Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Frostburg Arion Band

The next time a music buff mentions the Rolling Stones' remarkable 44-year history as a band, say, "Ah, that's nothing. How about the Frostburg Arion Band?"

I took this photo of the band in performance Saturday in the Upper Quad at Frostburg State University's first Appalachian Festival. Guess how many years this band has been performing.The answer: 129 years. A group of German-Americans in Frostburg, Md., founded the German Arion Band in 1877. I believe that's Ronald Horner of Frostburg State's music faculty, a veteran of the Israel Philharmonic and the Pittsburgh Symphony, leading the current incarnation in Sousa's "Liberty Bell March," a.k.a. the theme from Monty Python's Flying Circus.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, just about every U.S. town of any size had at least one community brass band, peopled by shopkeepers and farmers and kids; it was the era saluted in Meredith Willson's musical The Music Man. In towns with substantial immigrant populations, it wasn't unusual to have one German-American band, one Italian-American band, etc. Most community bands disappeared as the 20th century ground on, but not this one.

There have been a few changes, of course. During the anti-German hysteria of World War II (discussed upstream on this blog), the band changed its name from the German Arion Band to the Frostburg Arion Band.

The band long since stopped relying exclusively on German-Americans, though that ethnicity still abounds in these hills. Today the band is mostly young people, including several members of the Frostburg State University marching band. The musicians in the red uniforms had just run up the hill from the halftime show; this was their second of three gigs on Saturday. Let's see Keith Richards manage that.

Today's band, alas, is in financial distress. Its little revenue from local gigs doesn't come close to meeting expenses, and the 106-year-old band hall on Uhl Street sorely needs repairs and restoration.

The band's namesake, the legendary Corinthian musician Arion, was the "Jolly Mon" of ancient Greece; he was rescued by dolphins after pirates threw him overboard. But who will rescue the Frostburg Arion Band?

1 comment:

awolverton said...

But who will rescue the Frostburg Arion Band?

Let's hope someone does. You're absolutely right - At one time, this country (especially on this coast) boasted many Italian bands, German bands, and other European-based groups. Sadly, few are still around.

When I was a band director in Mississippi and Texas, I can't tell you how many elderly ladies and gentlemen, immigrants or sons/daughters of immigrants, would come up to me with great stories of their bands. When you find these people, you just want to sit at their feet and listen to the stories they tell. And, of course, the music they play.