Civil War-Era Band Still Going Strong In Grafton

Aug 2, 2017

The Grafton Cornet Band is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

The band is the second oldest continuously performing band in Vermont; it was started in 1867 to perform in a ceremony honoring nearby residents who died in the Civil War.

The federal government established Memorial Day the next year, and the Grafton Cornet Band has played in every Memorial Day ceremony since then.

Dick Desrochers of Grafton joined the band in 1959, and he plays tuba.  

"Grafton has been very Memorial Day-oriented for years ever since it started, and we're just carrying on this tradition right on up until today," Desrochers says.

"And I hope it still continues in years to come. We want to play in this band on Memorial Day. It's a very important part of this band."

Desrochers says he was introduced to the band through his wife's family, some of whom joined the band back in the 1920s.

He says the history of the Grafton Cornet Band traces the story of how southern Vermont grew and changed through the 20th century.

"They were some of the first, what they call band wagons today," he says. "They had a horse drawn wagon with the band players in it. They'd go from town to town, and around, all driver by horse and wagon."

This is a picture of the Grafton Cornet Band from 1885.
Credit Grafton Historical Society

Marsha Omand plays flute in the band and has been involved since 1983.

Omand says the band is as much a social and community group as it is a performing ensemble.

"When I first started one of the leaders said, 'anyone can start,' " she said. "First you learn one note, and every time you see that one note play it, and when you get that, you learn a different note. That's a good way to learn an instrument."

"I would like to see more young folks come into the band because a lot of our players right now are getting up in age. In order for the band to continue we need to have these young players come in. I want to see this band continue, even after I'm gone." - Dick Desrochers, tuba player in Grafton Cornet Band

Omand says the band has always been able to keep going, though there have been lean times over all of the years.

"I think we'll keep going," says Omand. "So many young people are staring into their smart phones all the time. When you play music you have to look up once in a while."

Most of the band members are  in their 50s and 60s.  Desrochers says they've tried to talk to the local high schools to recruit younger members.

"I would like to see more young folks come into the band because a lot of our players right now are getting up in age," Desrochers says. "In order for the band to continue we need to have these young players come in. And I hope down the road that we can get these young players. I want to see this band continue, even after I'm gone."

The Grafton Historical Society will hold a special celebration for the Grafton Cornet Band Thursday, Aug. 3, at 6:30 p.m., at the Brick Meeting House in Grafton.

The band plays in Acworth, New Hampshire, on Aug. 12 and then in Townshend, Vermont, on Sept. 10.