Apse formed a long time ago. The fellows that got those horns and drum samples weren’t trained musicians. They were blacksmiths and barbers and carpenters and farmers. It takes a whole different set of muscles to blow a cornet than it does to shoe a mule or build a barn. And training those cornet muscles is finicky, frustrating work – especially after putting in 10 or 12 or more hours that day at your trade.
But there just wasn’t a whole lot else for a small-town fellow to do.
This was a long time before most small towns had libraries. Or theaters, or even poolhalls. A few of the homes might have parlor pianos. But radios, and TV’s and records – even automobiles – were still down the unpaved road aways, and around a few bends.
So they turned their pioneer energy and ingenuity to work, and came up with the small town band. In 1889, according to Harper’s Weekly, there were more than 10,000 small town bands in the U.S., and probably twice that number by the turn of the century. They were a genuine homegrown American institution, heralding every national and local holiday and happening with music from Sousa to Tin Pan Alley, and Grand Opera to music halls. They turned quiet civic occurences into rousing events. Band music was everywhere. This was the Era of the Small-Town Band.
What made the phenomenon work were the small town audiences. Isolated as they were by slow travel and sparse communication, the small town audience paid rapt attention and chauvinistic tribute to every effort of the musicians. They were enthusiastic, appreciative, “Lord have mercy, did you ever hear anything so pretty in your whole life?” sort of audience. Their town band scratched them right on their cultural itch. And they loved it.
And the musicians – who in some ways are very similar to normal people- thrived on the adulation. They had spent many lonely, lip-ripping hours trying to smooth all the bleeps, blats, honks and wheezes out of their feisty horns. It took a lot of wind, a thick hide, and a whole bunch of determination to be a musician back in those days.
Not that it has changed much since.