The Blawenburg Band was established in 1890 in the small central New Jersey town of Blawenburg. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Blawenburg was a small village of some two hundred people, with a church, a store, a school, a post office and a blacksmith shop. It was mainly a community of farming families who could trace their roots to the 1600’s. At the turn of the 20th century, it was common for bands to be formed in communities to provide musical entertainment for the residents. At that time, there were more than 20,000 bands in America. These included Town bands, Brewery bands, Orphanage bands, Ladies’ bands, Church bands, Steel Mill bands, Firemen’s bands, and Circus bands. Even the hardware store in Princeton had a band. These bands often played weekly concerts in the summer on village greens and town commons.
The Blawenburg Band was one such organization. It was formed in 1890 by a group of local people, some of whom could play an instrument and some who learned to play either an available instrument or one of their choosing. The original band practiced in the old blacksmith shop in Blawenburg, on the second floor. However, this space rapidly became limiting due to increased membership, and rehearsals moved to the former schoolhouse next to the Blawenburg Reformed Church. With the exception of a few years during WWI and WWII, the band has rehearsed and performed continuously since its establishment in 1890.
In the early years, the Blawenburg Band was an all brass and percussion ensemble, consisting of 15-20 musicians, and was both a marching band and a “place” band. Its popularity in the area grew quickly, and it was invited to play at important functions in Newark, Trenton, Flemington, and also became a “fixture” in Memorial Day parades in Hopewell. It was featured at strawberry festivals and harvest home suppers. It has been playing at the Griggstown Harvest Home every year since 1922.
Over the past 30+ years, the conductor of the band, Dr. Jerry E. Rife, with much patience and fortitude, has masterfully employed his musical vision, with persuasion, humor, and an occasional well-meaning threat to transform the group into a first-class musical organization that is well-known in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and has attracted many fine players. (Please read “Meet the Conductor” for more information about Dr. Rife)
Under Dr. Rife’s direction, the Band has blossomed into a full concert band of 75+ members playing bassoons, oboes, French horns, cornets, trumpets, euphoniums, trombones, tubas, clarinets, flutes, saxophones and even timpani and a full battery of percussion instruments.
Band members are volunteer amateur musicians that include lawyers, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, school teachers, professors, as well as retired professionals and talented high school and college students. The band currently performs 20-25 concerts year-round for the community (and has done so since the 1950s), often in senior centers, nursing homes, and charity fund raisers. In recent years, some of the more noteworthy performances of the Band include opening day concerts for the Summer Music Series at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, the summer outdoor music series at the Historic Hopewell New Jersey Train Station, the Support the Troops Concert at the New Jersey National Guard Armory in Lawrenceville, and for over 20 years, the Fourth of July celebrations in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
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1. Adapted from: The Blawenburg Band and Other Memories. Oral History 98-1, Orr HJ and Van Zandt JP; 1998: Van Harlingen Historical Society of Montgomery, Inc., Belle Mead, New Jersey.
2. With information from: Music for the People--The Blawenburg Band Goes for Two, David Hackler, 2012