100 years of City Band
Waupaca Nostalgia columnist discusses living legacy
By Jim Nicewander
Change is often hard, sometimes even unpleasant. So it’s nice to consider some nostalgia that hasn’t changed all that much over the years, some things about the “good old days” that have stayed relatively unchanged over time.
Indeed, they’ll be much the same nostalgia for subsequent generations.
In this week’s column aswe recall the City Band concerts. They’re a community tradition that flourishes today as it did on Friday nights in bygone years. So let’s consider what’s the same and what’s different.
Back in the 1950s, the old courthouse was still standing and the square had a different look. The gables and the spire on that building lent a Gothic feel to things back then.
Today, the slightly angled wings of the library/city hall building give you an almost-enclosed, a flanked-and-protected feeling to sitting on the square at a concert.
Not much has changed about the bandstand itself over the past 60 years. Indeed, a bronze plaque fastened to it says it’s on the Waupaca Register of Historic Places – that’s how much it’s embedded in our community’s character.
Originally constructed in 1898, it stood the test of time and became a trademark of the community.
For more than 100 years, the band has consisted of ordinary folks sharing musical talents with the community.
Most are life-long residents of the area, having gone through music training in the local school system. From recent high school graduates to older professional people, the band members bring a plethora of experiences and outlooks to the group, but all share a fondness for playing their particular instrument.
Some folks serve their community by joining the local Lions or other civic organizations or by volunteering in their church. Bband members do those things, plus they serve their community by providing top-notch musical entertainment.
The sound of the music has not changed much over the past half-century. That’s not surprising, as the band has pretty much the same mix of woodwind and brass instruments today as it did back then.
Moreover, in addition to that blend, there is only a limited amount of music arranged for concert band performance, though nowadays there is probably more pop music available in such arrangements. Today’s repertoire includes everything from medleys of Disney film themes to oldies pop hits from the 1950s and ‘60s.
Probably the most significant reason for the similarity in sound over the years is that the backbone of concert band repertoire material 50 years ago and still today is march music, which has itself remained pretty much unchanged “Stars and Stripes Forever” is as soul-stirring today as it was 50 years ago. Indeed, the enduring patriotic character of such marches partly explains the enduring popularity of band concerts.
Over the years, the City Band Director’s position has customarily been held by the high school’s band director.
Back when I was a kid and the talented Sam Winch directed the band. Today, the inimitable Mark Kryshak brandishes the baton, so that arrangement has worked exceptionally well.
They are directors who had and have an extraordinary knowledge of music and a remarkable rapport with the musicians. Waupaca has been served well by such a commendable and impressively hard-working tradition of City Band directors.
On Friday nights in the 1950s, people were already downtown to shop (stores stayed open until 9 p.m.), so the band concert served as background music for their other activities on Main Street that evening.
Today, the band concert is usually the only entertainment in downtown on Friday nights, so people come out specifically to listen to it.
Another difference for those listening – nowadays the audience comes outfitted with a vast array of seating accommodations – all kinds of fold-up camp chairs are readily available, and almost everybody brings one.
Fifty years ago, only a few folks toted cumbersome folding chairs. Back then, many people listened while sitting in the comfort of their cars or they just stood around on the square, listening to the music and visiting.
All in all, Friday night band concerts are not only a pleasant part of our nostalgia today, something we warmly recollect from years gone-by, but they are still going strong, so the concerts will be similar memories for our kids in their future – nostalgic remembrances spanning several generations.
Waupaca native Jim Nicewander (WHS Class of 1966) is the author of the book Everyday Adventures of a Farm Boy in the ‘50s.