BANGOR, Maine — When the package arrived from Waterville on Friday, Bangor Band president Lori Wingo opened it immediately and pulled out its contents — a gold cornet given to former Bangor Band conductor R.B. Hall in the 1880s.
Then Wingo tried to play the trumpetlike brass instrument.
“I got a cornet last spring, a top of the line [instrument]. I didn’t think there was anything [else] in the ballpark,” the longtime trumpet and French horn player said Friday. “And then here comes this [Hall cornet]. I played this thing, and I’m going to do a full solo on it. For a horn that’s over 100 years [old], it’s incredible.”
The cornet solo is just one treat the Bangor Band plans to offer the audience today as it celebrates its 150th anniversary with a 7 p.m. concert directed by Fred Goldrich at the Bangor Opera House.
The concert is free, although donations for the band’s scholarship fund will be accepted.
The Bangor Band is one of the oldest community bands in the country. It’s an institution that has survived wars, fires, presidents and political movements. Several of its members have been in the band for at least a quarter of a century.
Clarinet and saxophone player Leo Thayer, who recently turned 90, joined the Bangor Band in 1946, a year after getting out of the Army where he played in several bands. Thayer was living in Worcester, Mass., at the time and married Bangor native Ruth Kendall. That brought Thayer to Bangor, and he called then-director Adelbert Sprague.
“I told him I wanted to be in the band. So he said, ‘Come on down.’ I was there from then on,” said Thayer, a longtime Bangor public school teacher who stopped playing with the band about 1½ years ago. “There’s a lot of good companionship and a lot of good musicianship, for that matter.”
Wingo said today’s program will showcase music from the band’s 150 years, including a violin performance of “Ashokan Farewell,” which was used as theme music in the documentary “The Civil War.” There also will be songs from the musicals “My Fair Lady” and “Grease.”
Wingo said the evening will include presentations of commendations from the Bangor City Council and others. The state of Maine recognized January as Bangor Band Month because the band was founded in that month. The band’s first concert was held in February 1859.
For Wingo, the highlight will likely be her cornet solo.
Hall was a renowned cornet soloist and a composer who was a contemporary of John Philip Sousa’s, Wingo said.
Hall was a member of the Bangor Band in the 1880s, and in 1884 was given the ornately engraved gold cornet, including a note that the instrument was presented to Hall by the citizens of Bangor. Hall had written a march called “Greeting to Bangor,” which the band still plays occasionally.
But Hall moved to Waterville in 1886, taking the cornet with him. After he died, the cornet went to the Waterville Historical Society, which sent the cornet to Wingo last week. She was pleasantly surprised at how well it’s held up over the years.
“I don’t know how long it’s been since the cornet was played in Bangor, but it’s coming home,” said Wingo, who works at the University of Maine, teaches music, and plays in the Bangor Symphony Orchestra in addition to her position as the Bangor Band’s first female president.
After Monday’s concert, the cornet will be displayed in a Bangor Band exhibit at the Bangor Public Library.
Hall was a member of the band at a time of its decline, Wingo said, because of the repercussions of the Civil War. The band has had its ups and downs over the years, but Wingo said the key to another 150 years is nurturing young players.
“A lot of community bands have dried up because we aren’t doing anything to teach younger generations the value of this music,” she said. “As long as I’m president of the band, we are certainly going to keep an eye to the future and keep recruiting young members.”
For information on the Bangor Band, go to www.bangorband.org.