community bands

Community Bands: Ensembles That Encourage the Musician in Everyone

Author: Denise Lacey-Corcoran Published on: December 30, 2020

What is a Community Band?

Community bands, sometimes called “town,” “civic,” or “municipal” bands, are comprised of volunteer amateur and professional musicians.  They hold regularly scheduled rehearsals for community events, such as Old Home Days,  and special holiday performances such as the Fourth of July and Memorial Day.  

Members of community bands need to possess at least an intermediate level of skills on their instruments.  Community band musicians do not need to be experts but do need to be beyond the basic level of proficiency.  

The other items that community band musicians need to possess is a love of music, a desire to have fun, and a willingness to work with a variety of personalities and playing levels of musicians!

Brief History of Community Bands in the United States

It is estimated that at the end of the 1800s, there were thousands of active community bands in the United States.  Many of these bands emerged from the military bands of the Civil War.  At this time, town bands were very popular and provided townspeople with popular, light entertainment for concerts.

After World War I, interest in community bands began to die out, a victim of a cultural shift brought on by numerous advances in technology.  This is also the time that the United States. started to see a rise in school music programs. More students were learning band instruments and needed an outlet for their musical knowledge after graduating from high school.  Due to this, we begin to again see a rise in participation in community bands in the U.S.

In fact, community bands became so valued that in 1921, the Iowa legislature passed a law entitled “The Municipal Band Fund.”  This law, sponsored by famed bandleader and composer, Karl King, authorized a tax for cities, with fewer than 40,000 residents, to maintain a municipal band.  Community bands were now regular city departments reliant on the city’s annual budget, rather than being dependent on funds from charitable contributions.  The law was copied by 33 states and at least three countries.  After the legislation passed, Karl King was inspired to compose the Iowa Band Law March.

Oldest Community Band in the United States

Many community bands claim to be the oldest in the United States.  Some base this designation on when the group was formed or the most continuously performing group.  There is much friendly dispute about this designation among some community bands.  

It appears that the Allentown Band, based in Allentown, Pennsylvania is the oldest established community band in the United States.  It was formed in 1828.  

Some interesting facts about the Allentown Band:

  • John Philip Sousa recruited twenty members of the Allentown Band, for the Sousa Band.
  • Famous musicians who have appeared as guest conductors and soloists with the band include Herbert L. Clarke, Henry Fillmore, Arthur Pryor,  Keith Brion, Arnald Gabriel, Frederick Fennell, Del Staigers, and Herbert L. Clarke.
  • The band has performed in Europe, at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and has been featured in documentaries and on CBS Sunday Morning.
  • The uniform worn by band members resembles that worn by a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. This is also the style of uniform John Philip Sousa wore toward the end of his career as a conductor. 
  • They have produced 32 recordings which have reached listeners throughout the United States and in at least seventeen countries.
  • The Allentown Band’s Outreach Education program includes free Youth Concerts.  The concerts are offered to elementary and middle schools throughout the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania.

Why Should I Join a Community Band?

Many people who join community bands simply miss the experience of playing with an ensemble, as they did during their high school days.  Other members are high school students wishing to gain more playing time and to learn from older musicians.  Some of the reasons to join a community band include:

  • Stress relief - Maybe you have a stressful job, but music brings you joy and relaxation.  Dust off your instrument and join a welcoming and fun community band!
  • Community - Joining a community band allows you to connect with your community. You can also give back to your town/village by contributing to the gift of music at local events.
  • Activity for the whole family - Many community bands welcome children, with at least a couple of years of experience, to join the ensemble.  Playing together in a community band can be a fun family activity.  
  • Improve on your instrument - Community bands often pair new members with more seasoned players.  This allows members to learn new techniques from each other.
  • Learn from your elders - Not only will you gain musical knowledge from community band members, but you will also learn about life experiences.  Many community band members come to rehearsals with a lifetime of stories, both musical and non-musical, that they are willing to share.  
  • You don’t have to be a professional musician to enjoy playing with a group  - The vast majority of community bands do not hold auditions, welcome all wind and percussion players, and only require that musicians have played for a year or two.  

Musicians for Life

Many people enjoyed participating in a band while they were in high school, and upon graduating, miss the camaraderie and music-making. You typically do not hear people say, “I’m really glad I quit playing saxophone, trumpet, flute, etc. when I was in school.”  Usually one hears “I wish I hadn’t given up playing when I was in high school.  I’ve always regretted it.”  

Community bands give everyone, no matter what career they choose to pursue, a place to play their instrument.  Sure, there will always be music teachers in community bands, because they love to play their primary instrument, may want to improve on a secondary instrument, or want to contribute more to their community.  However, the majority of community band members come from professions that are not related to music.  The clarinet player next to you might be a banker, farmer, homemaker, engineer, grocery clerk, or waiter.  Everyone is there for the sole purpose of enjoying themselves while making music.  Robert Calonico, Director of Bands Emeritus at The University of California, Berkeley, once said, “Community bands are a vibrant example that participation in music can be for life.” 

New Horizons International Music Association

If you don’t think you’re quite ready for a community band, the New Horizons International Music Association might be a place to start.  This is a non-profit group seeking to create opportunities for adults who do not have any musical experience or who have not played their instrument in a long time. There are New Horizons programs for learning band and orchestra instruments, as well as piano.  Most, but not all, New Horizons programs are designed for senior adults and have an age requirement of over 50.  

The first New Horizons program was formed by Dr. Roy Ernst, at Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, NY.  Now there are groups, and even camps, in many states, and in Canada. 

Community Bands Grouped by Region

The list below will help you find out about community bands in your region of the United States.  Many of the bands have interesting histories, which you can read about on their websites.  You can also find information about their rehearsal schedules, performance opportunities, and contact information through their websites.  If you’re not sure if you’re ready to play in a community band, most will offer you the opportunity to observe a rehearsal before joining.  

It is reported that there are over 2,500 community bands in the United States.  If you don’t find one in this listing that seems to be a good fit for you, do a little searching online and you’ll probably find one that is perfect for you!

Northeast United States

Allentown Band - Allentown, PA -

Burlington Concert Band - Burlington, VT -

Chatham Band - Chatham, MA -

Corning Area Community Concert Band - Corning, NY -

Kirby Band - Nichols, NY -

Maine Pops Concert Band - Scarborough, ME -

Nelson Town Band - Nelson, NH -

Noank-Mystic Community Band - Noank, CT -

One of the most fun and family-friendly events on Cape Cod are the Friday night Chatham Band concerts!

Southeast United States

Birmingham Community Concert Band - Birmingham, AL -

Capital City Community Band - Frankfort, KY -

Golden Isles Community Band - Brunswick, GA -

Greenville Concert Band - Greenville, SC -

Lakeland Concert Band - Lakeland, FL -

MCPARC Community Band - Fairmont, WV -

Stonewall Brigade Band - Staunton, VA -

Williamson County Community Band - Franklin, TN -

Williamsport Community Band - Williamsport, MD -

The Stonewall Brigade Band, in Staunton, VA, is one of the oldest community bands in the United States.  Some consider it the oldest community band, but it was not formed until 1855.  At the time, it was also only available to brass players and was called the Mountain Saxhorn Band.  In the video below, you can hear the Stonewall Brigade Band performing the premiere of Edward Clark Eagle March, by Richard Adams.

Midwest United States

America’s Hometown Band - Muncie, IN -

Cedar Rapids Municipal Band - Cedar Rapids, IA -

Downriver Community Band - Detroit, MI -

Edwardsville Municipal Band - Edwardsville, IL -

Lex-Ham Community Band - St. Paul, MN -

Lincoln Municipal Band - Lincoln, NE -

Manhattan Municipal Band - Manhattan, KS -

Mason Community Band - Greater Cincinnati area of Ohio -

Northstar Community Band - Kansas City, MS -

Peoria Municipal Band - Peoria, IL -

The Northern Hills Community Band - Black Hills area of South Dakota -

Waunakee Community Band - Waunakee, WI -

West River Winds community Band - Mandan, ND -

The Northern Hills Community Band began in the late 1800s and was even invited to perform for President Taft when he visited Deadwood.  The group performs in the Black Hills area of South Dakota.  The video below is from one of their summer concerts in the park.  

Northwest United States

Caldwell Centennial Band - Caldwell, ID -

Corvallis Community Band - Corvallis, Oregon -

Danville Community Band - Danville, CA -

Flathead Valley Community Band - Flathead Valley area of Montana -

Jackson Hole Community Band - Jackson Hole, WY -

Seattle Civic Band - Seattle, WA -

Most community bands were forced to stop rehearsals and cancel performances due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Even with restrictions, a few bands persevered and found ways to bring the joy of music to faithful audiences.  Jackson Hole Community Band recorded themselves to offer a virtual band performance of A Christmas Festival, by Leroy Anderson.

Southwest United States

Arlington Community Band - Arlington, TX -

Clovis Community Band - Clovis , NM -

Flagstaff Community Band - Flagstaff, AZ -

Hutchinson Municipal Band - Hutchinson, KS -

Mile High Community Band - Denver, CO -

Murray Concert Band -  Salt Lake Valley area of Utah -

Tulsa Community Band - Tulsa, OK -

Mile High Community Band, in Colorado, welcomes musicians of all ages and even encourages families to join together.  The video below shows them playing one of the standard pieces of band repertoire, Shenandoah, arranged by Frank Ticheli.

A Place to Belong

Community bands offer a welcoming, non-competitive group that provides many people with a sense of belonging.  Music is something that you can enjoy throughout your entire life.  You, too, can be a musician for life by joining a community band!

Photo by IowaPipe | CC BY

Denise Lacey-Corcoran

Denise Lacey-Corcoran

Denise is a music educator and saxophonist, with over 20 years of experience. She holds degrees from Ithaca College and Syracuse University. In addition to conducting and teaching saxophone, Denise also loves teaching and learning about music history.