The Blawenburg Band was established in 1890 in the small central New Jersey town of Blawenburg. At the time, Blawenburg was a rural 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 very common for bands to be formed in communities to provide musical entertainment for the residents. There were more than 20,000 bands in America during this period. 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 by a group of local people, some of whom could play a musical 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. Except for 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; it 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 elsewhere. The band 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 33 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 firstclass 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)
The Band’s 75+ members come from all walks of life; they range in age from their teens to their nineties, and include teachers, high school and college students, research scientists, computer specialists, homemakers, active retirees, lawyers, doctors, and many more. Some players have had years of musical training and professional experience; others learned to play as schoolchildren and are dedicated amateurs. The members are alike in one way, however: they enjoy making music together.
The band is known as one of oldest community bands in the state and is among the most active, playing about 20-25 concerts a year at holiday parades, community celebrations, church socials, and several of the nursing homes and retirement centers in the area. 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