Daniels band plays on, after 111 years

UPBEAT WITH THE DOWNBEAT

December 09, 1990|By Robert A. Erlandson

Like the mythical Brigadoon, the village of Daniels comes to life on Monday nights.

Pulsing marches, toe-tapping polkas, lilting waltzes and stirring overtures echo across the wooded Patapsco River Valley, where the castle-like granite ruins of the old C. R. Daniels Co. cotton-duck mill are stark against the night sky.

The 111-year-old Daniels Community Band, about all that remains of the once-thriving company town, is rehearsing.

A dozen musicians, aged 43 to 82, sit behind their music stands waiting for Bill Webb, the 78-year-old band leader, to hit the downbeat. "One, two, three" and away they go, into a rousing brass-band rendition of "Sleighride."

Trumpets, trombones, a cornet, baritone horns, saxophones, a clarinet, drums and percussion drive rhythmically through the musical countryside as Mr. Webb, his baritone horn tucked under his left arm, alternates between playing and vigorous conducting with his right.

From there it's a quick trip through the "Electric Park Overture" with its cornet trills, a medley of polkas and then a lively flirtation with the "Bonnie Lass" joined by a visiting bagpiper.

The Daniels band, formed in 1879, rehearses in the Gary Memorial United Methodist Church, built that same year.

The granite Victorian church, with its graveyard of weathered marble markers, is perched high on the hillside that offers a magnificent view of the valley where the old town once stood.

The town was called Elysville when it was established in 1829 on a bend in the Patapsco River along the Howard County-Baltimore County line.

It was renamed Alberton in 1854 and Daniels when that company took over the mill in 1940.

The town all but disappeared in 1968, when the 120 stone row houses that once housed company employees were demolished because of deterioration and failing septic systems. The 500 remaining residents moved elsewhere.

The cotton mill continued to thrive at Daniels until 1972, when tropical storm Agnes devastated the area, sealing the tiny community's fate. The company moved to Ellicott City, and the state bought most of its land for Patapsco State Park.

But the band, typical of company brass bands popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, has survived.

Through ups and downs in membership, it has continued to practice and entertain at festivals and senior centers and retirement homes in the area.

The Daniels Band, originally known as the Alberton Cornet Band, plays 13 or 14 dates a year. Its most recent was Veterans Day at Good Shepherd Cemetery, when the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion presented a new flag and flagpole.

Most of the band members are retired people in their 60s and 70s who played instruments in schooland in military bands. Some had laid off for years until they joined the band, while others never stopped. Some play with one or more other bands.

Mr. Webb joined the band in 1927, and except for time out for military service in World War II he has been a member ever since. It is important to him to keep the band alive, not only as a tradition already more than a century old but also because it offers a place for musicians to play in an informal, relaxed atmosphere.

When Daniels existed as a town, the company brass band was the focus of community activity, playing at picnics and church fairs and giving concerts on The Green, a small common.

The musicians wore peaked caps, blue coats and white trousers.

Those glory days are long gone, but that has only strengthened the group's determination that the band will live on as a vibrant musical group, not as a relic of the past.

In its heyday the Daniels Band had as many as 35 members. It then fell to as few as eight or nine but has now built up to 16 when everyone attends.

The only current members who were born and reared in Daniels are Mr. Webb and Dr. Gary Rudacille, 43, a dentist in Ellicott City who joined the band when he was 13. His father, who ran the town's general store, served a brief band stint, he said, and three uncles "played in the band until they died."

Dr. Rudacille, a trumpeter, gives Mr. Webb the primary credit for keeping the band going and said that when the older man was gone, he would do the same thing.

"I wouldn't want to see it die. It's too much fun," the dentist said. "It gives me an outlet. It lets me keep up with my horn, and !B they're a good group of people."

The band rookie is Ron Appler, 47, who owns an industrial treatment company, attending his first rehearsal.Mr. Appler said that he last played clarinet in high school and that he decided a year ago to resume.

"I take lessons with all the little kids," he said.

He learned about the Daniels band at a hardware store where two band members, Lyle Buck, 64, a retired Presbyterian minister, and Howard Baughman, 66, a retired engineer, work part time.

"We get new blood wherever we can," Mr. Buck said.

Robert T. Haas, 82, the band's percussionist and oldest member, said that while the band was healthy, it could use more players, particularly for clarinets, trombones and a bass horn.

He invited prospective recruits to attend practices.

Mollie Roemer, 69, an Ellicott City housewife, is a 16-year veteran and the band's only current female member.

Mrs. Roemer, who plays sax, bassoon and clarinet, said the Daniels Band was her favorite among the four bands she played with regularly.

Joining the band

anyone interested in joining or hiring the Daniels Community Band should call Bill Webb at 744-5347 or Robert T Haas at 465-3755.

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