Community Bands: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

On Memorial Day, we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country and preserve liberty and freedom. It was in 1971 when Congress passed the National Holiday Act which designated the last Monday of May as a federal holiday to honor those who died defending our country.

While Memorial Day is filled with the usual cookouts, picnics and trips to the lake, it is also filled with music. The National Memorial Day Concert is held every year on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. It features bands and choral groups from all branches of the military as well as acclaimed actors and celebrities who support veterans. It is traditionally shown live on PBS.

Music has often been a part of celebrations in Faulkner County as well. Bands were a common sight in early communities around the county. One such band was organized at Greenbrier under the direction of Professor Romie Williams. The ten members provided their own instruments and were required to wear a white shirt, trousers, hat and a dark tie to all performances.

Another well-known community band was “The Conway Blue Melody Band.” In 1920, Edward Howard organized this sixteen-member band in the black community of Conway then known as Argenta. He used his barbershop for rehearsals.

One of the most renowned bands in the area, however, was the Enola Brass Band. Baxter Setzler, who had weak eyes as a result of malaria, was sent at the age of eight to attend the School for the Blind in Little Rock. While there he took bandsman, singing and piano, including piano tuning. While he was in school, he dreamed about organizing a band.

When he returned home after graduation, he started the Enola Brass Band. The band went on many trips during the summer months, traveling by wagon all around the county, including places like Greenbrier, Quitman, Mt. Vernon, Rosebud, Naylor and Holland, to share their music. They played at ball games, picnics and political rallies.

The Enola Brass Band’s most important event of the year, however, was the Enola Reunion of the Union and Confederate Veterans. At this annual event, the two veteran groups, which were evenly numbered, reenacted battles in which they had fought during the war. The reunions continued every year until World War I.

Charlie W. Martin, first postmaster of Guy, taught all of his eleven children to play a musical instrument. They created the “Martin Family Band” in the early 1920s, playing at picnics, county fairs, etc., eventually achieving statewide fame.

This family’s love of music had a great impact on many children. Martin and his sons taught band in a number of area schools. One son, G.C. Martin, at one time directed the North Little Rock high school band while two others, Carlton and Don Martin, led the Columbia Military Academy band.

Another popular community band, formed by some members of the St. Joseph Parish, was The First Band. It included Will Hess, Casper Dum, Andy Hess, Lawrence Halter, Joseph Enderlin, Fred Hahenshitz, John Thines, Fred Rumback, Joseph Barbich, John Darsherd and Harn Imboden. The band’s leader was August Hain. Many of these band members also played in a Conway community band.

Although not formally organized, many local families had musically talented members who played piano, guitar or a band instrument. Many of my grandfather’s siblings and their children played music so the family would often gather in the yard to play and sing.

That musical heritage continues to thrive in our family. Robbie Harkrider, band director at Greenbrier and now Vilonia, is one of several cousins who has had a long, successful career in music. Other cousins play and sing individually or as part of a family band. The musical gene continues to pass on to the next generation.

In an effort to promote this enjoyment of music and foster community spirit, the Conway Community Band was organized in 2010. It is directed by Dr. Ricky Brooks, UCA Band Director and Robin Ratliff, Conway High Band Director. Former band directors, Russell Langston and Tim Cunningham, also occasionally conduct the band. Sponsored by local banks and corporations, the band is hosted by the Conway Downtown Partnership.

Any individual, regardless of age, who previously or currently plays a band instrument, can participate. The band starts practicing in late April and usually holds three concerts at Simon Park in May and June. One of the highlights of the season is their Fourth of July program. Community members bring their lawn chairs and wave flags while the band plays patriotic marches to celebrate the birthday of the United States.Conway

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