When Cornets Were Close at Hand

By Regina Villiers. Originally published August 7, 1996 in The Suburban Life, added January 15, 2014.

In the days before cable TV and MTV, people entertained themselves and made their own music.

Back in the late 1800s, the Madeira Cornet Band made a lot of music, and they surely must have entertained themselves.

Their story might have died and forever have been unknown had not Dan McDonald had a compulsion to save all documents and papers that ever come within his grasp.

If it’s written down, especially if it’s about Madeira, Dan saves it. In his collection, he has a small notebook filled with handwritten minutes of the Madeira Cornet Band, which seemed to have been originally called the Jefferson Cornet Band.

Since this happened more than 100 years ago, none of the members are alive to tell about it, and no one seems to remember ever hearing about it at all. But there it is, in Dan’s little notebook, written down in living black and white, in fading, painstaking script.

It’s easy to read through the book and piece together the story of the band. It contains names from the past that we who are interested in Madeira history can recognize.

There are several DeMars mentioned, but Russ DeMar, the last remaining DeMar in Madeira, knows nothing of the band, nor do any of the family members he has talked to about it. But Russ says that music runs in the DeMar family, down through the generations to the present and to his six grandchildren, who are “into music.”

A note from 1892 says that Z.T. DeMar was elected president of the group, and George DeMar was elected treasurer. Clason, Clint, and Clyde DeMar are all mentioned throughout the minutes.

A note dated Feb. 28, 1899 says: “The band met at Z.T. DeMar’s house and proceeded to serenade Mr. and Mrs. C.H. DeMar. A vote of thanks was tendered the host and hostess.”

The band must have taken up the spare time of all the members. They met once each week for two hours practice, in various homes around Madeira.

For instance, a note dated May 6, 1899, says that that met at the home of S.K. Druce (who later became Madeira’s first mayor) “for an evening of music and feasting.”

In addition, the band played at holidays and community gatherings the year around.

Their rules and laws were quite strict. Each member was expected to be present at the weekly two-hour practice sessions. Any absentee was fined 10 cents. The fine went up 5 cents for each additional absence. Any member who did not pay his fines within three weeks was expelled.

One note directed the secretary to write a letter to Mr. Turner saying that “the alto horn must be returned by Friday, or we will notify Squire Drake to obtain same.”

Members were taken on trial. A note says that “Ed Mooney took second tenor on trial, Dec. 3, 1892.” All inexperienced players were required to pay a $6 initiation fee.

The band was a guy thing, since women were not heard from publicly in those days, or hardly even seen. No women’s names are even mentioned in the book.

The men seemed to get together socially quite often. One note, Feb. 22, 1902, says: “We got together for oyster, cigars, and lunch.”

Another note made a motion to get together for an oyster supper “somewhere around Thanksgiving.”

They paid strict attention to their finances and kept meticulous records of their expenses. Some of their bills were $1.31 for music, 60 cents for drum straps, 50 cents for their repair of horns, 30 cents for tuba repair, and 41 cents of gasket and oil.

On May 17, 1901, a motion carried that their bill for wicks and chimneys for their oil lamps be paid.

They also paid for an insurance policy March 1902, for $100, for “two-three years.”

They even bought and paid for uniforms, which they referred to as “suits,” and a motion carried, making the “suits” band property.

Though, at first, the band seemed social, it turned pro. At first, there were notes about playing at lawn fetes and serenading people at their homes.

Then the band started making appearances at various community events in other communities, where they received remuneration for playing. They played in Indian Hill, Montgomery, and Mt. Lookout.

They received $10 for most appearance, such as the Daughters of Rebecca in Madisonville and for the Army Post at Madisonville. They received $15 for going to Montgomery on Decoration Day in 1902.

On July 4 of that year, they made a huge appearance at Carthage. They asked $50 for that one, but finally settled for $35.

There were notes about appearances at turkey shoots and at shooting matches, and one note said they would meet at Whithater’s barn to chop wood. So they weren’t complete playboys. They also worked.

The band obviously became so popular that people tried to get in. There were letters of application to the band. One of them from Albert Miller of Indian Hill was dated Nov. 25 1899.

The last note in the notebook is dated May 19, 1906. At that time, they voted to pay their oil bill of 41 cents and noted that they would play at Armstrong Chapel on Decoration Day (May 30). The remainder of the book is blank.

We don’t know if the band broke up then, or if the rest of their minutes have been lost.

But, thanks to Dan McDonald and his “saving” graces, we do know that Madeira once had a community band that played prolifically, not only entertaining themselves, but various communities.

They obviously existed in high spirits, without cable TV. Amazing.