When the Bisbee Boys Band was organized at the YMCA in 1914, the members had few instruments, no sheet music and little musical training. Their first task was to raise money to buy themselves instruments and music books. The band members were all older than 12 (and many closer in age to 18).
The difficulties they faced can be deduced from a small article in the Bisbee Review of August 1914. The band members had collected 14 instruments and were expecting more shortly. “The instruction books have arrived and have been distributed among the boys who have been looking them over with great enthusiasm, which is very encouraging.” The first director of the band was Herbert Veal, who also directed the Copper Queen Band. But the baton changed hands a number of times until a Mr. Wilkins took the boys in hand. Under his direction, they made great progress.
The Review commented: “Several of the boys stated yesterday that the rapid development had been due entirely to the work of the leader Wilkins, during the past five months he has had them in charge. They stated that before he took hold, very few had been able to do so much as play a scale correctly. He has taken great pains in teaching them, and the results of his efforts are beginning to show.”
The 20 band members practiced at the Y every Monday and Thursday at 6 p.m. By June of the next year, the boys had mastered 12 pieces, including marches, waltzes, patriotic songs and serenades. Mr. Wilkins decided they were ready for the annual Fourth of July parade.
The Review reported enthusiastically on their performance: “The newly organized YMCA Boys Band literally covered itself with glory in the great holiday parade. Probably no feature made a bigger hit with the crowd. Clad in their extremely natty white uniforms, the youths made a strikingly pleasing appearance, while their music was of a remarkably high caliber. Especially when one considers the short time in which the band has been developed, the boys’ progress seems extraordinary.”
The following winter, the Review was back with more praise: “A splendid impression as was created Sunday afternoon by the appearance of the Y Boys Band, which rendered selections in front of the post office and the Orpheum… Many metropolitan cities are wont to boast of juvenile musical organizations of less ability than that which has recently been perfected in Bisbee…The boys will render frequent concerts throughout the summer season, and the Warren District public, accordingly, may anticipate even more enjoyment of high-class music than last summer when the Copper Queen Band and C. & A. bands pleased with so many delightful concerts.”
By the end of World War I, a combination of economic recession and the popularity of the new electric phonograph spelled doom to public band concerts. In that climate, the Bisbee Boys Band was disbanded.
This Times Past article was originally published on October 19, 2001.
Photo courtesy Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum, Bonham Collection; research by Tom Vaughan. ©Arizona Capitol Times.