Jack's Musings: Harold Burton Bachman May 18 2009, 3 Comments


In many ways, Harold Burton Bachman's extraordinary life traces the major currents of the band movement in America. Bachman's leadership of military, professional, and student bands through countless performances during the first three-quarters of the twentieth century inspired others to dedicate themselves to band music and also created a positive training ground for talented young musicians and composers. His aura of humour, friendliness, and fine musical performance made a national reputation for Bachman that is still emulated and admired even years after his death. Perhaps more importantly, his great strength of character and memory as a dedicated and inspirational teacher rightfully deserve him a place in history as one of the great leaders and true geniuses of band music in the twentieth century.

He was born September 2, 1892, in Atlanta, Illinois and began his musical career in the place of his childhood, Minot, North Dakota. As a young cornetist, he received early training in a number of small circus and local bands beginning around 1903. While attending the North Dakota Agricultural College from 1914-16, he lead the student cadet bands, succeeding his mentor Dr. C. S. Putnam, and played cornet in Bohumir Kryl's famous band during the summers. On the day that the United States entered World War I, Bachman wrote a letter to Adjutant General Angus Fraser volunteering the immediate recruitment of a band for the North Dakota National Guard. The governor approved the offer, and on November 26, 1917, Bachman's band embarked for the European theatre. This group later became the 2nd Infantry Band and distinguished itself for fine musical performances entertaining doughboys and dignitaries alike in tours across France. At a concert in St. Nazaire, General Hunter Liggett commented to an aid: "Colonel, that band is worth a Million Dollars to the United States Army." As the band's supreme reputation spread over two continents, so did its new name, "The Million Dollar Band." After the war, Bachman toured his newly incorporated Million Dollar Band annually from Chicago to Florida along the Chataqua Redpath Circuits during the golden era of the professional traveling concert bands. From 1928 to 1942, the band established permanent headquarters in Chicago, playing frequents engagements at Grant Park and gaining a national status from radio broadcasts on CBS and NBC. As Bachman's notoriety grew so did the demand for his appearances as guest conductor and clinician around the nation. He took a job as director of bands at the University of Chicago from 1935 to 1942. Despite dwindling budgets and support for the furtherance of band music at Chicago, Bachman made a smooth transition to the world of academics, arguing tirelessly in favor of music education. He was, however, interrupted from this mission by America's entrance into the war with Japan. In 1942, Bachman was recalled to active duty and promoted to lieutenant colonel to serve as the head of band music in the Pacific Theater. The same year, his National Champion American Legion Post No. 622 Band shined on national radio broadcasts from Chicago and tours in the Mid-West. In 1948, a mandate for the improvement of band music at the University of Florida by its new president, J. Hillis Miller, brought Bachman to Gainesville as the new director of bands. During a decade of service from 1948-58, Bachman built, at the University of Florida, what many consider to be one of the premiere college bands of the South. The young concert program matured and thrived under his innovative and inspirational leadership and drew many famous bandmasters to conduct the university bands. In 1951, the Gator Marching Band drew national publicity from its concerts on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D. C. and at New York City's Rockefeller Center during a Veterans of Foreign Wars Tour. In 1953, Bachman brought the prestigious convention of the American Bandmasters Association to Gainesville shortly after his presidency of that organization. He adjusted well to the growing popularity of bands as part of the gridiron pageantry of collegiate football and the Gator Band distinguished itself for innovative drills and fine adaptations of popular and classical music. Bachman retired from the directorship in 1958, but he was long from ending his influence in the development of American school bands. From 1958-61, he served as the interim chair of the Department of Music at the University of Florida, where he remained a professor emeritus until 1972. A much sought-after guest conductor, contest judge, sight-reading instructor, and clinician at band festivals during the remainder of his life, Bachman became one of the true leaders of the development of the school band movement in Florida and in all corners of the country. To complement his themes of music education, Bachman produced numerous publications during his lifetime. He co-authored the Smith-Yoder-Bachman Band Method in 1939, which sold more than a million copies during several decades in print. He went on to author two books of band history, The Million Dollar Band (1962) and The Biggest Boom in Dixie: The Story of Band Music at the University of Florida (1968), and a monograph titled, Program Building for Bands (1962). He presented an illustrated lecture, The Role of Band Music in American Culture, to thousands of people at academic gatherings and band clinics during the 1960s and early '70s. He also published over seventy articles including, most notably, a series on the history of bands in Florida, numerous instructional guides, and biographical sketches of famous bandmasters Henry Fillmore, Victor Grabel, and Albert Austin Harding. He was a member of the American Bandmasters Association serving as its president in 1950-1. He is an inductee of the Hall of Fame in Florida Music Educators Association. Bachman garnered two honorary doctorates (in Literature from the University of Idaho in 1963 and in Music from the North Dakota State University in 1966). He was awarded the Edwin Franko Goldman Citation, the Vandercook College of Music Distinguished Service Award, the National Band Association Academy of Wind and Percussion Artists Award, and the Kappa Kappa Psi Distinguished Service Medal. Upon his retirement in 1958, Bachman donated to the University of Florida his huge private band music library, at the time, one of the most complete collections in the world. He was an ardent spokesman of the need for a larger American band literature. He was a supportive reviewer of new works and positively influenced the publication of many pieces, some of which are dedicated to him, including Colonel Bachman March by Albert Cina. In 1974, Alton Wayne Tipps received his doctoral degree from the University of Michigan with the completion of his dissertation, Harold B. Bachman, American Bandmaster-His Contributions and Influence, based on personal interviews with notable bandmasters and his initial processing of this archive.  Bachman passed away on April 10, 1972, but his legacy lives on in the form of a trust bearing his name which funds scholarships to all qualified marching band students at the University of Florida.