From a June, 1948 Gazette:
The Vineyard Haven Band has existed down through the period of Sousa’s marches, the Rose of Noman’s Land and Tipperary, to the age of unnamable jazz and worse, and it is still thriving, while from choice the organization plays classical and near-classical numbers which were popular through all the generations. There were, at one time, many musicians of considerable note who summered on the Vineyard, and in one way or another acquainted the Island people with what is still recognized as good music. The effect of such entertainment upon a population which was and still is musical, may be imagined. The idea of a band was born.
The organizers of the Vineyard Haven Band aimed high indeed. They had heard operas and arias, and the thrilling marches and other compositions of famous composers. They wanted to hear more of them, and they wanted to play them. There is no stifling of such ambition. Those who could blow a horn or beat a drum, and many who could not, but whose craving for music was quite as great, joined in the effort. Though the movement started in Vineyard Haven, and the band had continued to bear the name of that town, the organizers reached out to all points for talent, and found it.
The culmination of the effort took the form of a “fair,” held in Vineyard Haven for the purpose of raising funds to equip the band, and in 1883 a band composed of about 18 or 20 members, assembled with its new instruments, for the first rehearsal. Save for two periods of suspended operations, during the two World Wars, there has been no break. Other Island towns have organized bands of their own from time to time, but somehow they have failed to prosper, and eventually a survivor or two has been left to gravitate into the Vineyard Haven organization.
Like all such volunteer organizations, the history of the band is well spiced with anecdotes. Their mode of travel made a story in itself. They rode in a “barge” as it was called, a huge, closed vehicle, resembling an old-time trolley car, drawn by horses. A driver sat on a high seat outside, and the bandsmen sat on long fore-and-aft benches within. The barge had a name, Volunteer, and was kept gaily painted by the owner, the late Walter H. Renear.
Old members relate the tale of the parade, when some great-hearted soul passed out refreshments to the bandsmen before the start. The cymbal-player “dipped a mite too deep” and experienced trouble in navigating until he finally failed entirely to make a corner and left the formation on a high tangent. They continue by telling how one of the eager boys who always followed the band, picked up the fallen cymbals, fell in with the bass drum and carried on. That act is symbolic of the band’s history and prosperity; there has always been someone to pick up a discarded instrument and fill in.
There was the Teutonic leader, a professional who came to his first rehearsal. “Mein Gott!” he exclaimed. “Dis vas awful!” Not approving either of a musician’s tapping his foot in time to the music, he dealt one of the bandsmen a heavy blow on the foot with his baton, to discourage this practice.
And then there is the tale of the Edgartown Band, which was scheduled to march in the same parade, in Edgartown, with the Vineyard Haven outfit. “They looked snappy when we got out of the barge by the courthouse that day,” related the storyteller. “They had just spent $300 for new instruments; they had new uniforms with as much gold braid as a Swiss admiral.”
“Well, it was arranged for them to play, and then we would play, as we marched. They had a march that they thought a good deal of, and they sounded off. We got the signal to make ready, but Edgartown played the march through the second time. Then we were told to get set again, but Edgartown let go with their march the third time.
“The Edgartown Band played five times on the way to the cemetery, and when they got there, one piccolo player and the bass drummer were all that were able to make any noise, but the Vineyard Haven Band didn’t have a chance to play at all.”
Amusing old stories, about interesting people and times, largely forgotten today. But the Vineyard Haven Band continues, its lines as straight, its step as brisk, and its music as stirring as ever.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner