Thursday, January 24, 2013

Music on the Prairie

St. John Band
Isaac Werner loved music.  When he was a young druggist in Rossville, Illinois, the only day of the week that his store was closed was Sunday.  His younger cousin, Ezra Werner, had come to Rossville following Isaac's arrival, bringing with him an accordion.  During the week on winter evenings, Isaac loved to sit by the fire and listen to Ezra play the accordion, but what he especially enjoyed were outdoor concerts.  Isaac, Ezra, and another friend named Frederick often enjoyed their Sundays with a walk to a shady grove to sit on a log or a soft patch of grass to be entertained by Ezra.  When the birds joined in with their singing, Isaac was convinced that no concert hall in the city could have provided finer music.
When he came to Kansas, Isaac treasured opportunities to hear music.  A few evenings he enjoyed visiting the Eggleston family, who had brought musical instruments with them when they homesteaded.  There were also some fine singers in Isaac's community, and in the Clear Creek community, William Wilson was known for his beautiful singing voice.  In fact, Wilson offered a singing school during the winter evenings when he was not busy in the fields.
Isaac described an evening at the Emerson School House when Wilson and some other men visited a Farmers' Alliance meeting.  The Albano membership attendance was small that night, so the meeting was quickly adjourned, and the men enjoyed singing until midnight.
About his own musical talent Isaac never commented, although his personal library included a book on organ stops.
       St. John Town Square with Band Shell at far left
The reputation of the St. John Town Band was so impressive that they were often called upon to play in other towns.  When the Pratt County People's Party held it first political rally parading down Main Street, it was the St. John band that furnished the music for the parade.  The band was often asked to play for political events, organizers knowing that the band would draw a larger crowd.
So highly regarded were these musicians that a band shelter was built in the St. John Square, although the rest of the town square was nothing more than a muddy eyesore in wet weather and a source of dust blowing through the town when the season was dry.  (The first photograph of the St. John Band was taken in front of the City Stable, where Isaac often slept  with his horses when he needed to stay in St. John overnight.  The second photograph shows the band shell at the far left with the rain soaked bare town square in the foreground.  Remember, the photographs can be viewed larger by clicking on them.)
The opportunity to enjoy music with friends was one of Isaac's greatest pleasures!  Those of us living in a time when music is available in our homes, our cars, and while we go for a jog, as well as the many places where we can enjoy live performances, need to be reminded what a special treat hearing music was for those living in earlier times. 

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