituted band came into existence. Of the two extant photographs of the second band where its members can be accurately counted, the one in the Hartman Theater was 25 pieces, and the one in the city park totaled 27 (all these figures include the conductor). I am unable to count accurately the members in the photograph of the band on parade in Eugene, Oregon in 1929, but more than twenty can be clearly discerned.
16 Ibid,; Atherton, Main Street, 148.
17 Western World, April 6, 1916, p. 1.
18 Dow Beckham, Bandon-By-the-Sea, 82-87.
19 Ibid.
20 Peterson and Powers, A Century of Coos and Curry, Chapter 9, passim. Bandon figures are given on p. 113.
21 Western World, November 4, 1915, p. 7.
22 Ibid., April 6, 1916, p. 1. Although the focus of this article is on the Bandon Concert Band which played both classical and popular music, the reader should know that it was never the only public provider of music in either genre. The traveling Chatauqua programs visited Bandon almost annually and always included classical music, while dance bands like the “Riggley Jiggley Jazz Orchestra” provided popular entertainment. Western World, May 1, 1919, pp. 1 & 8.
23 The people of Bandon gave the name Manciet the very un-French pronunciation of “Man-SETT.”
24 Western World¸1925 promotional issue, p. 19.
25 Ibid., January 19, 1928, p. 4.
26 Western World, March 9, 1916, p. 6.
27 Ibid., April 6, 1916, p. 1.
28 Rex Topping’s recollections of Manciet’s musicianship and nervous mannerisms were corroborated by Topping’s niece Gloria Truman, who knew Manciet and played trombone in the Bandon High School band in the 1940s. Also, not to go too far afield, the term “baritone” here was a common misnomer for the euphonium. The baritone horn is a much smaller instrument employed in British brass bands, not in concert bands. Photographs of the band show that Manciet is clearly holding a euphonium, not a baritone.
29 Western World, April 7, 1921, p. 1.
30 An artifact of Topping’s tenure as conductor is his music stand with his name carved into it, in possession of the Bandon History Museum. His modesty regarding his conducting skills was recollected by his son, Rex Topping, who eventually played French horn in the band.
31 Western World, March 29, 1923, p. 1.
32 Ibid., February 2, 1923, p. 1.
33 Ibid., September 13, 1923, p. 1.
34 Ibid., July 26, 1923, p. 8.
35 Ibid., March 29, 1923, p. 1; April 5, 1923, p. 8; April 19, 1923, p. 8. “Alphonse and Gaston” was a standard comedy routine of the day in which two characters were so painfully deferential to one another that they could never get anything done.
36 Ibid., June 5, 1924, p. 1; further biographical data is found in his obituary, Western World, October 8, 1936, p. 8.. Rex Topping’s recollections included the possibly fanciful tale that Atwood had abandoned his musical career upon the death of a young wife. Whatever the truth of that, Topping did remember that Atwood owned a Boston Three- Star cornet, the Stradivarius of cornets in that day (Herbert L. Clark played one), which he would bring to band rehearsals to demonstrate how he wanted a certain passage to sound. Unlike his predecessor Nickerson, though, Atwood never soloed with the band.
37 Western World, January 26, 1933, p. 1.
38 Western World, October 6 and 27, 1927, p. 1 both times, on the Crescent City trip; and August 1 and 15, 1929, p. 1 both times, on the Eugene trip. The latter issue contains the photograph of the band on parade that was turned into a picture postcard.
39 One example among the many band programs in the Atwood collection at the Bandon Historical Museum is a concert given to the Oregon State Grange convention at Bandon on June 12, 1929:
Part 1
“Roll of Honor” March
“Poet and Peasant” Overture (von Suppe)
Intermezzo, “After Sunset” (Pryor)
Song for Baritone, “Romance” (Bennett)
Mr. George Manciet
Descriptive, “Cavalry Charge” (Luders)

Part 2
Suite from “Atlantis—The Lost Continent” (Frank)
Morning Hymn of Praise
A Court Function
The Prince and Anna
Destruction of Atlantis
“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” (Lincke)
“A Japanese Sunset” (Deppen)
“Stars and Stripes Forever” (Sousa)
Typical of an Atwood concert, this one begins with a march, concludes with “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and is heavy on “program music.” It also illustrates the ability of Atwood’s section players to assume brief solo roles: the “Poet and Peasant” overture features a long cornet solo which would have been played by George P. Topping, and in addition to George Manciet’s solo turn on “Romance,” the first movement of the “Atlantis” suite, “Morning Hymn of Praise,” is a euphonium solo.
40 The great professional bands of the nineteenth century had full instrumentation, and nowadays one finds in universities and often even high schools what is called “symphonic” bands, meaning that they have complete orchestral instrumentation in woodwinds and percussion as well as brass, but of course with no strings. Few municipal bands in that day or ours have achieved such instrumentation. The Bandon band never came close.
41 The term “program music” refers to pieces that tell a story or paint an aural picture; Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition would be a classic example. Such pieces are more readily accessible to a popular audience than something like Schubert’s Symphony #8 “Unfinished,” whose meaning is more abstract.
42 Western World, August 1, 1935, p. 5; September 5, 1935, p. 5. On the latter occasion, he “[led] the band at the Port Orford Labor Day celebration,” but it is unclear whether that was the Bandon band or the Port Orford band.
43 Ibid., October 8, 1936, p. 8.
44 Ibid., April 9, 1936, p. 6; July 6, 1933, p. 1.
45 Driscoll’s claim to have played in Patrick Gilmore’s band is highly unlikely. Gilmore died in 1892, and although his band straggled along under other leadership until 1898, even that date is a lot farther back than the twenty-five years in the music profession that Driscoll claimed in 1936. Schwartz, Bands of America, pp. 137-142.
46 Ibid., April 9, 1936, p. 6.
47 Ibid., August 13, 1936, p. 1. The program, incidentally, the only one ever conducted by Driscoll, was a far cry from any of Atwood’s and reflected his circus band background: of the seven pieces played, four of them were marches!
48 Curt Beckham’s The Night That Bandon Burned is the definitive account of the fire. Privately published in 1986, it is incorporated as chapters 5 and 6 in his brother Dow Beckham’s Bandon By-the-Sea (Bandon: Bandon Historical Society, 1997), pp. 113-171.
49 Western World, December 10, 1936, p. 1.
50 Dow Beckham, Bandon By-the-Sea, pp. 172-188.
51 Western World, July 1, 1937, p. 6; June 2, 1938, p. 1.
52 The names of those saxophonists are given in concert announcements of the time, e.g., Western World, March 8, 1923, p. 4 and September 27, 1923, p. 1. A roster of the band on November 18, 1926, p. 1 indicates that the women were no longer members, and subsequent personnel lists include no women for the rest of the band’s history.
53 Ibid., September 18, 1924, p. 1. On October 30, 1924, p. 2, the paper noted that “The retention of Mr. Atwood can be accomplished through the use of his services at the schools,” without suggesting that those “services” might include recruitment of his students for the band.
54 Ibid., November 21, 1929, p. 2.
55 Ibid., November 27, 1930, p. 1.
56 Ibid., February 17, 1938, p. 1. Mrs. Truman, an aunt of the present author, was a forceful woman with a strong sense of fairness and fair play. It would be a mistake to apply to her the anachronistic appellation of feminist, for she herself embraced the traditional roles of wife and mother. It would be likewise inappropriate to call George P. Topping, the embodiment of the Old Order in the Bandon Concert Band a sexist. Topping was able to salvage his cornet from the fire and bequeath it to his granddaughter Wanda, who played it in the Salvation Army band until she literally wore it out.
57 Ibid.; February 24, 1938, p. 1; March 10, 1938, p. 1; April 28, 1938, p. 1; September 8, 1938, p. 1.
58 Ibid., December 19, 1925, p. 1. Mrs. Wade’s chronology may have been just a bit off, for she may have been remembering the large band for which Topping secured instruments and uniforms in 1901. On the other hand, Topping had also been involved in previous bands.