Although the era of the local concert band ended over a quarter century ago, the Palmerton Community Band, continues to present concerts in the bandstand in the Palmerton Boro Park. The tradition of concerts in the park dates back to 1911 when Stuart Prutzman became leader of the newly organized and incorporated band.
Having been preceded by the Griffin Cornet Band (1895) and the Lyra Band (1901), the Palmerton Band began receiving financial help from the New Jersey Zinc Co. when Superintendent J.E.Hayes became interested in having a local band to represent the new town of Palmerton. The efforts of Mr. Hayes peaked in 1921 when Paul A. Bartholomew became librarian for the Zinc Company and director of the band. At one time eleven of the officers of the band were NJZ employees.
In 1923 John Trankley was instrumental in forming the Palmerton Boys Band. Robert Montz, then leader of the Parryville Band, was brought in as director of the Boys Band in 1923. Montz, who had worked at the Parryville Iron Furnaces, became an inspector in the Service and maintenance Department of NJZ. He moved to Palmerton and began giving lessons to young brass students at the rate of six or seven half hour lessons, four nights a week. The cost was fifty cents per lesson!
Band rehearsals were held weekly in the squash court building which was located in the area where the First National Bank is today. Fall rehearsals readied the band for the annual winter concert presented in the auditorium of the newly built S. S. Palmer High School beginning in 1926. Spring rehearsals reviewed music for the summer concerts. The summer schedule had as many as fourteen different programs, each of which was ninety minutes long. Beginning in 1912, these concerts in the park were presented from June to September. This continued for more than fifty years until a dwindling number of musicians forced the band to reduce the number to seven and then to four in 1996.
Over those years the band also participated in many other events. World War I Liberty Loan drives, Red Cross events, WWII Bond Drives as well as holiday and Firemen's parades were among some of the activities. The Boys Band had Saturday night picnics in the surrounding areas from Trachsville and Little Gap to Mantzville and Schoenersville. They also performed at PHS football games and basketball playoffs. when the Palmerton High School Band was organized by Stanley Smith in the 1940's, the Boys Band was dissolved. the senior band then played for many of the picnics in the following years. The band also played for the Palmerton Hospital Festival from its beginning in 1961, through its change to the Community Festival and continues to this day.
The West End Fair was a one-day event in the 1950's and 1960's and the band presented six concerts between two o'clock in the afternoon and eleven o'clock at night. Charles Wentz and John Parsons played solo cornet at the time and it was a very long day. This writer can attest to that for in the 70's he played with a band at the fair as well. With only four concerts a day between those two given times, it was very tiring indeed!!
Both Bartholomew and Montz retired in the mid 1940's. Howard Wentz became the director of the senior band and Norman Lichtenwalter of the Boys Band. About that time the squash court building was removed and rehearsals moved to the NJZ Co. building on Third and Delaware. When that building was remodeled some years ago rehearsals were held wherever a room could be located; Boro hall Gym or a room on the second floor; Sacred Heart Church office or Gym; a room in the remodeled NJZ lab; a conference room in the medical building built where the silk mill used to be and finally for the last 8 years or so, the Palmerton Area High School Music Room.
The Senior or Palmerton Men's Band began accepting female musicians as members after World War II and the name slowly changed to the Palmerton Community Band.
Other conductors since Wentz retired in 1957have been Alvin Schmidt, Rodney Grimm from 1959 to 1971, Tom Heinze for several years, Jack DeSousa from 1976 through 2000. Joseph J. Plechavy has been the director since that time.
Along with many excellent musicians, some of whom became professionals, two of the products have become well-known in the field of music. Carl Costenbader eventually became conductor of the Air Force Band and Ray Lichtenwalter is Director and Conductor of the University of Texas at Arlington Band. Other notables include Gerald Serfass who plays proffessionally in NY and Pa., Jeff Cortazzo who plays with the Army Blues in Washington D.C. and the present director who started with the band in 1970.
It is with regret that we note the passing of the era of local bands in the United States. At the height of the period at the beginning of the twentieth century, local bands could be found in Palmerton, Kunkletown, Ben Salem, Parryville, Lehighton, Coaldale, Weatherly, Slatington and Slatedale. Only Palmerton, Lehighton and Parryville of these remain active and, with the difficulty in attracting new members, they also can see difficult times rapidly approaching.
(The above was taken from information provided by long time librarian, band member and now deceased John Parsons. History was one of his favorite subjects)
At the present time the band is made up of approximately 35 members from all walks of life including students in local school districts, college students, working adults and retirees.Individuals who were at one time members of the band are encouraged to join us for rehearsals and performances when they are in the area visiting.
Individuals who play in other bands are welcome to join us for concerts as well. If you are traveling in the area and would like to play a concert, simply call the number below or email the director at the address given below and we will be glad to make sure there is music available for you.
610 681 6834