Iola band a welcome constant


July 12, 2013 - 12:00 AM

Iola area folks have three more opportunities this summer for delightful entertainment that doesn’t cost a red cent.
The Iola Municipal Band plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays at the bandstand. Don’t miss a one. You’ll love the music, and also have a chance for a dish of tasty ice cream from a local group’s fundraiser.
Jake Ard, the band’s director, gave Iola Rotarians a sketch of the band’s history, most of which has been reported over the years but worth repeating every now and then.
Our band is one of the oldest in the land from the perspective of continuous performances.
Ard noted community bands weren’t a part of the social fabric until after the Civil War. Bands were a big part of the war effort, to entertain troops and spur patriotism, and when soldiers who had played came marching home, they wanted to continue.
Iolans fresh from battle encouraged formation of a band and the first concert was in 1867. The band, all brass and percussion and definitely all male, played sporadically until 1871 when Iola Municipal Band became a fixture.
That it has played every year since, 142 straight, is “pretty incredible,” Ard said. Also, only five city bands are left in Kansas that perform regularly each year. Iola’s is the oldest.
The current bandstand was constructed in 1916, when leaders of four industries ponied up $1,000 each for a new venue. Remarkably, its construction wasn’t without controversy.
Two of three county commissioners — apparently a couple of cantankerous fellows — voted against a new bandstand, which led the third to round up help to pour a concrete base for the bandstand in the dead of night.
However, its completion didn’t occur for more than a year, when Iola officials, tired of seeing the half-finished structure, stepped in and got it done.
Over time, the band grew. Woodwinds and violins were added and eventually women, too, although the band’s racial integration occurred much earlier, in the 1880s.
Nowadays, it’s an eclectic group, and has had performers as young as preteen and others in their 70s and 80s.
The band will never be at a loss for something to play. Its library contains 700 pieces of music, with printing dates as early as 1896, and new ones purchased each year.
While the band has evolved with the times, it has a couple of features that Ard said he nor anyone else had an inclination to disturb: Each concert starts with the national anthem and ends with a Sousa march.
—Bob Johnson

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