The Carthage College Wind Orchestra — one of the oldest college bands in the United States — was established as a brass band in 1873 under the leadership of Prof. J. M. Helfrich. From its humble beginnings as a six-piece brass ensemble, the group has grown in size and stature to now include two concert ensembles, Wind Orchestra, Concert Band, and the chamber winds group AMATI.
The 150th Anniversary celebration in the 2023-24 academic year will include a number of events, culminating with a gala concert on Friday, May 12.
- September 24, 2023 — Homecoming Weekend Alumni Band Concert
- October 28, 2023 — Lakeside Band Festival with Alumni Conductors
- November 26, 2023 — Anniversary Date of First Concert
- December 1-3, 2023 — Christmas Festival
- February 4, 2024 — Japan Tour Home Concert
- February 28, 2024 — Re-Enactment of First Concert, with Gaudete Brass Quintet
- May 12, 2024 — 150th Anniversary Grand Concert Premiere of Commissioned Work by Timothy Mahr
A Brief History of the Carthage Band
The Carthage Republican reported on September 24, 1873, that “a number of young men of the college have organized a Brass band.” During the ensuing 150 years, the Carthage Band has grown in size and distinction, capably led by outstanding musicians and enriching the musical lives of countless numbers of Carthage College students as well as their audience.
The origins of the band at Carthage were chronicled in Harold Lentz’s 1975 history of the college, “The Miracle of Carthage”:
“The college band was first organized at Carthage in 1873, when Professor Helfrich, the initial director of music at the College, arrived with a few band instruments, securing other instruments in the community with a process involving money raising through oyster suppers, subscriptions and concerts. Band members had high spirits and great enthusiasm in those early days as they worked diligently to secure hundreds of dollars for the enterprise. The band was very popular, enjoying many invitations to present concerts off campus.”
The first mention of a public hearing of the band dates from November 26, 1873, in the Carthage Republican:
“The college brass band is accomplishing wonders in proficiency under the careful training of Professor Helfrich. The band gave a specimen of its quality from the roof of the college building a few evenings ago, and the performance is said to be highly creditable.”
The very first Carthage College Christmas concert was held in the Lutheran church on Christmas night, 1874. The band performed several selections that evening, including Carthage Quickstep, St. Louis Quickstep, Croquet Waltz, Dueppler Schanzen Sturm March, and Andante and Waltz. Aside from the program’s conspicuous lack of seasonal music, the concert could be viewed as typical for the post-Civil War era. A brief review in the Carthage Republican noted, “the program was performed throughout in a manner highly creditable to Prof. Helfrich and the members of the band. The playing on the new Helicon horns [sousaphones] was very good, considering the brief time allotted for practicing since receiving the new instruments. Few bands having years of practice could do better under the most favorable circumstances.” The review also indicates that the band had grown from six to fourteen members in that second year.
Professor Helfrich left the college in 1875, and the Carthage Band moved to reorganize the ensemble under the direction of J. Q. A. Kimmell, one of the band’s cornet players. The instrumental music tradition continued at the college in various forms through the early part of the twentieth century, although the name “band” seemed reserved for an evangelical mission organization on campus, and at least for a time, the instrumental organization was known as the orchestra (although it was comprised almost entirely of wind and percussion instruments). A photo taken in 1921— with the bass drum proudly labeled “Carthage College Band”— shows a complement of 13 brass, woodwind, and percussion performers.
New uniforms, a new director and a new philosophy marked the reorganization of the band in 1927. Elmer Hanke, noted professor of vocal music at Carthage, assumed leadership of the band for a short time, with dramatic results. His idea to incorporate community members within the band immediately increased the size of the band to 26 members, and with the addition of striking uniforms highlighted by crimson wool capes lined with white satin, quickly became the most impressive band in the area.
Dr. Hanke would later turn the band over to Lyle Atkins, which began a series of changes of leadership in the ensemble that would continue until the arrival of Dr. Woodrow Hodges in the fall of 1977. Conductors during this time included Henry Ellerbusch, Clark Rowlend, James Nehez, Robert Smith, Samuel Brick, Donald Harrison van Ess, Merrill Brown, Arthur Schoenoff, Stanley De Rusha, Fred Riley, and James Franklin. During this era, the band was also responsible for marching and pep band activities. Membership in the band during this time varied widely between 45-55 members. The addition of a chapel and music hall on the Carthage, Illinois campus in 1957 created a facility for the music department that was among the finest in the country at the time of its origination. It was only a short time, however, before the college was relocated to Kenosha, and beginning in 1965, the band began playing their concerts in Wartburg Auditorium. The band’s current home, the A. F. Siebert Chapel, was officially dedicated on April 26, 1976, with a concert that included both vocal and instrumental ensembles in a performance of Lucien Cailliet’s Sing Praises to the Lord.
Beginning in 1977, the Carthage “Wind Symphony” entered a new era with the arrival of Dr. Woodrow Hodges as conductor. A seminal idea of the earlier era, that of incorporating chamber music into the larger band program, was actively pursued and enhanced by the arrival of Dr. Hodges. This philosophy also facilitated the growth of an additional performance ensemble, the Brass Choir. This exceptional group was begun under the direction of Arthur Schoenoff but actively promoted both as an on and off-campus organization under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Winkle and college organist William Roth. Dr. Hodges also enhanced the band’s musicianship by inviting numerous guest artists to perform as soloists and by programming an extensive array of exceptional original literature for the band. Student conductors often contributed to the concert programs, providing valuable experience for music education majors. In 1985, the band conducted two Midwest-states tours, one in the spring and another the following autumn. Long-time brass instructor, Kenneth Winkle, became conductor of the Wind Symphony in the fall of 1996. Dr. Winkle again invited community members to play with the ensemble, re-establishing an older tradition. He also continued the practice of performing some of the most exacting and significant works ever written for band.
Dr. Ripley began his tenure at Carthage in 2001 upon the retirement of Dr. Winkle. Although the name of the ensemble was changed to “Wind Orchestra”, several important traditions have been maintained, namely the practice of engaging guest artists, a focus on chamber music in addition to the full ensemble, an annual band festival for high school musicians, providing conducting opportunities for student musicians, and programming music of the highest order. In addition, Dr. Ripley initiated a recording project for the band, participated in several commissions of new works for the band, and solidified a regular touring schedule for the future.
In the past twenty years, the Wind Orchestra has made six trips to Japan in conjunction with an exchange program with Kurashiki Sakuyo University, and plans to return for a seventh tour this January. Additional tours have included trips to Atlanta, Phoenix, St. Louis, Sioux Falls, and Des Moines, with three “Heritage Tours,” including performances in Hillsboro and Carthage, Illinois. The Wind Orchestra was selected to play at the Wisconsin State Music Educators Convention in 2009 and 2014 and for the conference of the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Band Association in 2012. In 2017, the Wind Orchestra performed at Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center in Chicago. Four trips have been based on performing accompaniments for silent films, presented at historic theaters in the Midwest. Metropolis, with music by Francis McBeth, was performed both in 2004 and 2010 and The General, with music by James Barnes, was presented in November 2012 and March 2018. The first CD to be released by the Wind Orchestra was in 2004, a compilation recording from the first Japan Tour. Another CD, “Winds a la Carte,” was released in 2007, followed by “Think on These Things” in 2010, and “Sacred Space and Sound” in 2011.
The Carthage band claims as one of its most outstanding alumni the composer David Uber, who maintains a repository of his music in Hedberg Library. A series of important events celebrated the 130th anniversary of the band in 2003. These included the band’s first tour to Japan, as well as a Midwestern tour, the premiere of a commissioned work (“Palimpsest” by Keith Carpenter), and the band’s first CD. The 140th Anniversary was celebrated throughout 2013-14 with many featured events, beginning with an outdoor performance of music drawn from the 1873-1874 programs, the Wind Orchestra’s fourth trip to Japan, and concluding with the May Anniversary Concert that featured the premiere of Liquid Compass by Alex Shapiro.