Bandmasters At Hampton

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"Our Town" By James W. Tucker

Hampton Union

Thursday, February 28, 1952

With scintillating ceremony and proper fanfare, Paul Lavalle's "Band of America" celebrated its silver anniversary on the air one night last week. The entire coast-to-coast facilities of the National Broadcasting Company were used and many of its top executives participated in the hour-long program which was devoted in part, to deserved praise of a splendid band which has been a popular radio feature for twenty-five years. The Hampton Beach Band has been giving summer concerts for fifty years. It is in line this summer to celebrate its Golden Anniversary. Like the Band of America,our musical organization has had many leaders and there have been constantly recurring changes in personnel over the five decades. But it always has been known as the Hampton Beach Band, this title usually preceded by the current leader's name.

Charles L. Higgins: 1902-1920

In its half century of service in the recreational field at our town's beach, the band has had eight regular leaders all of whom we have been privileged to know personally. The first bandmaster, Charles L. Higgins of Haverhill, was a genial gentleman, portly in figure with one of those flowing moustaches which were popular back in the early part of the present century. He was an excellent cornetist and during the early part of his long career as a summer bandmaster at Hampton, he was featured several times each week as a soloist. Mr. Higgins was dignified and a bit reserved, but he was very popular and always had a disposition to please the large audiences of those days, composed, for the most part, of real lovers of good music. Eventually he built a summer home on the west side of the Boulevard just north of the Coast Guard Station. Many men, some of whom later became conductors, had their earliest experience under Charles L. Higgins and all of them termed him a good bandmaster.

Downes - Chick - Wingate: 1921 - 1924

In 1921, Mr. Higgins was succeeded by Herbert W. W. Downes of Bradford Mass. If we remember rightly, Mr. Downes was music supervisor in the public school of Bradford and a very excellent clarinetist, although his experience as a band leader may not have been extensive. We are told that he was a friend of Charles E. Greenman, father of the present head of the Greenman Company, who at that time was the president of the Hampton-owned electric street railway. Mr, Downes, a bit on the pompous side, headed a well drilled unit for three seasons, 1921-1923. In early 1924, the leader was Arnold Chick, who had for many seasons been a member of the band's cornet section. Trouble developed over the wage schedule and band members, supported, of course, by the American Federation of Musicians, withdrew at the end of two week's when their salary demands were not met. Arnold_Chick and most of the bandsmen went tO York Beach where they finished the season of 1924. Under the circumstances it would have been impossible to get a union band to complete the season at Hampton, so a non-union group, headed by a Mr. Wingate was brought from Amesbury to fill the bandstand for the balance of the season. Comprised for the most part of youngsters — some of the bandsmen were mere boys — the non-union unit most certainly was unable competently to fill the shoes of the thorough musicians who preceded it. The experiment with a low- salaried non-union band was deemed a failure and in 1925 the union was in the saddle again and the new leader was Harold McDonnell.

"Hal" McDonnell: 1925-1936

"Hal" McDonnell was a gay, ebullient and youthful conductor with great ability and possessed of thorough musicianship. He instilled a new zest and enthusiasm into the organization and made for himself a great host of friends and admirers during the period of twelve years from 1925 through the season of 1936. The younger set in particular were McDonnel devotees, for he featured music, arrangements and instrumentation which, in those days was beginning to find great popularity in the ballrooms and on the radio. That "Hal" McDonnell was a competent teacher and a bandmaster of unusual ability has been attested over the years since that time in the remarkable student bands he has rounded out as supervisor of music in the schools of Methuen, Mass.

Charles H. Leave: 1937-1938

In 1937-1938, Charles H. Leave, a musician who lived in Boston but who spent a considerable part of each year in his summer home at Hampton (North) Beach, was induced to take over the Hampton Beach Band as leader. Back in those early days, Charlie Leave dabbled in radio and electronics as a hobby, while music was his real business. Today, the situation is reversed. Still a resident of Hampton [Dearborn Avenue], Charlie, has an important position in the United States Navy Yard at Portsmouth as an electronic engineer. His baton and his fiddle are neglected. Charles Leave -- a painstaking musician -- proved a competent bandmaster and his violin solos with the band were a unique touch which has never been duplicated. Moreover, his published song, "Let's Go Down To Hampton Beach" is still popular hereabouts.

Maj. Edgar Allen Moses: 1939-1940

Major Edgar Allen Moses of St. Petersburg, Florida came to Hampton Beach in 1939 with a national reputation as one of the country's outstanding bandmasters. For years Moses' Band had been a feature of the winter season at Florida's famous "Sunshine City." His yearly coast-to-coast tours had brought him national acclamation, so that when he arrived in Hampton in the early summer of 1939 with a van load consisting of some fifty pieces of baggage, he was almost as well known as Goldman, Prior and Sousa. Never has there been such a well equipped band at Hampton. Beautifully uniformed with such accessories as cathedral chimes, kettle drums and a hundred musical novelties; all fortified by one of the most extensive libraries of band music in the world, the seasons of 1939 and 1940 were musical gems that band lovers in this part of New England will not soon forget. Illness compelled Major Moses' resignation at the end of 1940.

Harold "Hal" McDonnell: 1941-1945

In 1941, "Hal" McDonnell, the effervescent idol of the bobby-soxers of those days, was back again as conductor on our town's bandstand. His second engagement lasted for five years.

Charles "Chuck" Hill: 1946 - ?

In 1946, the capable and very popular Charles "Chuck" Hill took over the Hampton Beach Band baton which he still waves [1952] to the eminent satisfaction of the great crowds which surround the stand each afternoon and evening during the all too short summer season. "Chuck", like his predecessors, is a thorough musician with a style and personality which is at once unique and popular.

"Band Brevities" Coming Up

We had thought that we could complete our story about the Golden Anniversary of the Hampton Beach Band in this issue. We haven't yet had an opportunity even to mention that perennial favorite -- the band's popular vocal soloist down through the years, "Bill" Elliot. And there are interesting facts about band salaries and who pays them; amplification and when it was first used; radio broadcasts from the bandstand at Hampton Beach and festivals of school bands which have taken place here. And there was the big band contest of 1901, when expert musicians sat in a wagon covered with blankets so they could hear but not see some of New England's leading bands and for this reason judge fairly which band was best. But all of this will be told in another column which we shall call "Band Brevities."
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