Beat goes on for Littlestown Municipal Band

Group to celebrate 25 years with anniversary concert.


The Evening Sun

Posted: 04/04/2011 09:00:00 PM EDT




Twenty-five years can go by pretty quickly when you're having fun. Just ask Ben Messinger, founder and conductor of the Littlestown Area Municipal Band.

What began as an impromptu group of musicians filling in to march in a town parade has become an entertainment staple at Littlestown area events and regular seasonal concerts.

"It's just been growing ever since," said Messinger, who quickly formed the group in 1986 after learning that the Littlestown High School band couldn't march in the Jaycees' Good Ole Days parade.

"It was like, I wonder if I can get some people together to do this. It just started as a chance kind of thing," Messinger said. "We just showed up and did it. We played a very simple street march."  

About 18 musicians he knew from other groups turned out that first day, wearing whatever they wanted and playing the "Valley Forge March."

Mary Garman, one of the original band members, recalls how she quickly agreed to join in the parade.

"He asked me one day to join, and I said, 'Sure, why not.' That was where it all started," said Garman, who plays two types of piccolos in the band.

Calling themselves the "Band of Misfits," the group continued to appear in area parades and even started to play concerts.

Part of the band's initial appeal was its casual, come-as-you-are nature.

"We didn't wear uniforms," said Messinger, a Littlestown native. "So that was very inviting for people. People just showed up to play because

they liked it."

Despite expanding to 75 musicians, members still turn out for rehearsals and concerts because they like it.

"We have to work hard but it's fun," said Ginni Hasener, who has played clarinet in the band for 10 years. "There's lasting friendships we've formed there. The band is just a pleasant place to be."

From that humble beginning, the Littlestown band has grown to regularly performing about 10 concerts a year, including its annual spring, fall, and Christmas concerts.


Two weeks from now, the Littlestown Area Municipal Band will perform its 25th anniversary concert, at St. Paul's Lutheran Church on West King Street.

The April 17 concert will have an anniversary theme, with songs such as "The Silver Jubilee Overture," "Silversword," and "Gold and Silver Waltz." The band will also play that first song, "Valley Forge March."

"I thought that would be very appropriate to open the concert with the first march we ever played," said Messinger, who also conducts the William F. Myers and Sons Band in Westminster, Md.

"We're certainly playing more challenging music than what we used to," said Messinger, adding that he now feels more comfortable with a baton in his hand than his flute.

Early on that wasn't the case though for Messinger, who had only begun playing instruments a few years before forming the band.

"I really didn't have a music background. I didn't start playing until after high school," said Messinger, who joined the Alesia Band in Manchester, the Myers Band and the Hanover Moose Band once he got hooked on playing.

He also studied conducting with his great-uncle, Edward Gobrecht Sr. That passion for music led him to pursue a bachelor's degree in music education at Millersville University and then later a master's degree at Towson University. He eventually wrote his own composition for the band, called the "The Littlestown Area Municipal Band March."

As Messinger's talents expanded, so did the band's song

 repertoire, adding crowd-pleasing showtunes, classical pieces, and marches.

After a few years, the band started to click and a more formal black-and-white attire was adopted.

"As the band became better and better, people said, 'We really shouldn't just be wearing what we want to. We would look more professional if everybody wore the same thing,'" Messinger said.

Around the same time, the band also dropped the "Misfits" moniker.

"The name became embarrassing to some people," said Messinger, who teaches elementary instrumental music at Baltimore County schools.

After the band's 10th anniversary concert, it began playing annual spring and fall concerts at St. Paul's. Messinger pointed to that year as a turning point for the group.

"That was the year we really pushed the level of the band's playing ability," he said. "We practiced all fall and all spring for that (10th anniversary) concert. Before that, we didn't do really difficult stuff."

Over the years, the band has played through its share of illnesses and bad weather, enduring several drenchings.

Garman recalls an outdoor concert in Gettysburg when the band had just begun playing John Philip Sousa's "The Thunderer" when the skies opened and forced everyone to run for cover.

"We have learned that we don't do "The Thunderer" or "Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head" when they are calling for showers," Garman said.

One of the band's many highlights, Messinger recalled, is a July 4 concert in Gettysburg where it played the "1812 Overture."

"The audience was so appreciative of the work we did, and we sounded really good," he said.

After 25 years of perfecting its sound, the Littlestown band has been sounding good for quite a while now.

"I do have a lot of pride in the band," Messinger said. "I feel responsible. If the band sounds real good, it makes me feel real good.