The Catawissa Military Band

History of The Catawissa Military Band

The Catawissa Military Band had its origins in an earlier organization known as the Mechanics' Band.  Sponsored  by the local lodge of the United Order of American Mechanics, the band's membership was largely drawn from workers in the Catawissa Railroad Company shops.  The Mechanics' Band operated for two years before merging with the Catawissa Brass Band in 1872.  Unhappy with the merged organization, the railroad workers carried the idea of restarting their own band for several years.

In February 1878, they broke away from the Brass Band and began serenading on the streets of Catawissa.  The new organization was christened Lewis' Band, after Archibald Lewis, the founder, first President, and solo cornetist.  The earliest known formal performance was on March 14, 1878, for the wedding reception of Paris and Ada Shuman of Catawissa.

When a set of nickel-silver over-the-shoulder saxhorns was purchased in January 1879, the band adopted the name Catawissa Silver Cornet Band.  The saxhorns were used until 1883 when the band converted to a standard brass and reed instrumentation.  The central event of the band's early years was an appearance as the regimental band of the 12th Infantry Regiment, Pennsylvania National Guard, in a December 1879 Philadelphia parade honoring ex-President Ulysses S. Grant. From then, the band was informally known as "The Military Band," a title that came into regular use after many members volunteered for active duty during the Spanish-American War.

The first Director, James Walshaw, had been a brass band player in England before settling in Catawissa around 1870. He led the band from its founding until resigning to accept a position in Sunbury in May 1887.  President Archibald Lewis then directed the band on an interim basis for over two years, stepping aside in July 1889 when Charles E. Smith was elected permanent Director.

Charles Smith was born in Germany in 1863 and came to the United States with is family at age nine. He was taught to play cornet by his father, Frederick Smith, with whom he worked in the family monument business. Charles joined the band in 1881, became lead cornet when Lewis assumed the directorship, and was the obvious successor to Lewis. Smith would remain as Director until his death in 1944, a total of 55 years interrupted only by eight month period in 1902, when high school music teacher John Berger filled in as Director.

Under Smith's leadership, the band became one of the principal musical groups in the region. From 1909 to 1914, John Berger operated a boy's band for the purpose of training future players. The band also sponsored the Catawissa Halloween Parade from 1910 to 1927, purchased the present band hall in 1911, and was active in bond drives and other events during both World Wars.

On the death of Charles Smith in 1944, Assistant Director Bruce Rhawn moved up. Rhawn served two terms as President of the Pennsylvania Bandmasters' Association with the band hosting the state convention in 1958 and 1969. In failing health for several years, Bruce Rhawn died suddenly in December 1973.  He was succeeded by then Assistant Director Ralph Wolfgang, who resigned to become Associate Director in September 1974.  Ralph remained with the band as principal clarinet until his death in 2006.

Richard Martin, a music teacher and band director in the Benton Area School District, then  accepted the position as director.  As Director, Rick Martin sought to develop the band as a concert organization in addition to continuing its traditions as a community band.  His untimely death in 2002 was a deep loss to the band and the area music community.

Dr. Terry Oxley, a member of the of Bloomsburg University music faculty, led the band during Rick Martin's fatal illness and succeeded him as Director.  Following Terry Oxley's retirement in 2008, Assistant Director Valerie Rheude, a music teacher in the Central Columbia Schools, and Rick Wolfgang (Ralph's son), a retired teacher, conducted the band. Since January 2009, the band has been directed by Jessica Martz.  A graduate of Wilkes College, she has been a music teacher and band director on the Sullivan County Schools in Dushore and also has taught at the Columbia County Christian School in Buckhorn.

With its membership drawn from student and adult players across the region. the band maintains an active year-round schedule.  Highlights include a symphonic concert in the spring, a concert prior to the fireworks display in Bloomsburg on July 4th, and a program of seasonal music in Catawissa during December.

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This page last updated 7/24/13