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Spindletop Museum to host Magnolia Brass Band Festival, feature music of John Philip Sousa

Lamar University’s Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum will provide a historically accurate backdrop for an outdoor music festival on Saturday, March 24, commemorating John Philip Sousa and celebrating the music of the Magnolia Band. The event, funded by a grant from the Center for the History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast, will include performances of music from America’s golden age by the Orange Community Band of Southeast Texas as well as by Lamar’s top two concert bands, the Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band. The free public event begins at 2:30 p.m.

The museum will also host a historical exhibit showcasing items from the historic concert, including an antique letter written by Sousa himself.  

“Last year [the Center] sent out a call for proposals for a $5000 grant to conduct cultural or historical research on the area,” said Bryan Proksch, associate professor of music literature and musicology and festival organizer. “I received a grant for the Sousa concerts in Beaumont and the Magnolia Brass Band.”

John Philip Sousa was an American conductor and composer whose life spanned the late 1800s and early 1900s. His many marches and patriotic songs include his most famous piece, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” He made four visits to Beaumont, Texas, one each in 1906, 1919, 1924, and 1928. During his visit in 1924 Sousa conducted the Magnolia Band, whose musicians were all workers at the Magnolia refinery, as part of a promotional concert for his own professional band that performed later that evening at the Kyle Theater. Sousa’s renown as a national celebrity excited locals and resulted great attendance by citizens and local public figures at the amateur concert on the Magnolia Refinery grounds.

“When this grant opportunity came up, I started thinking maybe we could highlight the connections between Sousa and the citizens of Beaumont. And the really interesting thing is just how much material there was about Sousa’s visit to Beaumont because Magnolia Petroleum -which is now ExxonMobil- had an employee newsletter that said how excited they were that Sousa came and directed this band,” said Proksch, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has written two books, “Reviving Haydn: New Appreciations in the Twentieth Century” and “A Sousa Reader: Essays, Interviews, and Clippings.”

The Orange Community Band of Southeast Texas is the direct successor of the Magnolia Band, a local Beaumont band comprised of employees of the Magnolia Refinery and conducted by Harry Cloud, the company’s dentist. Initially the band was formed as an effort on the part of the refinery to foster goodwill in the community and to promote the company’s new radio station, KFDM. The Magnolia Band went on to perform the station’s inaugural broadcast which was heard across the United States and even in parts of Canada, played during employee lunch breaks, and even traveling to Magnolia facilities in other cities in Texas to perform for employees there.

“Every little town had a band, like bridge clubs 50 years ago. People get together, and it’s social. There were at least three or four community bands in Beaumont at the time,” said Proksch, who went on to say that he hopes this festival will recapture the feeling of old fashioned American fun. “It’s nice, exciting, toe-tapping music designed to be played outdoors. It’s not some kind of artsy thing, it’s just good old-fashioned American music.”

Lamar’s top two bands - the Wind Ensemble, directed by Andrew McMahan, and the Symphonic Band, directed by Eric Shannon - will also perform at the event. LU’s Mary Morgan Moore Department of Music boasts an impressive program, with accomplishments that include sending a band to perform at the Texas Music Educators Association convention in 2015. The department also recently received a grant that will allow them to put on more festivals like the Brass Band Festival starting next year, and another grant that will allow them to offer five full scholarships to local music educators, allowing them to attend Lamar’s summer course on the Kodály method of music education.

According the Proksch, the department plans to use the grant to “help bring high school students onto campus and to bring an outside clinician to come talk to the college students and give an concert,” as well as allow “people out there who are actually already teaching music, like primary and secondary level teachers, to get continuing education and an extra certification.”

Admission is free, and refreshments will be available for purchase from various music fraternities in the museum’s saloon. Since it is an outdoor concert, be sure to bring a lawn chair. 

For more information on this event, contact Proksch at bproksch@lamar.edu.