For the October “Artifact of the Month” at the Western Illinois Museum, a Macomb City Band bass drum will be on display.
The drum is approximately 3 ft. in diameter and 18 inches in depth. “City Band Macomb Ill” is painted in red and outlined in black on the drumhead. Attached to the drum is a cymbal.
Everyone loves the sound of a booming bass drum as a marching band passes by. The bass drum is an integral part of the sound of a band and this bass drum would have played an important role in the Macomb City Band.
A community band has played a part in the history of Macomb and McDonough County for a long time. The Macomb Daily Journal of Aug. 14, 1897 has a long article detailing the history of Macomb’s first brass band. Organized in 1852, the first performance of the band was on the 4th of July.
On July 4, 1852, leading the procession around the square and being a part of the festivities, the Macomb City Band played the four tunes they knew, over and over again throughout the day. As the reporter on the scene noted, “The boys performed wonders and the spectators could readily recognize the tunes they attempted to play. Ye gods and little apples! The band was a dandy.”
From that bright beginning, the Macomb City Band became an important part of the community. Marching in every parade, playing at weddings, funerals, holidays or civic events and political meetings, the Macomb City Band seemed to be everywhere; they even played when Lincoln visited in 1858.
The Macomb City Band was part of a nationwide trend. From around the time of the Civil War to just before the First World War, small town bands were hugely popular all over the United States.
By the end of the 19th century, there were over 10,000 community bands across the nation. Besides Macomb, Bushnell, Colchester and Table Grove all had their own community bands during this time.
For many communities, the town band was the only form of public entertainment. In the days before phonographs, radio, television, or movies were available; bands had a monopoly on popular, light entertainment. Band music was considered appropriate to almost any setting and event.
The growth of popularity of town bands in the 19th century is due in part to improvements in instrument construction. The development of the piston valve in the 1830s made it possible to make inexpensive brass instruments that were easy for amateurs to play. A large musical instrument industry developed and it was possible for small towns to afford to purchase easy to play brass instruments.
Most of the small town bands featured just brass and percussion, so bass drums, like the one on display at the museum, was a very large component to the sound of the band.
The bass drum is a unique piece of percussion in how it is carried and played. It has two drumheads and is carried with a harness, so the two drumheads face out sideways, and instead of drumsticks, it is played with a soft beater.
The museum's drum shell is made from wood and the front and the back have a rim that holds the drumhead in place during play. The rims are held in place with a series of tension rods around the circumference of the drum shell. By tightening or loosening the tension rods around the drumhead, the tension of the drumhead and thereby the sound, is adjusted.
In the 1920s, new forms of entertainment began to erode the significance of the town band throughout the nation. Audiences became more sophisticated, going to the movies, listening to records and the radio; everyone had more opportunities to hear music in a variety of ways. Town bands began to wither away from lack of interest and in many places, they became a thing of the past.
Macomb is a fortunate city, in that we still have a town band, the Macomb Municipal Band. According to Dr. Mike Fansler, WIU professor and current director of the Macomb Municipal Band, “the band has approximately 40 members ranging in age from 16 to 80 years. Membership includes: adults from Macomb and surrounding communities, high school students from Macomb and surrounding communities and WIU faculty members and students.”
Fansler remarked, “Our community band is a vital part of Macomb’s musical traditions.” Remembering that the first Macomb band began back in 1852, Fansler added that the current municipal band, “provides a 158-year window in Macomb’s past – one of which we can all be proud. I appreciate City Hall’s effort to maintain the legacy of our town band and we look forward to including many more local musicians in next summer's performances."
[Please contact Mike Fansler (309-298-1505) if you are interested in performing with the historic Macomb Municipal Band.]
The big “City Band” bass drum on display at the museum is a symbol of a bygone era when there were thousands of community bands all over the country and the town band played a significant part in the life of every small community.
From an essay by Heather Munro