Concert Band performance to feature local composer
An upcoming Morgan Community Concert Band performance will feature the original music of local composer Irving "Pete" Preston Nesmith. The performance is scheduled for Thursday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Berkeley Springs High School auditorium. The concert is free to the public.
The Concert Band's performance will mark the 120th anniversary of the first town band to play in Morgan County. It will honor Nesmith on the 40th anniversary of his death.
The Morgan Community Concert Band consists of 25 members and is directed by Bennett Lentczner. The first half of their program will be works by English composer Percy Grainger, who transcribed British folk music for the band, selections from the Broadway musical "Man of La Mancha" and two contemporary pieces written for a band ensemble, said band member Larry Springer.
The second half of their concert will showcase Nesmith's early 20th century marches that include the "West Virginia Centennial March" and the "Panorama March" as well as a short overture and a waltz, he said.
Bandleader and composer
Nesmith conducted the 30-member Patriotic Order of the Sons of America Band that practiced at the Unger Store. The band played at church functions, yard parties and community picnics during the 1930s to the 1950s. Nesmith taught himself to play 36 instruments without any formal musical instruction and taught music to local farmers and schoolchildren. He had only a fourth grade education.
Nesmith composed waltzes, marches, overtures and church hymns. His works were performed by the U. S. Army Band at Fort Monroe, Virginia and by the Shenandoah University Concert Band with Nesmith as guest conductor. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has also used his music. Nesmith died in 1976.
Irving "Pete" Nesmith was born in 1897 in Shockeysville, said Nesmith's son Cletus Nesmith. The Greenwood Band under the direction of Pete Dick began around 1913, he said. Irving Nesmith joined the Greenwood Band.
Around 1935, the band moved to Unger Store and later built their own building, said Cletus Nesmith. The band was renamed the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America Band (P. O. S. of A.) and Irving "Pete" Nesmith became its director. They purchased uniforms and around 10 acres that were used for the carnival and summer picnic. The band disbanded around 1958, said Nesmith.
Music was a hobby for his dad. After his father retired from the Pennsylvania Glass Sand Corporation, he wrote five religious hymns for piano and trumpet and 14 marches that included parts for all the different instruments, said Nesmith. All were copyrighted. The time capsule in Berkeley Springs State Park contains some of Nesmith's music.
Cletus Nesmith began playing trumpet in his father's band when he was six years old and also played in the Berkeley Springs High School Band. He was with the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America Band until the end.
Memories of the band
Pauline Waugh played xylophone in the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America band when she was around age 17-19 and performed with the band until she got married. They played one to two times a week, mostly for picnics, she said. There was a little lodge that was below the Unger Store where they would practice, said Waugh. Waugh didn't recall knowing anything about playing music before playing in the band.
"What we did learn, we learned from Pete," she said.
Archie Largent said that he played snare drum in the Unger Store Band in the 1940s for a couple of years. Largent's wife Annette also played flute in the band. Largent recalled going to the high school a couple of nights a week for music lessons as part of the band after he came back from the Army. Largent said that Pete Nesmith loved march music and that there was no one like him.
Dale Beahn said he was number one trumpet in the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America Band for several years. He got involved around 1938. He also played alto horn and clarinet and plays some guitar.
Beahn said that Pete Nesmith would write all the parts for first and second trumpet, first and second trombone, bass, clarinets and other instruments in his pieces.
"He taught all of us," said Beahn of Nesmith.
Beahn recalled having a three-day festival at their festival grounds in Unger. He said they always played songs like "The Star Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful," and John Phillip Sousa marches. At one time, Beahn, his brother Glen, Pete and Cletus Nesmith and one or two other band members also played church hymns like "The Old Rugged Cross" at area churches.
Beahn described Irving "Pete" Nesmith as brilliant. You'd never see him get angry, but he was firm, said Beahn. Nesmith taught them about rhythm and scales, things that once you learn you never forget, said Beahn.
Beahn said that playing with the Unger Store band was a wonderful experience and that it has kept him musically inclined. The band provided recreation for the kids that were involved and "you just poured your heart into the band," said Beahn.
"It was someplace you could go and be a part of something," he said of the Unger Store band.
The Nesmith family music tradition has been passed on to Cletus Nesmith's daughter Alisa and son Scott. Both were in bands in their school years including the state champion South Hagerstown High School Marching Band and the University of Alabama Million Dollar Marching Band that performed on television in halftime shows. Nesmith hopes to have four generations of the Nesmith family attend the Morgan Community Concert Band performance.
The Concert Band welcomes members of the former Unger Store band to their performance and would also like to recognize them at the concert. Panorama at the Peak will provide refreshments at the high school after their performance.