A Detailed History of the Brookline Community Band
The Band has its origin in the First Corps of Cadets of Massachusetts, which began as the Independent Cadets, a volunteer militia company chartered in 1741 by Massachusetts Governor William Shirley to serve as a ceremonial bodyguard for the royal governors of Massachusetts. The first commander was Benjamin Pollard, under whose leadership the Cadets became an elite unit of the Massachusetts Militia. In 1766 John Hancock joined the Cadets, and by 1772 he was appointed commander. Because of Hancock’s activities as a patriot, he was dismissed as commander of the Cadets in 1774 by General Thomas Gage, then commander of British forces in North America and Governor of Massachusetts. The Cadets were outraged by this action and voted to disband and return their colors to the governor. They reorganized in 1776 as the Independent Company of Cadets with Hancock, now President of the Continental Congress, as their honorary colonel. During the Revolutionary War they took part in active campaigns in New Jersey and Rhode Island. In 1786 they were again mobilized for state service during Shays’ Rebellion. Throughout their history the Cadets have provided honor guards for distinguished visitors to Boston. On October 24, 1789 they escorted George Washington on his first visit to Boston as President. Washington, riding on an elegant white horse, was met at the Roxbury line by a procession led by the Company of Cadets, followed by a band, the selectmen of Boston, the sheriffs of Suffolk and Middlesex counties, and others. John Hancock missed the occasion because of an acute attack of gout.
Since the time of the Revolution the Cadets have played an active part in every war in which the country has been engaged. Because the Cadets were always made up of young men who were officer material, they have had a tradition of providing officers for wartime regiments. References to bands that have been associated with the Cadets have been scattered and brief up to the time of the Civil War. In 1861 Patrick Gilmore, an Irish bandsman who had come to Boston, attached his band to the 24th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, for which the Corps of Cadets had provided officers. Gilmore’s band provided music for the Regiment and also served as stretcher bearers in battles at Roanoke, New Bern, Bull Run, and Antietam. In 1862 Congress discharged most military bands in an effort to reduce costs, but the 45th Massachusetts Regiment Volunteer Militia, mustered into service in September 1862 under the command of Col. Charles Coleman, with officers mainly from the Independent Corps of Cadets, still wished to have a band. Soldiers from the regiment with musical ability were identified, and instruments were obtained. John Spofford, solo cornet player and director, and Seignor Mariani, a drum major from Gilmore’s band, lead the group. The bandsmen were all enlisted men, musicians secondarily, who were eventually organized into an ambulance corps, and when in camp or in action were responsible for that duty. The 45th “Cadet” Regiment’s mission was to reinforce the Union occupation of the North Carolina coast. When they eventually returned to Boston by boat in July 1863, the Regiment was lead from the wharf by the band, up State Street and Beacon to the Boston Common for a warm welcome.
In 1873 Lt. Col. Thomas Edmands, a Civil War veteran, was chosen to command the Independent Cadets, and the following year they were formally designated the FIRST CORPS OF CADETS. Edmands led the First Corps for the next 33 years. In 1876 the Veteran Association of the First Corps of Cadets was formed. It has played an important roll in maintaining the history and traditions of the Corps since that time. With regard to bands associated with the First Corps, we know that in 1878 R.B. Hall, a well know cornet player and march composer, played with the First Corps of Cadets Band of Boston. Hall’s “Officer of the Day” march has become a standard of First Corps band concerts to this day. In the October 22, 1881 edition of the New York Times there is an account of The First Corps of Cadets of Boston and their “fine band” passing through Manhattan en route from Yorktown, VA, where they had been participating in the centennial celebration of the American victory in the Revolutionary War.
In the late 1880’s the First Corps, needing a place to gather and to drill, constructed an Armory in downtown Boston at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Arlington Street. To help pay for this structure the Corps sponsored a series of “Extravaganzas”, a popular form of entertainment at the time featuring an all male cast performing songs and dances and repartee. Although there was certainly music for these performances, it was not band music and a First Corps Band did not participate in the shows. On the other hand, military and community bands were quite popular during this period. John Philip Sousa and Henry Fillmore were well known bandsmen with wide audiences. We know that James M. Fulton, another bandsman and composer, wrote the “First Corps Cadets” march in 1924, music that was published by Henry Fillmore’s Music House in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is still played by the current First Corps band as the opening selection on many of its programs. In 1926 The First Corps of Cadets was reorganized as the 211th Coast Artillery Regiment of the Massachusetts National Guard, with a regimental band that played at monthly dances and drills. The Corps and the band were reviewed on Boston Common every year in full dress uniform. We also know that the First Corps of Cadets band under the direction of Crawford Anderson played a special concert in Sudbury, MA on July 4, 1939 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of that town.
During World War II a group of musicians in Boston, including Raymond Saumsiegle and Wendell Campbell, organized a band called the US Coastguard Temporary Reserve Band that played at military and civic functions. At the end of the war the band was decommissioned, but some of the members stayed together, and in January 1950 they formally affiliated with the First Corps of Cadets of Boston, then organized as the 128th Heavy Tank Battalion and headquartered at the Arlington Street Armory. From that point on the band has been known as the First Corps of Cadets Band of Boston. Ray Saumsiegle was the first conductor and Wendell Campbell the president of the band. Uniforms were provided by the First Corps. The band members received no compensation for services rendered, but the band was permitted to accept outside engagements with pay. Rehearsal and drill space were made available at the Armory. It is not clear how much drilling was done, but there must have been rehearsals, judging from the complimentary letters in the band’s files received after performances in Everett, Needham, North Reading, Nahant Beach, Worcester, and at the Armory.
The First Corps of Cadets Band has had a series of conductors since Mr. Saumsiegle retired in 1955, including John Souza, William Gagnon, F. Lloyd Gilroy, William (Al) Coogon, Stuart Kaufman, Don Dragalla (1978-84), Don Swinchoski (1984-97), Irving Schein (1998 to 2016), Wing Sze Chan (2016-2017), and Chi-Sun Chan (2017-Present). After the First Corps sold the Armory in 1973, the band has rehearsed in various recreational and school facilities in the town of Brookline, currently at the Pierce Elementary School on School Street. Because it rehearses in Brookline and many of its performances are in that community, the band is sometimes referred to informally as the Brookline Community Band, but its designation as the First Corps of Cadets Band has remained intact, and its allegiance to the First Corps remains strong. A number of the band’s current members are also members of the Association of the First Corps of Cadets, whose headquarters and museum are now located at 227 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02116.
Written by R.M.Robb
July 28, 2009
Edited in 2017