By Robert Whitmire
Published June 17, 1987 in the
Reach section of the Stevens Point Journal
Summer is many things in Stevens Point. A bike ride in the country, kids trudging to the parks and swimming pool, Crazy Days and sprinkling your lawn in the evening.
Summer is also a Wednesday evening on the riverfront listening to a city band concert. Nothing so captivates and spans the generations as music. The Stevens Point City Band has been a part of summer almost continuously since before the turn of the century.
The band is an outgrowth of two bands which were organized under the directions of Max Neseman and L. D. Fisher in 1890. After Fisher moved away the bands consolidated into one, the Union Band, under Neseman's direction.
Grant White followed Neseman as director and he was followed by Delbert White in the post. Fred Noble, superintendent of the Coye furniture factory, assumed the director’s position and the band continued as the Union band until 1905 when Ernest Weber took over. The Union Band then changed its name to Weber’s Band.
Weber figured prominently in music here for many years and with the exception of two short intervals directed the band until 1952. During both absences Ray Jacobs directed. Since 1952 Jim Welihan, Bob Van Nuys and Dan Stewart have held the position. In the early 1920s, during Weber’s first absence, the band changed its name to Stevens Point City Band. The band became inactive for a short period during the Depression when the Common Council discontinued the appropriation for the function. In 1941 the group was reorganized by Weber into what was known as the Eagles Band. A short time later it resumed the name it currently bears.
The City Band for much of its history was synonymous with Weber. He came to Stevens Point in 1900 with his father. They operated a music store on the south side and he played violin in an orchestra directed by Grant White. In 1905, he took over the orchestra and the city band and both groups operated for many years under Weber’s name.
He organized a number of municipal bands throughout Wisconsin including Waupaca, Wisconsin Dells, Burlington and Amherst. In addition, he was general director of the Nord Wisconsin Saenger Bezirks, a district organization of German singing societies.
Weber was also an accomplished composer of marches and other band compositions which are performed in many countries. Among them are “United America,” and “Yankee Spirit,” favorites of Army and Navy bands during World War I. His “Century of Progress” march was performed at the 1933 World’s Fair.
One longtime member of the city band, Courtney Tucker, played clarinet in John Philip Sousa’s band in 1928 and 1929. Another, Ray Jacobs, was a member of the Ringling Brothers’ circus, performing with its mounted bands in parades and with its performance and concert bands
Besides Weber, other unusual local composers have written for the City Band. The most unusual composition written for the band was the Soo Line March, composed by Eugenia Schuler, a longtime member of the band’s clarinet section.
The Soo Line’s Bicentennial engine was the “guest soloist” for the piece, performed in 1978 at the south side Memorial Park, now called Veterans Park. A member of the band sat in the cab and operated the engine’s horn, bells and engine on cues from the band’s director. The piece was conceived after a number of concerts were interrupted by passing trains. Mrs. Schuler decided, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
During the first years of the Union Band, the outdoor concerts were performed on Main Street, at the south side and at the old Public library. Later the band used a new bandstand at the Courthouse where the Union Band gave the initial concert on July 31, 1903.
The band has performed on the front terrace of the University Center, at the south side Memorial Park, and for a time used the old heating plant behind Emerson School for a bandstand, before moving to the Pfiffner-Pioneer Park bandshell. The bandshell was dedicated in 1977 as a Bicentennial project.
Original efforts to build a bandshell date back to the early 1960s. In 1964 the band used a portable bandwagon to present concerts at Mead Park. It was made by a Minnesota firm and cost about $10,000.
The band attempted to interest local organizations in helping to purchase the wagon but was unable to do so. However, the interest in a permanent bandshell grew from that point and a fundraising campaign spearheaded by the Stevens Point Junior Woman’s Club led to the successful completion of the bandshell.
There are about 50 members of the City Band. They fall into no particular category. There are townspeople, high school students, music teachers and university students. The turnover is annual but a hardcore of regulars links the present with the past.
In the past the band has presented concerts at the Wisconsin Veterans home in King and the Wisconsin State Fair. For a number of years the band played an exchange concert with the Wisconsin Rapids Municipal Band. The band also performs each year at the Portage County Home and River Pines as well as for Memorial Day ceremonies and the Fourth of July.
Members of the City Band begin annual rehearsals at the end of May. The band
rehearses each Tuesday night during the summer for two hours and presents a
concert each Wednesday evening through early August. Concert programs are listed
in the Journal the evening prior to the concert.
See our Permissions page for use and copyright information.