City bands embodied early Montana communities
January 18, 2019
Note: This is excerpted from "The Missoula City Band: Stories in Time."
By the mid-1890s, the City Band had emerged as the default 'go-to' organization in town for civic events. By 1894, it played at virtually every public function. On Oct. 17, 1894, Republicans opened their campaign at the new Bennett Opera House (across the street from the now razed historic Missoula Mercantile) with "the blaze of bonfires, the boom of anvils, and the melodious and stirring melodies by The Garden City Band." Also that year, the band took part in an event to support Anaconda as the state capitol. The event included a special train ride tour up the Bitterroot Valley, and the band played between speeches and meetings.
In August, it performed during a "barn-warming" dance at an elegant stable, newly finished by noted livery men the Johnson Brothers. The dance, given under the auspices of the Garden City Band, drew a large crowd and featured good music: "There was every indication of an enjoyable evening."
February 1895 marked the first appearance of the Juvenile Brass Band. A small ensemble composed of young musicians, it served as an ancillary to the City Band. Their debut came when the Ladies Guild of the Episcopal Church hosted a dinner – an elegant and substantial meal. These young men had been practicing for several months, and the dinner helped in their goal of building membership for their "parent" City Band.
The dinner serenade received wonderful reviews. They "made an excellent impression of the organization which promises to be an important one in the musical circles." Practicing in the Central School building (now the home of the internationally known Missoula Children's Theatre), these boys also played at the wedding of attorney E.E. Hershey, the same year he helped bring the University of Montana into existence.
John Barnicort reprised his legacy as band founder and led the ensemble, whose noteworthy members included Horace Worden of Worden's Market fame and tubist Joe Deschamps, who spent less than a year in this band before "moving up" to the City Band, probably because they needed a tuba player.
As the Garden City Band steadily grew and gained experience and wider notoriety, it annually played at Frenchtown's St. John the Baptist Church founder's day celebrations. Many Missoulians attended the occasions. The band also marched in Missoula's new July 4 parade that summer and won great reviews.
During spring of 1896, the Garden City Band played Missoula's annual Memorial Day Parade and Program, held at the courthouse. Another gushing review of the event followed. This event became a Missoula tradition, as the annual Memorial Day celebration grew and continues to this day.
The band maintained its civic presence, returning to the courthouse July 31 to play a large political rally. A big, nonpartisan crowd turned out that day to advance the cause of silver as the official United States currency – a crusade then popular in many western mining states. The press enthused: "The boom of the cannon and the blaze of bonfires, the inspiring music of a band and the cheers of the enthusiastic supporters announcing tonight that Missoula is undoubtedly and emphatic love for such."
A big bonfire burned in the street, and "in the new bandstand east of the courthouse, the Garden City Band rendered a delightful concert prior to the speaking." The band performed three marches, two overtures, a schottische, a waltz and featured a baritone vocal soloist. Wait. "New bandstand?!" This was the first mention of any bandstand whatsoever. Reportedly, this bandstand served as a temporary structure. It may have even been constructed specifically for the event. Nonetheless, it signified the beginning of a home for our band.