7/18 Daybreak Interview: History of the Ludington Guard Band - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

7/18 Daybreak Interview: History of the Ludington Guard Band

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The Ludington Guard Band is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year, making it the oldest continually performing concert band in the State of Wisconsin and one of the oldest in the nation. 

Read further to learn more about the history of the band and details on its upcoming concerts:

Concerts, which began June 4th, are held weekly on Tuesday nights starting at 8 PM in Wilson Park, Menomonie, WI.  They free, well attended and last about 90 minutes.  During our intermissions we usually have another small musical group perform for about 20 minutes.  These groups vary each week and include a Dixieland group, an old time music group, brass groups and choral groups.  Associated with these concerts week is an old fashioned pie and ice cream social put on by an local charitable organization.  While all our concerts are "special", we have several coming up that are extra special.  The first is our annual patriotic concert on July 2nd, followed by our annual circus night on July 16th.  July 23rd a family originally from Menomonie, now living in Eau Claire, are sponsoring the concert, something that has not been done before.  They doing this just because its our 125th anniversary.  While we will be celebrating our 125th anniversary during our entire 10 week season, the official celebration will take place on July 30th.  That night there will be some presentations and the world premiere of the piece we had commissioned for us, "Legacy of Honor", composed by Larry Clark.  He will be here to conduct this premiere.  Our season wraps up with our final concert on August 6th. 

History of the Ludington Guard Band:

Summer 1888.  Ladies wore modest dresses designed to cover the legs, arms and neck.  Polite men were seldom seen in mixed company without a suitcoat.  Menomonie was a small but growing town, with a still-thriving lumber business and a variety of stores on its busy mainstreet.  Exotic Eau Claire was a fair distance by horse and buggy. 

Then, as now, music was one of the primary entertainments of the citizenry.  On hot summer evenings neighbors fled the heat of their homes to listen to open-air concerts from a number of community bands.  One, the Ludington Guard Band, continues today.

It was, in some ways, a simpler world that saw the birth of the band's namesake, a military organization, in 1877.  This military organization was a cavalry unit called the Ludington Guard.  It was named after the Honorable Harrison Ludington, then governor of Wisconsin.  But the band that became associated with this cavalry unit was actually formed in 1869.  Jacob (Mueller) Miller was the organizer and first director of this band and it played its first season in 1869, not 1877 as stated in the 1925 history of Dunn County.  The band was not officially attached to any military unit in the beginning.  After all Miller had fled Germany to escape military service only to find himself drafted into the American Civil War soon after his arrival. 

The members of the first band were August Geisert, William Simon, John Lauber, John Knoble, Frank Huber, August Bull Sr., August Bull Jr., Ulysses Mercier and Ferdinand Wasserer.  Almost certainly the director Miller played his silver cornet with the group while directing in those early years.  Miller put together a music book containing thirty-eight pieces including the Menomonie Band Quick Step and the River Falls Quick Step written by John Johnson, the band's second director.  The third director was Mr. Halphouse.

In 1877 the band became part of the cavalry unit and technically it became the Ludington Guard Band at that time with John Williman serving as the director.  It is interesting to note that when Williman took over the baton as director, the makeup of the unit was the same men who formed the original band except the Bull father/son duo was replaced by August Bulie and an unnamed drummer.   So even though the little band didn't become associated with the Ludington Guard cavalry until 1877, the current organization can claim it was born in 1869 by the continuity of its members and its music library.  After about 6 years the cavalry unit became part of the Third Infantry, Wisconsin National Guard and the band was dissolved with this merger.  In 1888 the band was reorganized under the directorship of Charles Ingraham, an optometrist and jeweler by trade.  It was Mr. Ingraham who suggested the newly reorganized band be called the "Ludington Guard Band", a name that has stuck with the organization ever since.  The newly reorganized group had only 11 members in it, compared to the 70 it has now. 

From the short history I just related, it is easy to see how there could be some confusion as to the band's actual birth year.  Adding to that confusion is the fact that Articles of Incorporation were not recorded until May 24, 1899. 

Membership:  The fifth article in the Articles of Incorporation spelled out who could belong to the newly formed band.  It stated:

      "Male persons of the age of sixteen years or over, of good

      habits and character, may be admitted  to  membership in said    

      corporation, at  a regular meeting  thereof, by a  majority vote

      of  its  members, and, for  cause members  may be discharged

      or expelled from membership therein in like manner."

It wasn't until World War II that saw many of the band's members being drafted, that women were allowed in on a "temporary trial basis" until the war was over and the men returned.  But by that time, women were firmly entrenched, very good musicians and the band decided to keep them. 

The young band was very popular and, according to reports, drew good crowds to its performances, which were held at the band stand in Wilson Park near downtown Menomonie. But the band shell wasn't its only venue, nor was Menomonie the only city it played in.  It performed at the Eau Claire centennial celebration in April 1889 and led several Menomonie parades and festivities that year.   In other years the band performed at fairs in Glenwood City, Mondovi, Colfax and Menomonie, played at the college in Rice Lake, at the band stand in Hudson and other places.  At the turn of the 21st century, the band was asked to perform at the Peterson Valley View Farm north of Glenwood City.  The farm was established in 1897, 9 years after the band was reorganized, and the owner even built a special stage for the band to perform on.  This event became an annual event and continues to this day. 

Directors:  Over its 125 years the band has had only 12 directors.  Each director brought his unique style to the band and left their marks on the band's legacy. Details on these men can be found in the band history booklet, but their names, jobs and years as director is as follows:

-Charles Ingraham-an optometrist and jeweler-1888-1907

-Ole C. Kausrud-vice president and director of a local bank-1907-1920

-Paul E. Gregg-supervisor of music in Menomonie public schools-1920-1956

-Dale Timm-band director at Colfax High School-1957-1958

-Dr. Edfield Odegard-director of music at Stout State University-1958-1965

-Lynn Pritchard-director of instrumental music at Stout State University-1965-1983

-Dale Johnson-music instructor at Colfax Public Schools-1984-1986

-Rob Mondlock-director of instrumental music at Boyceville Junior and Senior High 

  Schools-1987-1990

-Jim Moss-director of instrumental music at UW Stout-1991-1992

-Miles Mortenson-band director at Menomonie High School-1993-1994

-Jeff Rowe-band director at Durand High School-1995-2004

-James Woodford-director of instrumental music at Colfax Public Schools-2005-present

Music:  In the early days the band played a lot of military type marches and even played tunes written by band members themselves.  It was Dr Odegard who brought a different style to the band by introducing more concert and popular selections and lessening the band's reliance on military music.  This trend continues to this day with the band now performing a large variety of concert band music including classical and new marches, overtures, and medleys from Broadway musicals and novelty selections.  Some selections are played every year because they are crowd pleasers and have become "signature" pieces for the band.  For its 125th anniversary the band had a work commissioned for them.  It is called "Legacy of Honor" by Larry Clark, a well known New York City composer, who is a Vice President with the Carl Fischer Publishing Company.  The dedication of the piece says it all:  "Commissioned by the Ludington Guard Band, Menomonie, Wisconsin in honor of all past directors in celebration for their dedication and leadership during our 125 year history." It is an exciting composition and will have its world premiere on July 30th, 2013. 

Uniforms:  Not much is written about uniforms in the early years.  But old photos taken in the 1890s and early 1900s show members wearing what most would say were typical band uniforms with slacks and jackets trimmed in piping plus a hat that looked very much like those worn by a train conductor.  In the early years of Paul Greg's directorship the band was outfitted with three changes of uniform.  The first was a regulation American Federation of Musicians coat and cap with a royal blue broadcloth cape that was lined with yellow satin.  The second uniform had a purple full military dress fur hat with a yellow pom pom, duck breeches and black leather leggings.  The third uniform, made of striking white duck, was used during the hot summer months.  In later years the uniforms became plainer and less expensive because band members were expected to purchase and maintain their own uniforms and the expense simply became too great.  In the Pritchard years, the uniform was a white turtle neck sweater, light blue dinner jacket and black slacks, socks and shoes.  Wearing turtle necks when it was 90 degrees did not work well for the band and in the early 80s, they were replaced with red short sleeved shirts.  The blue jacket was kept the same, as was the black outfit from the waist down.  The black slacks, socks and shoes part of the uniform continues to this day.  In 1984 the band got new red jackets and light blue shirts.  They looked great, but the shirt style went out of existence forcing the band to look for an alternative.  A committee came up with a tan shirt featuring our logo in red.  We continue to wear red jackets, but when it's too hot and we need to shed the jackets, the shirts and red logo still look very nice. 

Benefits:  One of the benefits of membership in the band throughout its history has been its camaraderie.  In addition to its annual banquet, the band gathered for picnics each summer on Tainter Lake.  The practice hall could be unbearably hot in those days before air conditioning.  In the heat of the summer the band would reschedule its Monday evening practice for Sunday morning and the group would enjoy an outdoor pancake breakfast after rehearsing at Wakanda Park.   When Lynn Pritchard was director, he had the band over to his home after a Monday night rehearsal for a little party in his back yard.  Sometimes we had little pizza parties in the UW Stout Band room after rehearsals too.  Then in 1978, then Vice President Carroll Rund started to invite band members over to his home for a summer pool party and cookout after the evening rehearsal.  When he became president the party was changed to a Sunday afternoon event and included band members families and friends. After a few years' hiatus, these parties returned in 2007 because band members missed the fellowship and they continue today.  Band members become very close to each other and I think we can safely say, we all feel like family.

Support:  The band receives most of its financial support from the City of Menomonie and the rest from donations and its Foundation.  But what really makes it tick are two things: 1) the enthusiastic, receptive audiences that have been known to drive many miles every Tuesday night in the summer to attend its concerts during the 10 week season AND 2) the many talented, dedicated musicians who can hardly wait for the season to start, some of whom also drive many miles to rehearse Monday nights and do the concert on Tuesday nights.   The concert scenario is hard to describe.  You have to be there and see one to fully appreciate what happens each week.  The concerts are casual and fun and are associated with an old fashioned pie and ice cream social put on my a local charitable group.  It is truly Americana at its very best. 

Our celebration:  In 2012 the prestigious Smithsonian Magazine named Menomonie one of the top 20 U.S. cities under 25,000 population and one of the reasons listed for Menomonie receiving this award was the Ludington Guard Band.  2013 marks the 125th anniversary of this band, making it the oldest continually performing concert band in the State of Wisconsin and one of the oldest in the nation.  And thru it all, the band has played on, the "Sentimental Journey" has continued, just as it always has since 1888. 

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