The Hampton Beach Band

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"Our Town" By James W. Tucker

Hampton Union

Thursday, February 21, 1952

Fifty years ago -- 'way back before the days of motion pictures, radio and television -- band concerts were given daily during the summer season at our town's beach. This pleasant form of entertainment has continued since, without interruption, even through two World Wars. As a matter of fact, band concerts began at Hampton Beach before automobiles came into general use and long before planes took to the air. And, as we stated last week, it is ;most probable that no other recreational community in the United States can boast of promoting regular summer concerts over such a long period.

Golden Anniversary

We believe band concerts were instituted first as a regular daily feature of the summer season in 1902. If this is so, then we can celebrate the completion of fifty years of concerts during the coming summer. We can prove that a band played regularly during the season of 1903. In this case, the concerts this summer will constitute the fiftieth season. Either way, the season of 1952 can be termed without fear of contradiction, "The Golden Anniversary of Band Concerts at Hampton Beach." Here is a made-to-order event of real importance which would earn for Hampton almost as much worthwhile publicity as was secured in 1938 through the rehabilitation of Eunice "Goody" Cole.

Fifty Year Roster

As we have already pointed out, band concerts were given intermittently in the band stand in front of the Casino in 1899, 1900 and 1901. In 1901, when the south half of the original Casino and the Ocean House were completed and opened to the public, Never's Second Regiment Band of Concord played two, one week engagements at Hampton Beach. After that the following bands and leaders appeared in the band stand: Higgins' Concert Band, Charles L. Higgins, Haverhill, Mass., conductor, 1902-1920; Downes' Band, Herbert W. W. Downes, Bradford, Mass., conductor, 1921-1923; Chick's Band, Arnold Chick, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, conductor, first two weeks of 1924 season; Amesbury (non-union) Band, Mr. Wingate, conductor, finished out the season of 1924; McDonnell's Band, Harold McDonnell, Methuen, Mass., 1925-1936; Leave's Band, Charles H. Leave, Hampton, N.H., conductor, 1937-1938; Moses' Band, Major Edgar Allen Moses, St. Petersburg, Fla., conductor, 1939-1940; McDonnell's Band, Harold McDonnell, conductor, 1941-1945; Hill's Band, Charles "Chuck" Hill, Boston, Mass., conductor, 1946-1951.

Higgins Played Ten Years

Of the eight bands which have filled regular engagements during the half century, two of them occupied the old stand in front ofd the Casino for a period of thirty-six years. The longest engagement was filled by Mr. Higgins, who played for nineteen consecutive seasons. The shortest engagement was Arnold Chick's two weeks at the opening of the 1924 season. The next-to-longest-engagement was "Hal" McDonnell's first contract which covered twelve years. Later, he was engaged for an additional period of five years, making a total service of seventeen years at "Happy Hampton." Other bands have filled special engagements during the half century, most of them being of one week duration and most of them during the Carnival Week period which, in those years, began on Labor Day. We remember in particular the Scotch band of Murdock McDonald, a colorful, kilted outfit which featured several bagpipes and which was composed of thorough musicians. They rounded out the rather sad season of 1924 in a most happy, musical manner.

Old Time Bandsmen

Many of the bandsmen who played at Hampton Beach filled engagements with Sousa and Pryor. For the most part they were sound musicians of exceptional ability. Included over the early years in the personnel of Higgins' Concert Band, which originally was probably the old Haverhill City band, were such musicians as Charles Eastman, James Early, flute; John Stanyan, Jules Benoit, Eb clarinet; John Netsch, Edward Rowell, Henry Lajoie, John Rines, clarinet; Ely Aitken, George Bettoney, Bartlett Lyons, Fred A. Robbins, Charles Sturtevant, trombone; W. Twitchell, Wilson B. Cook, Edward Matthews, William Garfield, tuba; A. D. Wingate, Thomas Knight, baritone; John Oleveri, Andrew Wise, French horns; Joseph Goodrich, Med Isabel, alto; Herbert Rainie, Howard Rowell, John Parlin, George Welch, Arnold Chick, Ernest Tracey, trumpet; William Owns, bass drum; Thurston "Scott" Picard, snare drum. Of these early day instrumentalists, those we know personally who are still living and active include Ely Aitken, Howard Rowell, Henry Lajoie and Herbert Rainie. We would be most happy to hear from others of these early-day musicians with whom we are not personally acquainted and who are still living. Moreover, to complete the record, we would be happy to learn the names of other musicians who should be included in the above "Honor Roll of Hampton Beach Bandsmen."

Most of the band directors, who are listed above, were instrumental soloists. We remember that Mr. Higgins was featured in cornet solos. Herbert Downe's instrument was the clarinet. Arnold Chick was a trumpet virtuoso and "Hal" McDonnell, like "Chuck" Hill featured saxophone and clarinet in his solo appearances. Charlie Leave played a wonderful violin and Major Moses occasionally played trumpet solos.

Band Program in 1916

Back in the early days, it was customary to print a small, 12-page advertising pamphlet containing complete programs of all the band concerts scheduled for a full week. The small weekly give-away was called the "Hampton Beach Sea Shell" and we have before us the edition for the Week of July 16, 1916. We note a half-page advertisement for the Hampton Beach Improvement Co., George A. Johnson, Manager, announcing "House Lots and Cottages for Sale." Dudley and White were featuring "75 cent Fish Dinners"; H. W. Ford of the Pelham Hotel advertising a "Six Course Dinner, 50 cents" and the Sturgis Restaurant, "Next to the Post Office" was serving "A complete Shore Dinner, 75 cents". Concerts in those days were scheduled at 1:30, 4:30 and 6:30 o'clock. Every concert opened and closed with a march and in nine out of ten programs, the second number was an overture. Following is a typical program, which was played at 6:30 o'clock on Thursday evening, July 20, 1916: 1. March: Bombasto, Farrar; 2. Overture: Der Freischutz, Weber; 3. Intermezzo: Whispering Willows, Herbert; 4. Selection: Babette, arr. Langley; 5. Baritone solo, Mr. Knight; 6. Request; 7. March, Flag of Victory, Blon.

Band Camp in Ross Field

With the advent of the automobile, it became customary for most of the bandsmen to travel back and forth daily between the beach and their homes in nearby cities and towns. This was not possible in the early days and when we came to Hampton Beach in 1915, practically the entire personnel of Higgins' Concert Band was living in tents which had been set up in a field in back ofd the Ross Barn. For many years this was a camping spot for bandsmen and we have been told many stories of the good times which these musicians had in their tent village. One of them, James Early, enjoyed it so much that when Ross Avenue was constructed, he built a substantial summer cottage almost on the site of the old band encampment ground.

Concerts Are An Institution

The summer band concerts at Hampton Beach have become an institution. In the earlaier days, they were listened to and appreciated by a very large percentage of vacatioinists and tdransient visitors. At that time, concerts were something you had to leave home to enjoy and band and orchestral music was in a sense, hard to come by. Then, music was the exception. Today, it is the rule, for today one has but to twirl his radio or television dial at almost any hour and with a little patience he has an earful of any type of music he may desire. It may be that a smaller percentage of today's recreational visitors sit and listen to the concerts, but if they were not available, they would be greatly missed. And the "Golden Jubilee Year of Music at Hampton Beach" which is coming up should serve to emphasize the great importance of our summer concerts.

Next week we will endeavor to give you our impression of the bands and bandmasters who have brought entertainment to beach patrons over the last half century.

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