Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Boston CYO Music Circuit - the 1930s

An unnamed band - probably a winner from 1938

The Boston Archdiocese music circuit dates back to 1932, when 28 units performed at St John’s Seminary in Brighton. Having discussed the origin of this competition in the previous post, I’ll move on and talk about the contest itself. There were four divisions, two containing bands and two with a combination of drum and bugle corps, fife drum and bugle corps, drum corps, and even one trumpet and drum corps. I couldn’t make any sense of the different divisions - other than the band/drum corps split - until I found a listing of all of the units competing. While the drum corps divisions don’t tell us anything, the band divisions do. After each band’s name, its time since founding is listed. And lucky for us, the First Division consists of bands two and three years old, and the Second Division from three months to one year. So now we know - the band divisions,, and probably the drum corps divisions as well, are split into  Senior and Junior groups based on experience.

A few notes of interest to those baby boomers like me who remember the units of the 1960s. Both St William’s Dorchester and St Thomas Aquinas of Jamaica Plain had bands competing that day. In fact, St Thomas entered  a drum and bugle corps as well. St Joseph’s of Wakefield and St Ann’s Neponset,  which would both later sponsor  bands, had  drum and bugle corps entered. And parishes sponsoring drum and bugle corps in 1932 that  would return years later were St Vincent’s South Boston, Immaculate Conception Revere, Our Lady of Lourdes of Jamaica Plain, and Immaculate Conception of Marlboro.

The first contest held was planned as the first of an annual series. The prizes for each division were cups, provided by  Cardinal O’Connell. Cups were kept for one year, and units that won three years in a row would ‘retire’ and keep the cup. The first to do so was the Division 3 St Ambrose Fife Drum and Bugle Corps of Dorchester in 1934. The initial contest was held on the grounds of St John’s Seminary in Brighton. Judges and dignitaries sat in a reviewing stands, and the units marched and played in front of them. The judges included both directors of the Boston Public Schools music department and - surprise! - Arthur Fiedler. It’s not clear, but I suspect that members of the American Legion were also involved in judging and coordinating the contest. The Legion definitely was involved for many years.

Over the first four years, the contests held at St John’s Seminary were not open to the general public. When the event was moved to Alumni Field at Boston College in 1936, the public was invited for the first time, with no admission being charged. At the time, Alumni Field was just that - an open field on campus with stands. The following year, a fifth division was added, probably to acommodate the 18 units competing in the fife/drum and bugle corps that year.

I should note here that in the 1930s, all girl units competed against boys - there was no all-girl division yet. In 1938, St Mary’s Girl’s Band of Cambridge, St Mary’s Girl’s Drum and Bugle Corps of Cambridge, St Catherine’s Drum and Bugle Corps of Norwood and the Mt Carmel Girl’s Fife Drum and Bugle Corps of East Boston all competed against the boys. And St Catherine’s won in the fourth division.

It was in 1938 that the Catholic Youth Organization was founded, and the following year was the first in which the annual Archdiocese contest was sponsored by the CYO. Throughout the 1930s, I can find no evidence that the units that marched in the annual contest competed in any other events. The competitions were all held in June, probably capping the end of the school year. The basic division was between bands and groups with bugles (including fifes), and as yet there were no drill teams. Age out was at high school graduation or on the 19th birthday.

I’ll end with the 1939 competition. There were now six competitive divisions. The first and third Divisions consisted of   bands.  I can’t sort them out, so I’ll assume that they were Senior and Junior groups. The second Division consisted of Field Bands. Field bands were defined as “‘any drum corps using instruments containing more than one valve.’ I haven’t been able to find any reference to this use for the term ‘field band’ on the Internet, so I can only speculate as to what it means. There is a photograph of St Ambrose’s field band of Dorchester whose only visible instrument is a Sousaphone. This could mean that either a) a field band combined bugles with standard brass instruments, or b) a field band might have been a drum and brass corps, with standard band brasswinds replacing bugles. In 1939 there were six field bands, but by the following year there would only be two, and field bands never returned to 1939"s numbers after that.

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