History of the Montgomery Village Community Band

The Montgomery Village Community Band, now a musical fixture in the area, plays for various MVF functions, including the Fourth of July celebration, and appears at nearby senior citizen homes throughout the year, especially at holiday times. The band a tradition of an annual Toys for Tots Concert in December to collect toys for the US Marines program. We also perform a Halloween concert with the members in costume, which is always fun for the band and the audience. The MVCB performs for the City of Gaithersburg and in Montgomery County parks. Over the years, the band has held joint concerts with local school bands. The MVCB was one of the charter participants in the annual Maryland Community Band Day celebration, which began in 1989, and it hosted the event in June, 1999 and again in May, 2008. Members of the band have volunteered their time to mentor student players at the Gaithersburg Middle School.

From its inception the MVCB has invited interested and competent players of all ages to join in the fun and satisfaction of playing concert band music. The band has always encouraged family participation, and over the years many parents and their children, brothers and sisters, and spouses have been active members together. Two former players met in the band and married. As in most community bands, the membership is in flux, especially since the metropolitan Washington-DC area has a very transient population. From time to time the group finds itself shy of critical instrumentation, but overall, section by section, the MVCB continues to grow larger and stronger.

Early History (1979 – 1986)

The precise founding of the Montgomery Village Community Band is uncertain. It is dimly remembered that initial attempts to start an adult band in Montgomery Village in 1979 were foiled by underwhelming response, but later that year critical mass was achieved and regular rehearsals started under the leadership of Jim Hier, the musical director at nearby Seneca Valley High School. The Montgomery Village Foundation (MVF), administrator of the planned community of Montgomery Village, MD, sponsored the band from the beginning, paying for rehearsal space in local schools and providing the director with a modest honorarium. This arrangement with MVF continues to the present day, having survived many rounds of civic belt-tightening over the years.

The fledgling band set sail on choppy waters. Attendance was spotty and there was little consensus between the director and the members about its direction. Hier left the band after the first year and was replaced by Ellsworth (Ellie) Briggs, the band director at Gaithersburg High School. (Montgomery Village adjoins the incorporated City of Gaithersburg.) This change marked the beginning of a period of growth and stability for the band. Almost all the band's current "old timers" joined during the Briggs years. It was early in this phase that the band settled on its name, after momentous debates pitting the "Montgomery Village Community Band" against "The Community Band of Montgomery Village," and devised its logo, designed by saxophonist Douglas Smink as a playful imitation of the MVF logo.

The Haba Era (1986 – 1999)

But once again the band nearly foundered. Mysteriously, attendance became irregular, morale declined, and eventually Ellie resigned. So it was in 1986 that after a reorganization spearheaded by flutist and sometimes cornetist Sue Bahr, the MVCB reemerged on a new tack and into a long and successful phase under the leadership of Joe Haba.

Joe was director of the venerable Browningsville Cornet Band when he took up the baton of the MVCB. (The hamlet of Browningsville, several miles North of Montgomery Village, has been home for a century to one of the oldest continuously playing community bands in the country.) Joe brought some of Browningsville's top players along with him, giving the band a jolt of new talent it had not enjoyed since 1981. Throughout the Haba years the MVCB grew and prospered.

After thirteen years of devoted and energetic leadership, Joe Haba decided to step down as music director, so that he and his wife, Sandy, could have time to ply the nation's roadways in their block long recreational vehicle. The waning weeks of the Haba tenure were filled with emotion and marked by tributes honoring Joe's service to the community, culminating in a declaration from Congresswoman Constance A. Morella, who ordered a flag to be flown over the Nation's Capitol for Joe to keep.

The Bowie Era (1999 – 2012)

On July 4, 1999, the baton was officially passed to the MVCB's new music director, Dr. Gordon Bowie, at the annual Montgomery Village Independence Day celebration. An accomplished musician, Gordon had been for many years the conductor of The Bangor Band, a traditional New England town band, performing continuously since its founding in 1859, and a band once led by the famous march composer, R.B. Hall. Gordon, in fact, received his Ph.D in Music Education from the University of Maine with a dissertation on "R. B. Hall and the Community Bands of Maine." Under Gordon’s rigorous leadership, during which he continually demanded the best from all of us, the MVCB grew in reputation and size, beginning each new season with a tradition of its own for excellence and community service.

Sadly, after a brave, nearly three year long battle, Gordon succumbed to cancer in January of 2012. His impact on the local scene had become so great during his tenure as music director that the Montgomery Village Foundation was moved to name the recently rebuilt Lawn Theater, in the heart of the Village, the Dr. Gordon W. Bowie Music Pavilion, an extraordinary gesture to honor a nonresident. The official dedication occurred on Sunday, June 17 during a tribute concert in Gordon’s memory by the band.

The Wampler Era (2012 – )

In May of 2012, the members of the Montgomery Village Community Band elected Steven W. Wampler as our new music director. “Wamp,” as he likes to be called, has many years of experience in music education and in directing bands, and there is little doubt that over time he will put his own imprint on the MVCB.

--Recalled by Norm Berk (trumpet player) in 1999, with subsequent updates