Band History: 1915-1925

Did you miss our June 10, 2015 concert? We visited the earliest years of the Winona Municipal Band and shared some interesting history:

Week 1, June 10, 2015
(Written by Ruth Bures, read by Dan Barr)

Winona had a long tradition of band music in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with the Winona City Band, the Germania Band, Our Boys’ Band, and the Gate City Band all providing concerts for the citizens of Winona. But the push for a true Municipal Band caught fire in 1915. [City leaders published letters in the newspaper calling on people to donate to the cause!

“Believing that the people of Winona are interested in the success of the Winona Municipal Band Project, whereby band concerts may be enjoyed by all and the city be provided with a first class band . . . we are making an appeal for popular subscriptions. Anyone interested (and all should be) is invited to contribute!!!”] Among the letters to the editor is one from H. C. Garvin: “By all means, let us have a band.”

Plans were made to construct a bandstand at Lake Lodge and George Colburn, a well-known Chicago musician and composer, was hired to organize and direct the band. Hardt’s Music store provided the instruments for players who need them.

On June 28, 1915, the newspaper announced “Start Band Here at Once. George Colburn, Director of Experience, engaged to form Winona’s municipal band. “He comes to Winona with the prestige of success elsewhere and can be expected to do good work here”. Colburn had composed a number of works, some of which were performed by the Chicago Symphony. A work of his that was quite unusual for the time was his score for George Klein’s silent film Antony and Cleopatra, filmed on location and directed by Enrico Guazzoni. We recently had the privilege of seeing (and hearing) both right here in Winona! Members of George Colburn’s family are here with us tonight,

On July 3, 1915, Colburn announced that there will be concerts in 3 weeks. 40 members have joined the band, but there is a shortage in woodwind instruments and more would be welcomed! Colburn “is enthusiastic for the outlook for building up a fine band in Winona.”

Lakeside Park had been identified as the best location for band concerts, and there were plans to eventually build a bandstand there. In the meantime other venues were used but there were objections. The Levee Park bandstand wasn’t suited to get the best results in music. Motorboats with mufflers open, automobiles with engines throbbing and boys engaged in loud talking meant the "music was not heard as it ought to be!" Bluffside Park was “well adapted for the concert, but its distance from the city might prevent some persons from getting to the concert.” A concert given from a barge with the audience seated in Levee Park proved difficult to hear (besides the fact that the weather was bad).

The band played for many other occasions like the opening of the Winona National Bank, July 1, 1916, holiday celebrations, military send offs and pageants. They gave concerts at the Armory and the Opera House, where on December 9, 1916, Colburn’s song “Winona” was presented. The song “made a decided hit, and promises to be one of the songs which will soon find a place in all public gatherings held in Winona”.

By January of 1918 the future of the Winona Municipal Band was threatened. It was the end of the initial three-year trial subscription period and 14 members had been drafted into the service. Colburn, whose contract had expired, had a large family and many mouths to feed. He apparently decided he needed more secure employment and accepted a position as a theory and composition instructor at the Cosmopolitan School of Music in Chicago.

In February, the band board under the chairmanship of Dr. Oswald Leicht, announced that continuing the band had wide community support and they would ask previous donors to increase their subscriptions. By the end of the month a fair amount had been raised but they still needed $1500. The association of commerce agreed to provide the band a grant to cover the shortfall.

In May of 1918, Emile Michaux was named the new director of the Winona Municipal Band for a one-year contract. He was an accomplished composer and French horn player having studied music at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, won prizes for French Horn performance, harmony, counterpoint and composition.

Regular concerts were now held at the Lake Park bandstand (the current Lake Park Lodge building not the current bandshell – we’ll tell that story later) where a roof was added in July of 1918 to improve acoustics. However there was no seating for the audience, a situation that caused much discussion and discomfort. The band played for holiday parades, soldier send offs, dances and the WWI victory parade on November 11, 1918.  Michaux was commended for “the snappy manner in which he conducts his concerts. The programs do not drag and are not too long, with a judicious balance of pop music with more classical compositions, something for all.”

Michaux planned a series of community dances to raise funds for new uniforms. At one dance they raised $72.35, The uniforms were ordered, but as of June 20, 1919, $200 was still owing on their purchase, so “several more bowery dances will be necessary.”

“All Hail Minnesota”, with words by Rudolph Eckert and music by Emile Michaux was described as “an exceptionally good piece that should easily win popular approval to become the state song”. Michaux arranged it into march form that was played at a concert in September of 1919. Michaux then mailed copies of it to all Minnesota band directors, requesting that it be played in their concerts, hoping to increase its popularity and secure its position as the Minnesota Song. We found a copy at the Minnesota History Center.

A series of 4 concert dances to be held at the Armory were planned by Michaux in November for the winter months, gathering “all available talent for the orchestra”. Michaux "who is declared to have had much symphony experience, has avoided music which, while it may have great educational value and musicianship, lacks tunefulness"!!! “The programs will please the cultivated ear and be a source of pleasure to music lovers.”

On March 30, 1920, the newspaper reported that Michaux would be going into Chautauqua work "having received several flattering offers along that line". The new band director would be O. W. Reese, co-owner of Reese’s Furniture store. More about him next week!