OSKALOOSA— The Oskaloosa Municipal Band continues their annual season of performances at 8 p.m. Every Thursday evening during the summer months as they have since 1864.
The official name is Oskaloosa Municipal Band, but most call it the Osky City Band because they believe it sounds a little less stuffy.
The Oskaloosa City Band got started all the way back in 1864. Andy Glover at Barnhouse Publishing said he thinks the earliest versions of the band were not financially supported by the city.
“Bands like that were very common in towns like Oskaloosa back in the late 1800s," he said. "This was a long time before recording, televisions and so if people wanted to hear music, they either had to go to somebody who was playing it or they had to make it themselves and so a lot of small towns like Oskaloosa had bands which provided musical entertainment to a lot of the citizens throughout the year.
The Oskaloosa City band originally played downtown on the square, where there was a wooden bandstand before the current one that was built in 1912.
Glover said, “There was actually a well there in the middle of the city park and the city spent a lot of money trying to get the water out of it and never was successful so finally they gave up on the well and put the bandstand there. So the town band has been playing on the bandstand at that location for its entire history.”
The band became pretty well known nationally around 1900 when they traveled to the St. Louis World Fair in 1904 and performed there.
C.L. Barnhouse, the founder of Barnhouse Publishing, was the band leader for the city band from 1890 to the 1920s.
“He was a big part of the history of the city band," Glover said. "It's just been a big part of the culture of Oskaloosa for all these years and it's still going after all of these years – 155 years strong.”
Bruce Peiffer is the current director of the city band.
Peiffer taught five years at Sigourney schools and has been directing the North Mahaska Bands since 1998. He is married to his wife, Cyndi, who is the director of Financial Aid at William Penn. Together, they have four children and two grandchildren and reside on an acreage north of Oskaloosa.
Peiffer has been a player, singer, and or announcer on and off since around 1992.
"I began to substitute conducting around 1998," he said, "and was honored to take over the directorship in 2006, making this summer my 13th year.”
The bandstand is filled with an average of 55 players each week. Several players substitute when regulars are on vacation. They have players who are on a waiting list to join the band when there is a future opening.
The city band plays all sorts of different music. Peiffer said they strive to play a variety of music each week.
“Marches written by the great march composers such as Karl King, John Phillips Sousa, and Henry Fillmore tend to be crowd favorites. However, we incorporate concert overtures, pop tunes, movie themes, ballads, hymns, folk songs and much more," he said. "Because the C.L. Barnhouse Company is here in Oskaloosa and is one of the great publishers of band music in the world, we perform several Barnhouse publications each night. They have brilliant composers to choose music from. We like to try to touch everyone’s heart with a certain song each performance.”
The city band is not just for adults to listen to. They play music for all ages.
Peiffer said they purposely perform a Disney hit or recent pop song to bring interest to the little ones in the audience.
“We always ask them to help us, by blowing bubbles during our final number, which is the memorable 'Good Night.' That was the theme song in which Lawrence Welk closed each of his performances with, while the bubbles floated across the TV screen,” he said. “For us older kids, it brings back memories of simpler times. Several times a year, we try to involve our young audience members with what we call the grand march. This is when we ask them to march around the bandstand to the tune of The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
The band will even ask the local cheerleaders to lead the kids in the Chicken Dance or the Hokey Pokey. Peiffer said he hopes they instill good memories for all.
Peiffer said the community shows its support for the band.
“I believe those who experience our “Norman Rockwell” setting on Thursday nights in the park, love it," he said. "Many of those people bring friends and relatives from out of state who are enthralled with what we have."
However, he is concerned with the lack of advertising, locally that the weekly concerts get.
“I would love to see signs, banners, whatever it takes to remind the folks about our concerts. One could drive through town all summer long and never see a hint that there is a city band concert on Thursday night at 8:00," he said. "I’ve been heavily involved with the band for years and it still amazes me how few people in the area know that we perform 10 concerts a summer.”
He believes it is still such a popular thing for people to attend each week in the summer because for most, going to the band concert becomes a treasured habit.
“They love the serenity, the beauty of the square and bandstand, and the charming setting as the music is performed,” he said. “We are blessed to have Hawkeye Real Estate provide free lemonade; True Bank provides free popcorn, and SnoBiz (Mahaska Drug) provide ice cream, shaved ice and now hotdogs, chips and pop. Mahaska Drug also provides games for children who are not yet interested in Sousa.”
There are still quite a few city bands in Iowa. However, Oskaloosa financially supports the historic band.
“We take pride in performing well and giving back to our community with wonderful concerts. No performer ever wants to miss a Thursday performance, although many of us take a little time off for vacations and things that come up," Peiffer said. "But, we all look forward to performing each Thursday night. We love our audience and the atmosphere we help provide.”
Peiffer said he believes the community should support the band.
“A city band needs the financial support of the community; a vision as to why we want to have Thursday night concerts. We also need top-notch performers who are committed to a 90-minute weekly rehearsal and an hour performance each week," he said. "Since 1864, Oskaloosa has had that kind of support. As a band, we cherish this summer concert series opportunity. It’s unique to communities these days. And, let’s face it, we have the best bandstand in Iowa to showcase our community’s talent.”
Peiffer said they are blessed with good crowds and yet there are many who are not aware of the concerts. He said he wants people to get the word out about the concerts each Thursday.
“Bring your neighbor along. Talk it up," he said. "Those guests from far off states and even visiting from other countries marvel at what we have here in Oskaloosa on Thursday nights.”
Peiffer wanted to add one last thing: “Honk those horns! The honking of horns in appreciation for each song's performance began decades ago but has slipped some in recent years, mainly because of the technological advances in cars which inhibit the impromptu honk," he said. "Turn that key on and honk away, folks. It’s our tradition. See you on Thursday nights at 8.”