WESTFIELD - After 50 years of playing German music along the East Coast and in Europe, the Deutschmeister's Band is saying "auf wiedersehen." For now.
Founded in 1962 as a high school adult education group, the group decided to start a German band after it got a Deutschmeister book of German music. It was also ideal because a large number of people is not needed to play German music.
"It was more to our liking because we were a smaller group," founding member Harry Ward, of Dewittville, said. "No one else was doing it around here."
The band, which began with members mostly in Westfield, Mayville, Sherman, Dunkirk and Fredonia, used to meet every Thursday night, most recently in an out building belonging to Kelly Mathews, the son of Alva "Mattie" Mathews and nephew of Richard "Dick" Mathews, two former Deutschmeister's Band leaders. At its largest, the Deutschmeister's had around 27 members and included instruments such as trombone, trumpets, clarinet, baritone, tuba, banjo, tenor banjo, cymbals, drums, saxophone and guitar. This year, the band was only managing around 10 to 12 members on stage at events.
While members' reasons for joining the band varied as much as where they came from, they all - from farmers to doctors to lawyers to preachers to funeral directors - shared a love of music. Al Holbrook of Westfield joined at the age of 13 because he enjoyed music and wanted to have fun. The most recent band leader, Lou Barresi of Westfield, had just gotten out of the military and was invited to play at the Ox Roast in 1979. He in turn invited Roxanne Wood, one of only five women ever to be part of the band, and others from the New Horizons band. John Rough, of Clymer, was also invited to join and used to bring his grandson, a sixth grader, to practice.
"They were very gracious. I don't play so well," Rough said.
Gene Stebbins, also of Clymer, joined as a drummer back in 1972. Rich Hartman traveled from Erie, Pa., as part of a concert swap deal between the Mill Creek Band of Erie and the Deutschmeister's. That is also how Jerry Owens, of Clymer, heard about the group in Westfield and got involved.
Westfield's Deutschmeister's Band became regular entertainment at such local summer events as the annual Ox Roast, Fourth of July parade and Memorial Day parade. The band's tradition was, once it hit the street, it did not stop playing until the end of the parade. Barresi recalled marathon weekends where the band would play Friday night, Saturday night and then again Sunday morning, with a lot of drinking in between, he added.
"We never had to hustle too many dates," Ward said.
With a range from Eden to Erie, Pa., the band was busy because almost all communities had summer festivals, so the Deutschmeister's would play almost every Sunday in the summer.
"We sometimes traveled quite a ways," Barresi said.
Westfield's Deutschmeister's Band not only played local gigs, it also took its show on the road. In 1973, the band gathered around 100 people, including band members, their wives and others, and chartered a plane to Germany. The group then traveled in three buses, and the Deutschmeister's played for the USO and on the Rhine River. The group was also just in time to experience the Oktoberfest parade.
"We played in a number of places over in Germany," Ward said.
Stebbins remembers playing in Canada for its Oktoberfest celebration as well. Then, in 1976, the band toured Florida and played at Walt Disney World for the country's bicentennial celebration, as well as other locations on the way there and on the way back to Westfield.
"It's like a city underground," Ward said of Disney World.
"It was a first-class operation," Holbrook said, adding no one was allowed to take pictures of the behind-the-scenes areas.
Looking back on some fond memories, Wood's first thought was of the trolley the band used to ride on during parades, the Albertina, and the horses who pulled them, provided by Dave Eggert. In recent years, a tractor replaced the horses.
For Holbrook and Stebbins, they will miss the camaraderie and each other. Though there have been very unique personalities over the years, everyone has gotten along, Holbrook said. Barresi remembers doing a lot with the families of band members, a way to include them and still be able to pursue a hobby, Hartman said.
"There were a lot of good times," Barresi said.
"A lot of memories," Stebbins said. "One big happy family."
Besides the musical memories for those lucky enough to hear them, the band raised the money for the gazebo in Moore Park. On the inside of the gazebo are plaques with the names of deceased Deutschmeister's. The band also gives a scholarship to a graduate of Westfield Academy and Central School every year.
As to why the band has decided to hang up its lederhosen now, Barresi said the number of jobs available for the band is not the same as it used to be. In addition, it has become increasingly difficult to recruit people to join, especially young people. If anyone is interested in playing, they can contact Barresi at 581-3727, Holbrook at 326-3691 or any Deutschmeister's member.
"Without more players, there's no more hope," Holbrook said.
"We haven't given up hope," Barresi said. "You never tell what can happen down the road."
It was hard for members of the Deutschmeister's to sit and watch this year's parades. For many of the members, it was the first time watching a parade from the sidelines in a long time, or even at all. The American Legion even mentioned the absence of the band at this year's Memorial Day cemetery ceremony.
The band members thank the communities for their support over the years.
"The community's been tremendously supportive," Holbrook said. "We'll miss them as much as they'll miss us."
For some band members, the ending of this chapter of Deutschmeister's history will not mean the ending of their musical hobby, as they will continue playing in other bands. While the hope is to see the Deutschmeister's revived some day, this band's instruments will remain silent for now.