Nothing says “summertime” like an outdoor concert, and that was as true 125 years ago as it is today. Back then, the music of brass bands filled the summer air, creating a festive soundtrack for community celebrations and events. Brass bands peaked in popularity between the 1850s and early 1900s, a time when new cities and towns were springing up all over the United States. This music brought community members together and helped foster a sense of civic pride. Here in Scott County, nearly every town had its own brass band; below is a brief history of some of these bands:
- The Valley Cornet Band of Belle Plaine was established in 1890 by Mr. E.E. Chamberlain. As of 1891, they had around 16 members. Aside from brass players, the band also consisted of a couple of drummers and a piccolo player. The band played at a variety of events, including horse races, baseball games, weddings, and parades. According to a quote in the Belle Plaine Herald in 1891, “The members all have good instruments, handsome uniforms to which they have recently added leather music pouches for every player. They are now as fine a musical organization as can be found in the Minnesota Valley and Belle Plaine can justly feel proud of them…”
- Shakopee was home to the Shakopee Cadet Band, started in 1901 by Hubert Stans (father of Maurice Stans). Like the Valley Cornet Band, the Shakopee Cadet Band performed at local celebrations, parades, fairs, and events. One such event was a street fair in honor of James J. Hill, the railroad tycoon from St. Paul. He gave a speech, and then the band played a song. Afterwards, Hill gave Stans a $50 bill (a lot of money in those days!), which he used to treat his band members.
- There were several brass bands in Jordan, but the most prominent was led by Al Hagie. Al Hagie was a traveling musician who ended up in Jordan thanks to the Nicolin family. The family (who owned the Nicolin Opera House among numerous other Jordan businesses) wanted to get some better musicians in town, so when Hagie came through with his group, the Nicolin family convinced him to stay. He went on to become the dominant musical figure in Jordan, starting numerous bands and orchestras over the years.
- The New Prague Cornet Band, also known as the Bohemian Brass Band, was established in 1893 by J.W. Komarek. Like other Scott County brass bands, this band performed at various community celebrations and events. The name “Bohemian Brass Band” alludes to the band’s cultural background; New Prague was primarily settled by immigrants from Bohemia who brought their musical traditions with them. The Bohemian Brass Band existed for a long time and produced a number of talented musicians who went on to perform in other bands and orchestras including Minneapolis and St. Paul Symphony Orchestras and the U.S. Marine Band. The Bohemian Brass Band can still be seen today, in mural form on New Prague’s Main Street.
Of course, brass bands continue to perform at parades and events, so the next time you hear those lively brass melodies, remember that you are hearing music that has long been part of our county’s history.