OSWEGO — In 1934, Weldon Grose organized the first Oswego City Concert Band which began one of the longest running Summer Band Concert programs (1935) in the United States. This Wednesday, June 26, the current Oswego City Band, under the direction of Trevor Jorgenson, will kick off its 85th concert season with a program titled “A Tuneful Adventure” at 7:30 p.m. in Breitbeck Park.
The ensemble will be performing a wide variety of styles appropriate for all ages and musical tastes with a special focus on the trumpet section.
The concert will open with soloist Redd Swindells performing Sammy Nestico’s “Portrait of a Trumpet.” Other selections will include American classic melodies like “Amazing Grace”, the Shaker Melody “Tis the Gift to be Simple,” and Leroy Anderson’s “Bugler’s Holiday,” featuring trumpeters Joe Hennebery, Joshua Symborski, and Russell Partrick.
Arrangements of international favorites include compositions by Grainger and contemporary composer Rossano Galante and musical numbers from Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.”
The Oswego Civic Band tradition has a storied 200-year old history that began early in the 1800’s with local social club ensembles, and both railroad and industrial bands. These groups played for parades, patriotic events, and social gatherings including summer concerts in the park.
Following the Civil War, virtually every community in the United States had a “Brass Band” of some configuration which ultimately encouraged the establishment of world class professional American wind bands, led by Patrick Gilmore, John Phillip Sousa, and James Reese Europe. These three conductors were international superstars and their bands were the pinnacle of entertainment in America from 1870 to 1920.
In 1880, Oswego’s most famous organization was the Kingsford Cornstarch Factory Band. It was formed and funded by Oswego Industrialist Thompson R. Kingsford, who was a staunch believer in the importance of music in our community and in the subsequent PR that it provided for his business. His factory musicians were among the highest paid employees in Oswego and their work schedule included rehearsal time during their daily shifts. This band developed a local, regional, and national reputation that culminated in multiple performances for the Presidential Inaugurations of the 1880’s/90’s. Regrettably, this group was decommissioned when Kingsford sold his business in 1900.
Between 1900 to 1930, many local service organizations, i.e. the Elk’s Club, the Masonic Lodge, and the Dante Alighieri Lodge would establish their own bands that would fill the void left by the loss of the Kingsford group. These ensembles had colorful names, i.e. the “Whango Grotto Band,” the “Knights of Pythias Band,” iconic uniforms, and an ethnically diverse musical repertoire, but regrettably, they, too, would be disbanded during the economic downturn of the Great Depression (1929-1936).
Fortunately, many of the most talented members of these bands would be recruited by Weldon “Slim” Grose to form the prototype of the modern Oswego Summer Concert Band. Grose had been a successfull “Circus” musician (both a musical director and a trombonist) who had retired from the national touring circuit and came to Oswego in 1931 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Work’s” projects. He was hired to serve as a music educator, providing music lessons to children and adults, as there was no established music program in the Oswego School District at that time. (the board of education would systematically expand and implement its’ instrumental music program in 1934 under the direction of John Hurley and Beryl Lewis.)
Grose quickly became recognized for both his leadership and musicianship which led to the forming of a 36-piece concert band in 1934. Under his direction, this ensemble would perform for summer concerts and patriotic events from 1935 till his untimely death in 1975.
Many conductors, from 1976 to the present, have accepted the challenge of continuing “Slim” Grose’s legacy — Leonard Lambert, George Cuppernull, Jerry Exline, Don Goodness, Dale Baer, Evelyn Baer and currently Trevor Jorgenson. Every Wednesday night of the summer for 83 years (except during World War II) a band concert has occurred in Oswego in its’ many parks and gathering sites, including the City Hall Plaza.