Callicoon Center Band:
74 Years of Music
By Jim Newton, Band Conductor
Town band concerts were once the main source of live entertainment in small towns throughout the country. With the advance of “talking picture shows” in the 1920’s competition for audience attention increased. In many instances, the town band became less and less popular and in many communities, town bands disappeared altogether.
Such is not the case in Sullivan County where the Callicoon Center Band still presents 10 Wednesday evening concerts in the summer at their bandstand beginning at 8 p.m., whether rain or shine.
There has been a tradition of bands in that community dating back to the 1800’s. Charles Hicks, Town of Callicoon historian, described the early settlers that came to that section of Sullivan County, mostly from Germany, as lovers of music. Hicks tells of Caspar Gilbert, an immigrant who reportedly could not read a note of music. Gilbert is given credit for starting the first band in Callicoon Center shortly after he arrived here in 1848.
The Gilbert Band then became the George F. Wagner’s Band under the leadership of Alfred Kastner who first gave the group its formal name, the Callicoon Center Band. The current band has been active since 1934 and was organized by a resident of that hamlet, schoolteacher and self-taught clarinet player, Clarence Krantz.
Historian Hicks also notes that there were bands in surrounding communities as well. The Jeffersonville Band, The Youngsville Band, The North Branch Cornet Band, the Sand Pond Cornet Band, (also called the Boxtown Band) and the Mountain Echo Band based in the Beechwoods. The hillsides still may echo with some of their tunes, but only the Callicoon Center Band survives today.
Truly, each of the concerts held today is a step back in time to when town band concerts were so popular. As the Callicoon Center Band approaches its 74th year of weekly concerts, we are reminded of the dedication of some of the many people whose effort and love of music keep this tradition going:
Clarence Krantz, the founder of the band, lived in Callicoon Center and acted as mentor to the pulse of the band. He played in the band well into his 80’s and was the “caretaker” of the details of running the band. Such details included being treasurer, seeking out a conductor when necessary and generally maintaining the bandstand itself.
Allan Sommer who joined the band when he was 9 years old as a trumpet player and later became a drummer, was president of the band for more than 40 years.
Ray Shaara who was the conductor of the band from 1935-76. It was under his direction that the band performed at the 1939 World’s Fair. Ray played the clarinet and like so many early band conductors, he played his instrument while conducting the concerts.
James Newton who became the conductor and musical director of the band after Ray Shaara left the post in 1976. In 2008, Mr. Newton will begin his 34th year with the band and his 32nd year as conductor.
No band can function well without the assistance of competent librarians. From the early 60’s to present there have been two such people. Henry Scholermann from Liberty. He was also a trumpet player in the band. The current librarian is Karin Casey. She also plays clarinet in the band.
Who Plays and Who Listens
Today, as in the past, musicians in the band range from those with formal training to those for whom music has always been a hobby. The current band is made up of some 40 players. There are music teachers, professional people, craftsmen, retired people and talented high school players. Truly, the mixture of all of them compliments the band.
Each Wednesday in the summer the audience gathers at the bandstand. Summer visitors and a loyal following of county residents make up the enthusiastic audience each week. Volunteers from the fire department guide early arrivals to parking spaces. Refreshments are available provided by the ladies auxerillary and the music begins promptly at 8 p.m.
The notes will linger in your ears after you attend your first concert this summer. This will be an experience you won’t soon forget. For more information phone Lois Head, President, at 845-482-3768 or Jim Newton, Conductor, at 845-439-4635.