Whitehall, according to old programs and newspapers, has always had musical talent, Following a century-in-years tradition, Whitehall now has another band, that of the Whitehall School Alumni.
Back in December, 1887, on a Friday the Juvenile Cornet Band of Whitehall was organized by the Rev. J. S. Ethier, who was its director. The original group was composed of 16 boys but this number grew so rapidly that by its first anniversary there were 75 active members, ages 10-18 years. Others were taking lessons and would soon join them. The boys practiced three nights a week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the rectory of Notre Dame des Victoires on Wheeler Avenue. Father Ethier also gave private lessons for those who wanted to catch up. The boys practiced marches, chorals, quicksteps, waltzes, gallops, serenades, schottisches, gavottes, overtures, etc., besides the scales and exercises of Ripley, Collins and Samuels methods.
Father Ethier was the founder; conductor and patron of this Juvenile Cornet Band, At one time he himself owned 50 of the instruments. He copied by hand many of the pieces of music that each boy had mounted on cardboard in a book with his name imprinted. Father Ethier composed several of these pieces. He trained the boys in military evolutions to use while marching in the streets, practicing them in Temperance Hall. During the first year the band filled 36 engagements in and out of town.
Father Ethier was an artist, specializing in crayon portrait drawing. He advertised in the local papers for patronage, $15 for a framed product, the proceeds to be used for the benefit of the band. He bad spent $1500 himself on the band project, His stated philosophy was: “Music cultivates and elevates the minds of our young men, refines and moulds them into serious practical habits of gentlemanly life,”
At the close of the first year the temporary uniforms of the boys were worn out. There was only $130 in the uniform fund. To furnish enough to outfit the whole band it was decided to have a fair and festival about Christmas time in Griswold Hall. The chosen uniform was to be the colorful one of the Zouave type — short jacket, baggy blue or red trousers and tasseled cap or turban. An oil painting of one was displayed in the store windows preceding the fair and in the hall during it.
The fair and festival was held during Christmas Week in 1888, from Wednesday through Saturday of one week and repeated Thursday and Friday of the following one. Its attractions consisted of a concert every evening by the full band in which each boy was given an opportunity to show what he could do; an oyster supper; and a sale of articles donated by friends. One highlight each evening was an award by vote of some article given for that purpose. Some of these were gold pieces, lamps, silver and glass dishes, barrels of apples, crackers and flour. Evidently a gold watch was the cherished prize won by Louise Lortie who had only a few more votes than Maggie Nolan.
Patronage was excellent; the first Friday night was the biggest with 530 tickets being sold. The net profit was $923.90. Immediately a uniform committee was appointed, the clothes being ordered from G. S. Simmons & Co. in Boston at $15.50 each. They were worn for the first time when the band “turned out” on Washington’s Birthday anniversary, 1889. By this time the boys were practicing in their spacious rooms in Anthony Renois’ block.
During this year the Juvenile Cornet Band had been written up in papers of communities where they appeared like the Troy Catholic Weekly but more – notably in the national Harpers Weekly in an article entitled “The Military Band of the United States,” by Leon Mead.
Another fund raising affair was a musical and dramatical entertainment given in Music Hall at Easter time, 1889. Two French Comedies that had never been presented before in this country were produced by the boys — “The Departure for California” and “The Despair of Jacrisse.” The full house provided a net of $121.46 for the band. The evening ended with the Rev. Mr. McMiilan of the Episcopal leading three cheers and a tiger for Father Ethier and his band.
After Lent in 1890 the band gave a presentation of the French drama “Vildac” and a farce “The Two Blind Men” besides a repetition of 1889’s comedies accompanied by music from the orchestra formed from members of the band appearing for the first time.
For several years after this newspaper accounts list the activities of the Juvenile Cornet Band as it appeared in concerts, sponsoring excursions on the lake, leading parades and entertaining a field.
Could it be that there is still in existence ore of the photographs showing 78 members of he band and orchestra, including Rev. J. S. Ethier, the leader, and John Bellegarde, the drum major?
Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times – April 5, 1973