TOP O' THE MORN: Oak Harbor bands lifted local spirits

In the early 1900s, Oak Harbor boasted few places of amusement and those in the community who could tootle a horn, or had a horn to learn to tootle on, were much in demand to entertain.

When the Heller brothers, Malenus, Henry, Martinus and George, formed the Heller Brass Band around 1910, they became so popular that they asked others to join them and a town band was formed. They gave concerts in Coupeville, at the county fair, in fact, they gave performances at any place a program was required.

Most of the musicians learned to read music at singing schools held in churches. Barney Nienhuis taught singing school at First Reformed Church. At different times, John Streuker and Martinus Heller also taught. Learning to play an instrument meant obtaining said instrument and learning from another person who could play.

After the band dissolved, around 1914, the area was tuneless until another band formed in the 1920s with Martinus Heller as leader. The 1914 band had uniforms but when 1928 arrived, the old uniforms had been eaten by moths and new uniforms were too expensive. Occasionally they imported a bona fide band leader from Mount Vernon to assist the inexperienced group. Other members of that town band were Klaas De Ruyter, James Zylstra, John Streuker, Henry Streuker, Ed Weidenbach, Charley Bowmer, Angus Bowmer, Howard Maylor, Geert Zylstra, J. Perkins, William Bovee, W.E. Elliott, John Kingma, George Heller, Bud and Frank Emory, Syd Jongsma and H.L. Bowmer.

Sydney Jongsma, who was a member of both bands, remembered how he was returning home from band practice and singing school one night in his horse and buggy. Just as he rounded a bend in the road, he came upon George Heller who had been riding ahead of him on a bicycle. George had run into a culvert, the jolt throwing him over the handlbars. Syd helped his brother band-member into his buggy and took him home.

“We you folks had lots of places to go in those days,” Syd recalled. “Three or four times a week we had singing school, band practice, church meetings. Got there quick by horse and buggy too.”

Dorothy Neil has written and recorded Whidbey Island history for more than 50 years. Her books chronicle local life and times.

Group looking to band together

All-Island Community Band is looking for musicians. All former high school musicians are invited to join the band. The group practices at Oak Harbor Middle School every Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m.

For more information, call Bob Nelson, 240-1380 or George Konopik, 678-5778

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