In 1932, John "Moogy" Hendrickson's sought volunteers to form a band, and the community responded eagerly. Sme of the first members had surnames like Brown, Snow, Robinson, Scatterday, and Parady, reflecting that many original members came from established English, Irish, and French homes in Rockport. But another group also turned out. The first band was actually dominated by names like Walima, Niemi, Soini, Johnson, and Hendrickson. Almost two-thirds of the charter volunteers hailed from Finnish homes.
Members of the local American Legion post, led by commander Louis Poole, were impressed by the prompt response of thirty-two volunteers and agreed to sponsor the band. and American Legion Post 98 still sponsored the band more than ninety years later. Under dark skies in March 1933, the month that marked the lowest point of the Great Depression, the new American Legion band rehearsed energetically, confidently making its first public appearance two months later on Memorial Day, and has continued as a legacy community band to this day.
The Nelson Era
With no budget to start, the Band’s first conductor, Ernest A. Nelson, searched for sheet music and for used (often well-used) instruments. As Russell Scatterday reported, an old tuba proved difficult to blow until Ernie Robinson extracted half a music stand and a baseball from its winding depths. On less than a shoestring, the Band played well-received bi-weekly summer concerts on the Legion grounds at Back Beach and at the Community House and Town Hall. Nelson’s spirit and drive held the fledgling band together as the Band raised money for the purchase of sheet music, instruments, and uniforms. The oldest Rockporters will remember stories of fund raisers at the old Town Hall, a vaudeville show, and a hose coupling contest in which the Pigeon Cove team placed second among eight teams of firemen. Such benefits also raised money for travel expenses to Legion band competitions throughout the Northeast. The Band itself performed benefits for other town organizations like the Christmas Tree Fund and the Scouts.
The Fears Era
A regional profile began to emerge after band members in 1935 elected conservatory trained Harrison B. Fears to be the Band’s second conductor. Fears imposed rigorous standards for membership, held music examinations and auditions, and selected players from Gloucester, Ipswich, and Beverly. Of Fears’ nearly twenty-five years it was said, “His fine musicianship and directing ability were major factors in molding the band into a first-class organization.”
Fears had constant help from the Rockport schools. Legion Band member Hermon Erwin, a high school teacher who founded and directed the Rockport High School band in the mid-1930s, assisted by fellow members, trained younger musicians who eventually moved into the Legion Band ranks.
Working together, the Rockport Board of Select men, Post 98, and the now Rockport Legion Band succeeded in obtaining Federal money to cover labor costs to build a bandstand. Materials were locally sourced, two hundred fifty-eight tons of stone. Louis A. Rogers of the Rockport Granite Company donated the polished granite slabs along the base. Nelson, John Huttunen, John Anderson and Frank Oja oversaw the bandstand's construction as volunteers. The columns and roof were built by Waino Saari and W.A. Sewell. The bandstand was dedicated on July 22, 1938, following a big parade led by the Legion Band. The ceremony was attended by residents, national, state, and town dignitaries as well as sailors and marines from the visiting U.S.S. Mississippi, anchored offshore.
In 1940, the Band figured prominently in the town's Centennial celebration. It took part in parades and summer concerts augmented by singers, both local and from "up the line." Fears composed a Rockport Centennial March for the parade and concerts.
The Band played on throughout WW II even while the call of duty diminished its ranks by twelve at one point. A Band newsletter, The Rockport Bugle, linked band members at war, with one another and those at home, as did gift boxes at Christmas.
|Ernest A. Nelson
|A. Pierce Grover
|William (Billy) Crowell