IN 1845, THE MILL village of Fisherville on the Contoocook River in central New Hampshire (now the Penacook section of Concord) got its first town band — the Fisherville Brass Band. During its five-year existence, this well-regarded band provided entertainment for events in Fisherville and in nearby towns. On Sept. 1, 1858 a new band made up of 22 musicians was formed in the village, called the Fisherville Cornet Band. Eventually, this second band would include over 30 musicians. Only three or four of these men had played in the original band.
The Fisherville Cornet Band set up headquarters in a room in a local church, but it soon moved into a space in nearby Pantheon Hall. The bandsmen hired Professor Alonzo Bond of Boston, a noted musician and bandmaster, as their teacher. Nineteen-year-old D. (David) Arthur Brown (who later in life would publish a book on Penacook’s history), was appointed as the band’s first leader. In July 1859 seasoned cornet player, 21-year-old Lorenzo “Loren” M. Currier, took over the leadership role, and Brown stayed on as a musician.
The fledgling band’s musical director was Samuel G. Noyes. At age 31 he was a well-established store owner in the village, selling a variety of goods, including books, sewing machines, and musical instruments. He was also a music teacher, church organist, and choir director.
Within a short time, the Fisherville Cornet Band developed into one of the premiere musical organizations in the state. The band marched in parades; gave concerts in Pantheon Hall; played at church, school, and county fairs and at political rallies. The band accompanied Fisherville’s Pioneer Engine Company in the famous firemen’s parade and muster that took place on Sept. 15, 1859 in Manchester.
In January 1860 a ceremonial paramilitary cavalry unit, the Governor’s Horse Guards, was organized in Concord. The corps, which was made up of gorgeously-attired equestrians of New Hampshire’s upper class, became a favorite entertainment at official government events. In its first year of existence, the Guards participated in a parade in Concord accompanied by a Boston- based brass band on horseback. The Guards wanted to partner with a New Hampshire band, so the men asked the Fisherville Cornet Band to join them in the inauguration parade for Gov. Nathaniel S. Berry. who was scheduled to take office on June 6, 1861.
The problem was that only six or so of the Fisherville Cornet Band’s members had ever ridden a horse. Not only would the musicians be required to play their brass instruments, drums, cymbals, etc. while riding, but they could only direct their horses through foot movements. The band’s leader, Loren Currier, dreaded riding so much that he only agreed to participate if his horse could stay in the middle of the pack so that he wouldn’t have to ride at the front of the column alone.
One of the bandsmen was a 21-year-old Irish immigrant, John C. Linehan. In an 1899 essay on the band’s history he wrote, “… for three or four weeks the flat on the Boscawen side (of the Contoocook River) looked like a western ranch, surrounded by a lot of tenderfoots playing the part of cowboys, for it was up there the boys went to break in their steeds. It was a moving sight (the moving was all towards the ground, however), and the bucking broncos of the Wild West show furnished no more sport, while it lasted, than did the gallant equestrians of the Fisherville band while trying to train their horses to march … But they finally overcame all obstacles, and a proud lot they were when they made their first appearance on Main Street in Concord …”
Despite some awkwardness that occurred when the horses decided to trot, rather than walk, the band’s performance with the Governor’s Horse Guards was considered a success.
In October 1860, the Fisherville Cornet Band traveled to Boston where it led the members of Concord’s “Wide Awakes” club in a dramatic torchlight parade. The “Wide Awakes” was a youth political movement with paramilitary overtones that took hold in 1860 in northern and mid-Atlantic towns and cities. Thousands of young men and boys joined the clubs, which promoted the Republican Party platform and the presidential campaign of Abraham Lincoln.
Next week: Fisherville Cornet Band musicians in the Civil War.