The Westminster Municipal Band is rooted in family and tradition. It has existed for more than a century, bringing its music to communities across the state — and sometimes Pennsylvania. It incorporated in 1893, according to band President Gregory Wantz.
The band has taken on such names as the First Regimental Band of Maryland National Guard and the Border Patrol Band, said Wantz, who plays the trumpet.
And in 1950 it was incorporated by the City of Westminster, trading its tan uniforms to the green and gold ones it dons today. The city remains the band’s chief sponsor.
In preparation for the band’s milestone 125th anniversary celebration — 126 years after its founding, to be clear — Wantz and other bandmates have been reviewing written minutes dating to 1938, in an attempt to pick up important moments in the band’s history, he said. The Carroll County Times caught up with Wantz to talk about the band’s 125th Anniversary Celebration on Aug.11.
Q: Tell us a little bit about how the band has evolved over time.
A: Well it, started out as an all men’s organization and past minutes seem like they had 40 or 50 names, members on the books and then from that it kind of went forward. Back in 1961, actually, the color guard, that’s when we got our first color guard members of the band. And there were six original members that joined back in 61 for our color guard and currently we have a member today that’s still a part of us.
And then the other big milestone was when the all male organization became co-ed. And that was 1984, when the women joined the band. We actually had two women that joined that evening, it was on a Monday night, a rehearsal … that was a big milestone for the band, when they let women into the band.
It’s been gaining momentum ever since and right now has 93 members.
Q: What exactly is the role of the band? Where do you all play and what kind of events?
A: We’re a community band, it’s an all-volunteer group. We basically play throughout the state, and we’ll travel to Pennsylvania if we have to. A lot of times we’ll hold rehearsals on Monday nights from September through April.
Then pretty much all year we’re booked at gigs. Usually we do around 33 to 35 jobs per year, including the Firemen’s Parade. We go to Fourth of July events, such as Havre De Grace, their parade, and Catonsville, we’ve been going to that parade for 75 years, we’ve been participating in their Fourth of July celebration. One of the biggest highlights of the year is our annual trip to Ocean City for the Maryland State Firemen's Convention. That’s always in June. There’s records of us being there ever since the ‘40s.
Q: What kind of music do you play? How many different instruments are in band? And what types?
A: When we’re doing parades it’s John Philip Sousa Marches, King Marches, all that kind of stuff. And then for our concerts, we’ll play all types of marches, again, and we do have some classical music that we play. We also play excerpts from Broadway Musicals, like Grease. Things of that nature.
We have all the regular kinds (of instruments), trombone, trumpet, bass, clarinet, saxophone, flute, a lot of percussion. Pretty much everything that you would find in a regular band, we try to get.
A: Nobody gets paid, there’s no dues to pay. And we always look for new members. We try to reach out to the younger generation, like high school kids, but we find that’s very difficult to try to get because they’re usually in their high school marching bands. … Normally the type of members we get are the ones that used to play an instrument and laid it down, but when they get to their 30s and 40s, they want to get back into it again.
If you’ve played an instrument before, you show up and you join right in with the rest of the band. We’ve had pretty good success with that, where instead of playing a lead part, we give them a second or third part. They jump right in. And some of them, at first, it’s a learning curve. After a while they step right in.
Q: So Aug. 11 is the anniversary celebration, what’s that going to be like? What can folks expect when they come out?
A: We want to focus on history because that’s why we’re here, still going strong, because of the history of the band. We’ve been looking back through the minutes to try to get some key facts that went on to get us where we are. Right now 95-96 percent of the membership are going to be in attendance that night, which is great. It’s going to be held at the Best Western in Westminster.
We’ll have a DJ playing and we have a very great menu picked out, and, of course, members are bringing their spouse or significant other. We’re going to have a lot of history stuff there, like band pictures. We’re going to have something made up with key facts of past history.
A: Even a lot of the (band members) probably don’t know a lot about the history of it. For instance, we still have our 1947 Chevrolet panel truck that carries our band equipment. That’s still what we use today for local parades and stuff like that where we carry our instruments back and forth. That was actually purchased back in 1951. It was a fire company unit that was used. … It was repainted and it’s still in service today.
A lot of people wouldn’t know about the family thing. For instance, my grandfather was in the band, he joined back in the late ‘50s, and I also had an uncle that was in the band, and then my dad joined back in the early ‘60s, then he kind of stepped down for a little bit … then I got in. That’s a big part about this band, it’s a lot of family history. You’ll see that there are a lot of families in it today.