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City Band Has Been 'Blowin' for Long Time - First Group Organized in 1870

By: Martin Lipke

This article was written in 1951 and appeared in the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune

From the early Pinery days there has always been a band to play for all the local "doin's". With but a few brief intervals since 1870, there has been a band to play for public functions, parades, celebrations, and similar events.

In the early years there were two separate cities, Centralia and Grand Rapids, each being a separate municipality with its own city administration. But this was not true with the band. Members lived on both sides of the river and played for whichever side would sponsor it.

First Band in 1870
The earliest band on record was the Lyon Cornet band, or Centralia Cornet band, organized about 1870. This band was largely composed of members of the Lyon family who were all talented and took a prominent part in music circles. This band played for a very notable event during this period which was the celebration of the Wisconsin Valley Railroad in 1873 upon its arrival here.

About 1878 the Odd Fellows' Band was organized in Grand Rapids on the west side of the river, and in 1879 the city council was approached on the subject of hiring a leader. The council took favorable action, and a Mr.Riggs was engaged to direct the city band, and also to look after the city's fire fighting equipment.

Won State Honors
The band was developed to a high standard of performance and went to Milwaukee in 1880 to play for the National G.A.R. encampment. This band also went to the state band convention in 1881 where it achieved the honor of first place. Shortly thereafter Mr. Riggs left and John Schnabel Sr. assumed the management of the band with Ed Fritzinger as musical director. Rueben Lyon also directed the band for a short while.

A number of years passed and the band gradually disintegrated. Then Rudolph Muehlstein organized a band that was largely confined to employees of McKinnon company (Centralia). In 1888, Russel Lyon organized a juvenile band whose members were recruited into another band a few years later. In 1892, Prof. Dorwood organized a juvenile band and some members of this band were induced to join an older band that was then going strong. In 1890, Grant White opened a jewelry store and organized the Twin City band and brought this band up to a high standard of excellence.

During the period of 1896 to 1902 the activities of this band were largely confined to a season or two, personnel and leadership changing after White's departure. Rudolph Muehlstein, Rueben Lyon and W. R. Demeroe had charge of the band for short intervals.

In 1902 E. A. Lambert organized a band composed largely of younger men and developed this band into a fine organization. In 1905 Lambert left to direct a band at Rushford, Minn., at which time Frank Bliss assumed the leadership of the city band. (The two cities in the meantime, about 1900, had combined into one city - Grand Rapids.) The band maintained its fine performance standards under Frank Bliss and played at the state fair in 1909. This same year Bliss left and Fred Merrill, a talented musician, became the leader and continued for several years until forced to retire because of ill health. The band again played for the state fair in 1911. For several years after Merrill's retirement its activities were erratic and limited to short periods when a group would get together and play.

Director 32 Years
In December of 1915 Mr. Lambert returned and again assumed the leadership, continuing until 1947 when he retired after a continuous directorship of 32 years, eclipsing by a wide margin any previous organizational record. During his tenure the band attained a high pinnacle of fine performance and played for a great many celebrations, bond drives, July 4 celebrations, civic events and many other occasions too numerous to mention.

In the early part of Mr. Lambert's second period as director the personnel of the band was entirely male, with one exception - Lola Payne, clarinet. When the subject of new uniforms was discussed the question would come up as to whether Lola should wear skirts or trousers. (The form of dress for girls in bands was not uniformly accepted then as it is now.)

42 Present Members
Upon Mr. Lamberts retirement B. T. Ziegler was appointed band director and continues in that capacity. The membership of the band at the present time is 42, about half men and half women. Although World War II and present service requirements have made inroads on the band's personnel, it has maintained its high standard of performance.

The advent of faster and individually owned transportation plus radio and television, has made the world's great music and artists more available to the general public. And locally your band must compete against all these factors.

To some of our critics (and there are some) who might miss the band at some particular event and wonder why it is absent, it might be explained that in the old days the appearance of the band was a matter of public interest, and a "must" accepted individually by its members. In our present world of speed and conflicting interests and employment obligations of band members, it becomes a real problem to get the band out with complete personnel on a work day - members just can't get off from their duties.

The season just closed has again been a busy year for the band. It played for the Living Music Day concert, Memorial Day parade, Fourth of July parade, the opening of baseball, Consolidated night baseball, Marshfield queen celebration, Marshfield guest concert, dedication of the grandstand and, in addition, the regular Thursday night concerts from Memorial day to Labor day. These weekly concerts were played on the courthouse lawn, Belle Isle and the east river bank, the later two being for experimental purposes to test for a good site for the badly needed band shell.

Some of our neighboring cities have good settings for their band concerts, and while private funds have been set aside here towards the construction of a suitable shell it is hoped that enough public interest will be aroused to realize the additional funds needed so that the hopes of the members for the erection of a good band shell may be fulfilled.

The band wishes to express its thanks to William Thiele, Vilas Baker and Leo Barrette for the active interest they took in trying to locate the most advantageous setting for the concerts during this past season. Also our thanks to our guest artists, Dave Doherty, Joan Buehler, Cleve Akey the Weavers of Harmony, the Barber Shop chorus and to others who have aided in making it a successful season.The present officers of the band are B.T. Ziegler, director, Emil Beck, president, Sidney Cotton, vice president, Irvin Prebbanow, secretary, Arthur Peters, treasurer, and Everett Lambert, Martin Lipke and Lola Neuman, directors.