Excelsior Cornet Band bringing Civil War tunes, instruments

Excelsior Cornet BandMusic from the Civil War era will return to life when the Excelsior Cornet Band performs Wednesday, Nov. 8, as part of SUNY Oswego’s Ke-Nekt Chamber Music series.

Appearing at 7:30 p.m. in the Sheldon Hall ballroom, the brass band will play patriotic airs, operatic melodies and period dance music on authentic instruments from the 1800s.

The instruments, which were professionally restored by master craftsmen, are more primitive than contemporary bugles, horns and tubas, which makes them harder to play in tune, bandleader Jeff Stockham said.

“What’s difficult is switching from modern instruments to historic ones,” Stockham noted. “You can tune those old instruments but not as much as a modern instrument. You have to ‘lip it into tune.’”

The band’s image is authentic as well, as performers sport Yankee militia uniforms, swords and eyeglass frames from the 19th century. Even the drums have calfskin heads and rope tensioners, like the ones played during the Civil War.

Stockham’s collection—so respected that several instruments were rented by the producers of the Academy Award-winning movie “Cold Mountain”—exceeds 200 instruments. His passion began when he started collecting instruments at garage sales, flea markets and music stores. The onetime hobby now helps the Excelsior Cornet Band, founded in 2001, keep Civil War-era music alive.

All band members have a deep respect for the self-taught musicians who went to the battlefield playing the live soundtrack for history in the making, said Stockham, an Eastman School of Music graduate, college instructor and member of the Thelonious Monk Jr. Big Band.

“During battles, bandsmen often worked as stretcher-bearers carrying wounded soldiers to the field hospitals,” he explained. “They also worked as medical orderlies when not playing music.” Regardless of the ravages of war, Stockham said, “Having a great band in a regiment could encourage enlistments.”

The Excelsior Cornet Band includes Stockham on bugle, cornet and saxhorn; David Driesen, Lee Turner and John Laverty on cornet; Dickson Rothwell on alto horn; Jim Spencer on tenor horn; Al Thomson on tuba; Loyal Mitchell on bass drum and tuba; and John Allis on snare drum.

Billed as New York state’s only authentic Civil War brass band, the group recently earned a Syracuse-Area Music Award for its CD “Cheer, Boys, Cheer!”

SUNY Oswego music faculty member Terry Caviness will host the show.

WCNY Classic FM 91.3 provides media support.

Tickets for the concert cost $15 ($10 for seniors and students, $5 for SUNY Oswego students).

For information or reservations, contact Tyler box office at 312-2141 or tickets@oswego.edu, or visit www.oswego.edu/ke-nekt.

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(Posted: Oct 18, 2006)