The Bloomington Community Band has been in existence with some interruptions since the early 19th century. Penny Mathiesen has published an article on the early years of the Bloomington town bands, which actually pre-date the Indiana University bands by several decades. The first band in Bloomington was started by Austin Seward around 1838, and bands that traced their roots to that group continued to play here with minor interruptions until well into the twentieth century. A timeline on the BCB web site documents the known bands that have existed in Bloomington and surrounding communities of Monroe County.
For several decades in the early twentieth century, the Bloomington Town Band occupied an address at 106 ½ or 108 ½ W. Sixth Street. The Bloomington City Directories document those addresses from at least 1922-1940, and that was also the location of the Bloomington Opera Theater. These early twentieth-century bands were directed first by Wylie Cathcart, followed by Henry O. Crigler. The City Directories give no indication of a band immediately after World War II.
From the early-1950s until sometime in 1963, the Bloomington Civic Band played concerts during the summers. Current Bloomington Community Band member Phil Stradling recalls that he started attending concerts by the Bloomington Civic Band in 1953. That band was under the direction of Carl Frye, music supervisor in the Monroe County public schools. His son, David Frye, played drums with them, and when Phil Stradling graduated from Bloomington High School in 1957, he was asked by Mr. Frye to join the civic band. Linda Cobb, who was an early member of the current BCB, was also in that band. The band rehearsed every week from June through August on Wednesday evenings in the Seminary Building at Bloomington High School. They would then present a one-hour concert at Third Street Park on Thursday evenings. The Bloomington Civic Band was disbanded after the 1963 season because funds from the state were cut off, and it is not clear that a band existed in Bloomington from 1963-1966.
There was another town band in Bloomington in the latter half of the 1960s. They rehearsed in a basement on High Street. Newell Long was a trombonist in the group, and Phil Stradling played alto saxophone with the band, which included some 30-35 members in 1966. Since Newell was Al Olson’s supervisor of student teaching that fall, he asked Al to direct the band in late fall 1966 after he finished the 9 weeks of student teaching. Al continued to conduct the band through the spring of 1967. During that time, they played some concerts in Third Street Park, which at the time still had a band stand that dated to 1928. They also gave concerts in a few of the local churches and maybe at the Court House, even though a rigorous concert schedule was not maintained. After Al took a teaching position, the band continued for a time under another person’s direction, but it was apparently not functioning by 1970. Newell Long supplied some of the music for this group, and they had a small music library that passed to Bloomington High School when the group stopped playing.
The present Bloomington Community Band was started with a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission obtained by Gary Wiggins with Bloomington JayCees sponsorship in 1978. Responding to an ad in the paper for interested musicians, BHSS band director Don Traub revealed that he still had the music from the prior band which he turned over to the new group. The first director of the current Bloomington Community Band was IU School of Music Professor Emeritus Newell H. Long. It was often said that Newell was the heart of the band, and without him, it is very doubtful that the band would have survived its early years. Another Bloomington public school music educator, Geneva Phillips, was assistant director for a period of time. Bert Langdon, a retired high school band director who moved to Bloomington from New Castle, served informally as assistant director after Ms. Phillips’ death.
Newell Long passed away January 4, 1999 at the age of 93. In the last several years of his life, Newell was in failing health, so the associate director at the time, Tim Moore, took on more and more responsibilities. Tim became the de facto director of the band around 1995 until July 2011. In May 2012, Ron Sebben was selected as the Music Director of the BCB. The associate music director is Dr. Joe Car, a practicing physician in Spencer.
The current band has rehearsed in several locations over the years, starting with the JayCees Building that was then on Kinser Pike in the park that now houses the Upper Cascades ball field. Other rehearsal spots included Binford Elementary School at 2300 E. 2nd St., the First Presbyterian Church at 221 E. 6th St., the First Christian Church at 205 E. Kirkwood, and its current rehearsal site at St. Thomas Lutheran Church at 3800 E. 3rd St.
The BCB has played at many civic events and festivals in Bloomington and surrounding communities. For a period of time in its early history, the band teamed up with three other community bands (Montgomery County (Crawfordsville), Detroit Diesel Allison (Indianapolis), and the Shelbyville Community Band) to play combined concerts in what was billed as the Hoosier Heartland Band Festival. Each Fourth of July, the band provides entertainment prior to the start of the parade and a concert prior to the Picnic with the Pops. Also traditional are holiday concerts at College Mall and in several of the local retirement communities. In addition, BCB concerts have taken place in Gosport, Elletsville, Spencer, Nashville, Mitchell, Orleans, French Lick, and other towns, and in state parks such as Brown County, Spring Mill, and McCormick’s Creek.
Literally hundreds of amateur musicians have enjoyed playing with the Bloomington Community Band over the years. In 2010, the BCB received two major awards in recognition of its contributions to the community: Downtown Bloomington Inc.’s Cassady Electric Volunteer of the Year Award and the Bloomington Volunteer Network’s Be More Award for Arts and Cultural Organizations. The band is a member of the Association of Concert Bands.
July 20, 2010
–Gary Wiggins, BCB Historian, with thanks to Al Olson, Phil Stradling, Tim Moore, and others who participated in the BCB history roundtable discussion at McCormick’s Creek State Park on July 17, 2010.
Mathiesen, Penelope. “The Sewards and Bloomington Bands.” Monroe County Historian, October 2008, 5, 6. http://www.monroehistory.org/sg_userfiles/vol5issue2008.pdf
For a timeline of the bands in Bloomington, see:
Mrs. R.F.D. (The Hoosier Farm Wife). “Park band concert is blissfully relaxing.” Bloomington, World Telephone, July 26, 1961, ?.
Mrs. R.F.D. (The Hoosier Farm Wife). “Dusk slowly gathers as the band plays on.” Bloomington, World Telephone, July 13, 1962, ?.
“Old Band Men to Take Part in Dedication Tonight.” Bloomington, Daily Telephone, 22 August 1928, ?.
Also, see the bibliography of articles at: http://www.bloomingtoncommunityband.org/articles-with-information-on-the-bcb-and-its-predecessors-bibliography/