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New London Ct Boys Band Pre WWII Elks' Boys' Band Made Sweet Notes In Local History

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Courtesy of Carol W. Kimball
The former headquarters of New London Elks Lodge No. 360, right, before it was replaced by the present building at 81 Washington St. in New London. The Elks sponsored a boys' band that thrived until World War II. The band played concerts at the lodge, at the Lyceum Theater in New London, and aboard an Orient Point steamer.
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Day Staff Columnist
Published on 10/11/2004

Emily Perkins asked me to write about the Elks' Boys' Band, which brightened New London in the days before World War II. Her brother, Seymour Stoddard, and my brother, Euell Williams, played trombones in that organization and as big sisters we endured much practicing before their concerts.

That was long ago, but The Day's efficient and willing librarian, Elaine LaChapelle, located three newspaper articles for me, supplemented by telephone calls to my brother in Virginia and to Roswell Edgecomb, present secretary of Elks Lodge No. 360.

An article appearing in The Day on March 15, 1937, reported the band's first public appearance before a capacity audience at Bulkeley auditorium. The 40 boys had been practicing since the previous August under director James H. Crawford and his assistant Thomas J. Rondomanski, both members of the Coast Guard Band. Crawford was a popular teacher of instrumental music with many pupils in the area, including my brother. Genial Tom Rondomanski was involved in the local musical scene for years. I remember his playing cello as a guest at Beatrice Hatton Fisk's piano recitals.

The boys performed to standing room only, wearing their uniforms, “fine new purple coats and gray trousers with just enough gold braid to make them look distinctive and each wearing the insignia of the New London Lodge of Elks No. 360 on his arm,” according to The Day. My brother says he prefers to think of the jackets as blue, but he remembered the gold braid and insignia. When the uniforms were issued they were carefully fitted by C.C. Perkins, one of New London's leading tailors.

Secretary Edgecomb says the records of the band's formation are not available at present, but from The Day I learned that Charles W. Redden headed the band committee aided by Malcolm M. Scott, George E. MacDougall, Nester Dreyfus, and George H. Schofield. To get the band started the Elks put up over $2,000 for uniforms and equipment.

My brother wasn't a member of the band when it started, but joined during his freshman year at Bulkeley and played in it for three and a half years. He had answered Bulkeley band director Howard Pierce's plea for trombonists at Bulkeley and signed up for lessons with James Crawford, and it was just a step into the Elks' band.

Band members, ranging in age from 10 to 17, lived in area towns as well as New London. My brother and Arvin Miller, who played cornet, came from Quaker Hill. Arvin's mother drove them to rehearsals at the Elks' Washington Street building. Seymour Stoddard lived in Mystic. Harold Gustafson, who played clarinet, lived in Uncasville. F. Eaton Lougee also played trombone. I'm not sure where he lived.

My brother made his debut with the band during the summer after his freshman year on a trip to Orient Point. The Elks had chartered the Orient Point steamer for an outing for New London kids and the band was aboard playing, clad in their snappy uniforms. The Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks was noted for its emphasis on family-oriented projects as well as benevolence and this occasion surely fulfilled their objectives.

The Elks' Boys' Band gave three or four concerts a year, usually at their Washington Street auditorium, although they once played in the Lyceum Theater. They were not a marching band, but strictly a concert band when my brother was a member. Concerts featured several soloists, chosen from band members. Director Crawford liked to rotate the players in each section so that many had chances to solo. I remember when my brother practiced for his turn.

It's nostalgic to read about their early concerts. In November 1937 the first soloist was William T. Babcock Jr., a 12-year old cornet player, son of New London's police chief, accompanied by his sister Ruth. I grew up with the Babcock girls, Ruth and Mary, and I was green with envy at their accomplishments. “Buddy” Babcock went on to become a professional musician.

It was fun to learn that another soloist at this concert was my good friend the late Ed Breed. “The audience was given a rare treat in a bass horn solo by Edward Breed, who has mastered this difficult instrument and made an enviable reputation for himself in this part of the state,” wrote The Day reporter.

It's hard to say when the Elks' Boys' Band ceased to exist, but we assume it was probably suspended during World War II when the country was busy with the pursuit of victory. Roswell Edgecomb recalls that in the 1950s the Elks sponsored a small combo, a put-together band in which John Janovic played, so it's probable the boys' band no longer existed. But it was an important factor for lads growing up in the community, and it's great to remember those days and the good things the Elks did for the players and for the audience.

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