Summer Band Concerts always provided a good time in town on Sunday nights
It’s exciting for Springfield to celebrate Riverside Days with a concert in Brown’s Park Thursday evening. A concert in the park brings back fond memories for people who remember the days when Brown’s Park was the site of weekly Sunday evening summer concerts.
Those who remember those concerts can tell you that they always attracted large crowds to the park.
Being a member of the community band was a prestigious position back in the 1930s and ‘40s, says Tony Hofmeister, now 95 years old and living in Peoria, Arizona, who played with the band for a number of years. “The band was solid,” he said. “It was a big thing in small towns where there wasn’t much of anything else for entertainment those days.”
Tony joined the band in 1937 when he was a senior in Springfield High School. His father, Joseph “Captain” Hofmeister, was director of the band. It wasn’t nepotism, however. “There were five or six of us seniors who joined the band that year,” Tony recalled during a recent telephone interview. “We had to audition before the board of directors.”
The Joseph and Marie Hofmeister family moved to Springfield in 1922 when Captain Hofmeister was hired to direct the Orpheus Band. He also taught music at Springfield Public School in the 1920s and gave private music lessons for all instruments and violin. He also directed the St. Raphael Choir. The Orpheus Band director’s job was a paid position.
“At the end of the year, if we had attended all concerts and rehearsals we received a check for $10 or $12 in December,” Hofmeister recalled.
“Sunday night was a big night,” at concerts in Brown’s Park,” Hofmeister remembers. The band performed from a gazebo in the southwest corner of the park. Benches provided ample seating in the park, but many families preferred to watch from their cars parked at the perimeter of the park. Applause and the honking of horns expressed the appreciation of the crowd for the music. “If they liked it they would toot the horn,” Hofmeister commented.
A concession stand provided popcorn, ice cream cones and soda. “Orange crush pop was very popular those days,” Hofmeister recalled.
The Springfield community band had its beginning in the late 1800s or early 1900s. A story in the Springfield Advance in 1906 reported an organizational meeting where a new constitution was adopted. “The boys also adopted a new name and hereafter the band will be known as The Orpheus Band of Springfield,” The Springfield Advance reported. Officers elected were A. G. Schwarzrock, president and musical director; E. H. Schwarzrock, vice president and librarian; R. W. Blackmun, secretary; Edward Erickson, business manager; William Jahn, treasurer; and Fed Kamolz, constable.
Regular meetings for practice were held every Tuesday and Friday nights. A penalty of 25 cents is assessed against members for non-attendance.
“The boys have been putting in some hard practice thus far this winter and while they played exceptionally well last season, they will be able to give us even better music next season if they keep up with these practices,” the Springfield Advance reported. “We are all glad to note the interest taken in organization by the boys and it goes without saying that their untiring efforts to give Springfield a band second to none in this section of the state is accordingly appreciated by our citizens.”
The Springfield Advance-Press published weekly programs of music played at the band concerts in the 1940s.
The band was still operating when Hofmeister returned from military service in 1946. He continued to play in the band.
The band became smaller in number of musicians and was disbanded a few years later. “We were losing members,” Hofmeister recalled. “It was difficult to recruit young people to the band.”
Springfield has always been a great musical city — instrumental and vocal, said Hofmeister.