Stories From Mr. Welch

STRIKE UP THE BAND:
THE STORY OF BIG BLUE

Music is a basic social and cultural activity that has existed in some form or another since the earliest days of man. The folks in Elmore County were no different. Historical records indicate that a local group of musicians in April 1861 played as the young men from Wetumpka and neighboring towns departed on horseback from the grounds of the Wetumpka First Presbyterian Church to participate in the War Between the States. Ironically, one of those militiamen was George Welch, the great grandfather of Truman Welch. Little did he know that his great-grandson's name would be synonymous with music in this central Alabama county and throughout the nation.

Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons were filled with gospel singings, hoe downs and other musical activities.

The local music of the 1920's was provided by the Boy Scout bands. This worked really well until the City Hall building burned down-------that's where all the musical instruments were stored!

The Music Man Band 1930'sA popular movie, "The Music Man", tells the story of a traveling salesman who brings music to a small town in the mid-west. Well, this actually happened in Wetumpka in the 1930's. A salesman, Mr. C., bought a load of cast-off instruments. He arrived in Wetumpka and began giving lessons to those who could afford to pay. The students were immediately taught a catchy little tune that everyone could recognize. By then, all the parents were sure their child was a "born" musician. Mr. C then convinced the folks that they needed uniforms for the band. To the surprise of everyone, Mrs. C. was a seamstress. She was hired to sew stripes on pants and decorate the shirts to match. Everything was fine until the money ran out and Mr. C. hurriedly left town.

In 1946, the people of Elmore County were recovering from World War II and beginning to look toward the future. Wetumpka High School held their Prom in the old Hohenberg Memorial auditorium. Jack Walden's band played for the event. A local man, Truman Welch, was playing in the band. He had just returned from the war and was driving a truck for his father-in-law at Sanford Oil Co. Mr. Welch played in a number of local bands and taught a few students on the side. Mr. Leonard Johnston, a local barber and a member of the Board of Education, approached Mr. Welch about starting a high school band. Having never intended to be a school teacher but loving music and seeing a need, Mr. Welch agreed to give it a try.

There were only three high schools in Elmore County in 1946 and not a large student population. The original concept was to develop a county band consisting of students from Elmore County High School, Holtville High School and Wetumpka High School. At the time, Holtville was involved in a "progressive school" program and the principal was afraid participating in a band would jeopardize his program. So, in the fall of 1946, the Elmore County Band was born.

The first Elmore County Band consisted of 7 students. Well, now we've got a director and a group of "budding" musicians. What are we going to do with them? The only available space was a minuscule dressing room next to the stage area. This location lasted about a day. If you don't remember what you sounded like when you first began playing a musical instrument, then you will not understand what the English teacher next to the dressing room experienced---times 7!!!! She went to the principal, Mr. Bratton, and emphatically stated that this arrangement was not going to work!

The next solution involved a canning plant on the grounds of the campus. It was only used by the local farmers a few months of the year to process their vegetables and fruits. The huge metal pots were about 3 feet apart and there was ample room to place the young musicians between the pots. The band set up and began practicing-----10 minutes after the end of the song, the sound was still bouncing off the metal pots!!!!

Finally, a room in the basement was made available for the band program and a musical dynasty was born.

To Be Continued

Stories to come: The shortest half-time show on record . . . how a small band improvises . . . the anvil story . . . fire batons don't work in the rain . . . majorettes and their "idiot" sticks . . . GTW and his favorite elephant . . . the first concert . . . the contests . . . practicing in Elmore County to ride a NYC subway . . . and many more!!!!!

Each month we hope to feature an interesting story from one of you. Please send in your article and a picture from now or the past or better yet, both. Email to: hudginss@verizon.net

If you want to send in "the mail", my address is 9071 Ridge Road, Seminole, FL 33772

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