Literary Forum members took a musical journey through time to discover the history of the Bryan City Band. Local author Bill Culbertson was the guest speaker at the group’s final meeting. He talked about the book he wrote, “Hometown Band, 150 Years of Music and History in Bryan, Ohio”. The meeting took place at the home of Georgetta Kuhman with Paige Potts as co-hostess. Light refreshments were served prior to the meeting. Kuhman displayed photos and other memorabilia of the band that belonged to his father, John Hartman, who led the Bryan City Band for 48 years.
President Cathy Leu opened the meeting. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, she shared limericks, including one she composed on Literary Forum. After a short meeting, she entrusted the evening to Carol Eschhofen, who introduced Culbertson.
The Bryan City Band was organized in 1852 by John Connin and Charles Arnold and has played continuously ever since. As the band neared its 150th season, Hartman asked Culbertson to “write a kind of pamphlet” about the band’s history. With the help of his wife, JoEllen, doing research, he soon realized the sheer volume of information found in the history section of the Williams County Library. More than 800 exhibits were on file. Thus, the pamphlet became a book.
For about the first century, the brass band was the city’s main entertainment. If something big happened, the group was sure to be there. Telling the story of the band became telling the story of the city. Saturday night concerts were a social event. Culbertson talked about the band’s various instruments, including the Brass Band Movement. The members of the first group came from a variety of backgrounds and many learned to play instruments after joining the group. In 1900, the group joined the Ohio National Guard and marched to Canton during the funeral ceremony of President William McKinley. In 1991 the band traveled to Columbus to perform in front of the Ohio Statehouse. Columbus resident Charles Connin, great-grandson of founder John Connin, played in the band that day.
John Connin was the first of several directors in the early years. His son, Alexander, and grandson, Dale, also played in the band. In 1888, Professor Forrest Tubbs became the first of three long-term directors of the group who would provide leadership and continuity for the next 100+ years. Dale Connin, third generation Connin, became the manager in 1926. He was a professional musician who had traveled the world playing in several bands. Upon his death in 1962, John Hartman, principal of the Bryan High School band, took over leadership of the band. He started playing in the band in the 1940s when he moved to town. After leading 48 years, Hartman retired in 2009. Since 2010 the band has continued weekly summer concerts under the direction of Terry Krause.
The courthouse lawn had several bandstands. There were two on the east side. They were raised so kids could run around the base while the music played. They became dangerous and a new bandstand was built on the southwest corner of the square in 1935. The band members laid the bricks themselves and the solid structure was used for 65 years. As the town band grew, the brick bandstand needed to have temporary platforms built around the outside to accommodate the entire band. In 1998, a community group served as a steering committee to raise funds for a new bandstand. In less than two months, more than enough money was raised. Architectural plans were approved and the Connin-Hartman Bandstand was built and ready for the first concert on June 9, 1999.
The Bryan City Band has a long history and many traditions. Several generations of families have occurred together. Members come not only from Bryan, but from all of Williams County and surrounding counties. The band started out as an all-male band, but during World War II women were invited to play. Jean Davis Wetmore was the first woman to play and she continued for over 50 years. Stanton Harding was a member for 72 years. He played the clarinet and composed music for the band. Ted Connin, another great-grandson of John Connin, was a former member of the French horn section. Over the years, group members of all ages have found pleasure in participating together and forming lifelong friendships.
Every Wednesday night throughout June and July, the Bryan City Band continues to perform and entertain the public in Courthouse Square. It’s one of America’s oldest bands and a treasure trove for the citizens of Bryan.
The next meeting will be on Tuesday, April 5 at Trinity Lutheran Church. Bonnie Spurgeon will lead the discussion on the book “Black Swamp” by Howard E. Good.
(Information provided by the group)