One hundred years (and more) of music
The American Legion Band of the Tonawandas performs at The American Legion Band Contest on Saturday, Aug. 25. Photo by Lucas Carter/The American Legion

One hundred years (and more) of music

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The auditorium of the Minneapolis Convention Center has a traditional-concert-hall feel, with its stadium-type seats and multiple levels. This made it the perfect place to hold the National Band Contest on Saturday, Aug. 25, during The American Legion's 100th National Convention.

Six bands competed, from across the eastern half of the United States. Each band played three songs; and although the individual works evoked everything from the circus to ancient Egypt, each band found a way to incorporate history – especially the Legion's history – into its set.

The Brattleboro American Legion Band, sponsored by Post 5 in Brattleboro, Vt., used as its centerpiece "At Dawn They Slept: Dec. 7, 1941" by Jay Bocook, described by the conductor as "a programmatic way of mourning Pearl Harbor Day." The piece recapitulates the morning, the attack and the aftermath through chorales and more.

The American Legion Band of the Tonawandas, sponsored by Post 264 in Tonawanda, N.Y., closed out with a centennially-inspired song in honor of the Legion's centennial: "Hobart Centennial," commissioned to celebrate the anniversary of composer James Barnes' hometown of Hobart, Okla. The band has traveled nationally and internationally; wherever it goes, the announcer commented, "it is an honor and privilege to uphold the traditions of The American Legion."

The American Legion Band of Greater Kansas City (Mo.) is nearly a century old itself, and made its 66th consecutive appearance at the competition. The conductor highlighted the band's dedication to serving those in the military, and to maintaining the military-band tradition. Its centerpiece was "On the Quarter Deck," composed by Brit Kenneth J. Alford about a World War I naval battle between Britain and Germany. Alford himself put in 50 years of service to the Crown.

Minnesota's 9th District American Legion Band represented the convention host department well, even taking the audience back to the musical elements surrounding the first National Convention in 1919. The interaction didn't stop there – in its centerpiece medley "Homefront: Musical Memories of World War II," band vocalists asked the audience to sing along to "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." And it closed the set with the most appropriate work of all: the "American Legion March" by C.W. Parker. The band is one of the few Legion district bands still in operation.

The Oconomowoc American Legion Band, sponsored by Post 91 in Oconomowoc, Wis., is in its 95th season and the official Legion band of Wisconsin. Among its activities is a food drive. Its centerpiece was the "British 8th March" by Zo Elliot, composed in the aftermath of a pivotal British victory in North Africa in 1942.

The Joliet American Legion Band, sponsored by Post 1080 in Joliet, Ill., had a common theme in the works it chose: all three of the composers - John Philip Sousa, Percy Grainger and Alfred Reed - served in the military themselves.

The final scores were:

Tonawandas, 95.8

Joliet, 91.9

Oconomowoc, 91.6

Greater Kansas City, 89.2

Brattleboro, 86.2

Minnesota 9th District, 77.8