The content below was created in a publication by Diana Droste Herak in honor of the Brass Band of Columbus: The First Twenty Years (1984-2004).
Chapter 1: Prelude – How Did it Start?
In August of 1984, Paul Droste was without a band to direct. This followed fourteen years as Director of The OSU Marching Band. During those years with OSUMB, the idea often, occurred that a small, sit-down British-style brass band could be drawn from the membership of the Marching Band, perhaps to rehearse and perform during the off-season. The timing just didn’t seem right, however, as the time demands on the students did not lessen during the non-marching season. And, of course, there was no time for any extra activity during the season. Droste often felt that there were at least thirty outstanding members of the band that could be recruited and molded into an outstanding brass band. In fact, when the BBC was started in 1984 as an adult community band, several of the original members were still students at OSU and a few were in the OSU Marching Band.
It should be of interest to know how the British influence came to Columbus. First of all, there has been a local Salvation Army Band in Columbus since 1885. The Salvation Army should receive credit for bringing the British style of brass banding to America, and for keeping the brass band tradition alive for over one hundred years. Droste remembers a concert by The International Staff Band of The Salvation Army on the OSU campus in the spring of 1955. OSUMB Director Jack O. Evans strongly encouraged his students to attend the concert and hear a true British brass band. This event was the first time that Paul and Anne Craig (his future wife) were in the same room together, although they didn’t know it until years later. Anne was brought to the concert by some Salvationist friends.
The Great Artist Series of Mershon Auditorium brought the all-brass National Band of New Zealand to OSU in 1970, 1974, and 1980. All three times the format was very much the same; the band would arrive in mid-afternoon and be brought to the Marching Band practice field. The Marching Band would break from its rehearsal to perform a short program, usually a Ramp Entrance and a Script Ohio. Of course, the New Zealanders were impressed with the size of the band (the world’s largest brass band, OSU always claimed), the intricate marching maneuvers, and the spirit and attitude of the members. The OSUMB Band Staff would take the New Zealand Directors out to dinner, then the OSU students would attend the National Band’s concert in Mershon as a group, and would be dazzled with their performance. After the concert the bands to the Ohio Union where the sixty-five New Zealand musicians (mostly adults) would drink the OSUMB students under the table. When the Union closed at midnight, the OSU students and New Zealanders would head for High Street, only to return just in time for the Kiwis to catch their bus in the morning.
Right around the same time, Reg McGovern from FSR Recordings, who recorded the OSU Marching Band starting in the 1950’s, would send brass band recordings to Droste, and Jack Evans, and Charles Spohn. Commercial recordings from England began to be available in record shops, so it was not difficult to find “Men of Brass” and other recordings of the contesting bands in England. And the OSU Marching Band would occasionally play a British march or brass band arrangement.
Actually, there was a British-style brass band at Ohio State in the mid-1960’s that was organized and directed by Fred Dart, then a School of Music Professor and Assistant Director of the OSU Marching Band. It existed under the School of Music, but was dropped after two years because of conflicts with other musical ensembles.
So the idea of starting a British-style brass band in Columbus was nurtured for several years before 1984. Armed with several recordings to use as examples of the British sound and style, and with some music from the OSU Marching Band and School of Music, Droste decide that in August of 1984 the time was right.
In August, Droste called thirty of his friends and colleagues in and from the OSU School of Music and Marching Band and scheduled two brass band reading sessions. Music was borrowed from OSU and a few arrangements were purchased from an American brass band music importer. After the second reading session, Droste asked how many would like to continue. Twenty-nine of the thirty said yes, and the Brass Band of Columbus was off and running.
The first year was typical of new organizations. The membership was not totally stable, there was no money, and the BBC was unknown as a performing ensemble. There was plenty of enthusiasm, however, for this new musical venture. After a few brainstorming sessions, Roger Cichy proposed Brass Band of Columbus as a name for the band. The name told people what we are and where we are from. Gradually, the trumpets were replaced with cornets (after Droste had to threaten a few players with “expulsion”). The British sound began to emerge and it was time for the premiere performance of the band.
Ascension Lutheran Church, Droste’s church, was approached. After all, Reformation Day is a major event in Lutheran churches, and very appropriate for the celebratory brass music. Paste Art Haimerl took the band “on faith” and invited them to play at a Sunday morning, Reformation Day service. The response of the congregation was very encouraging, and Pastor Haimerl wrote a note later telling the band how their music had “moved his soul.” This first performance, on October 28, 1984, was a great success and a major boost for the band. The BBC has played at Ascension Lutheran Church for twenty consecutive years (updated 2017 – this number is now thirty-four years).
Another twenty-year tradition was started in two other locations, but with the same host. May Schwarz contacted the band in the fall of 1984, hearing via the musicians’ grapevine that a new brass band had started. She knew some of the BBC players individually and felt that was reason enough to invite the band play on the Triune Concert Series at St. John’s Protestant Church in downtown Columbus. So the BBC played its first complete concert on March 1, 1985. May was also starting a Summer Music Series at the Trinity Luthern Seminary in Bexley, so she invited the BBC to play there on June 26, 1985. The BBC has performed for twenty consecutive years at both locations. (update 2017: these concerts have still occurred annually and are scheduled in 2018).
After the first year (1984-1985) the personnel of the band became more stable, bi-monthly rehearsals were replaced with weekly rehearsals, and a more extensive performance scheduled ensued. And the band started earning enough money to start a music library and purchase some instruments to replace the ones borrowed from OSU.
Could anyone have predicted in 1984 that the BBC would be flourishing, that many of the original members would still be playing in the band, and that a book called “The First Twenty Years” wouldl now be in print? As they say, “the rest is history,” so read on and enjoy.