“Bayou Community Bands Roots Run Deep in Thibodaux"

Showalter, Alyson. The Times, 2010.

As early as the mid 1800's Thibodaux was treated to the melodious sounds of civic-minded musicians. Religious celebrations, firefighter functions and military events were just a few of the popular venues for touring bands.

The mastermind behind the first musical group of this sort, according to Ted Hoffmann, present-day president of the Bayou Community Band in Lafourche Parish, was a well-know Catholic priest. “There were brass bands in Thibodaux as far back as 1850, before the Civil War,” said Hoffmann, who plays both drums and tuba for his organization. “Father Charles Mernard, wanted to have music for outdoor ceremonies, so he sponsored a band and hired a gentleman by the name of Shaw, who was a composer, teacher and organist. That was the first band in Thibodaux.”

The continuation of this musical movement proved to be difficult for the area musicians, and in the early 1890's, these civic ensembles dissolved, said Hoffmann. For nearly a century, the community bands took five.

It was not until several band directors decided to establish the Bayou Community Band in 1982 that this musical drought ended. Within its first few years of existence, however, the future of this newly formed, non-profit organization became uncertain.

“Band directors are pretty busy and started dropping out one at a time. Before we knew it, there were no more band directors left and membership suffered,” Hoffmann recalled. “Two other fellas and I got on the telephone to find out why people were dropping out.”

Quickly discovering the reason for the sudden decline in participation was due to the excessive amount practices and performances, the new president adjusted the schedule accordingly.

“We called people and asked if there were fewer rehearsals and performances would they be willing to rejoin. We got back about 35,” Hoffmann said. “We eventually built up to more than 50, and we once had as many as 75.”

The 50 plus, male and female Bayou Community Band musicians range in age from junior high school students to senior citizen and vary in talent-level from amateur to professional. Everyone with musical ability is encouraged to join.

The all-volunteer group practices on second and fourth Thursdays of the month, and the band breaks up the year into three seasons, taking July off and working every week in June. Three directors John Stafford, Glen Dagenhardt and Billy King – rotate the three seasons.

According to Hoffmann, some spin-offs of the community band have helped sustain its goals of entertaining and educating.

“We started a junior community band for the summer, which allows the kids to continue playing. With a different director and new music, it helps expand their musical abilities,” the president proudly explained. “We also have other divisions of the band. We have the Bayou Dixieland Band, that plays original Dixieland music... and we have a saxophone ensemble, which is probably one of the rarest ones in the united states, because we have every saxophone voice represented.”

Grants from the Houma-Terrebonne Arts and Humanities Council, and donations from the Lorio Foundation (musical instruments) and the Peltier Foundation (uniform shirts) help make the community band possible, said Hoffmann.

“We pick a theme and then we do the grant based on the theme and they tell us we are either funded or not funded,” he said. “The money goes toward the stipends to conductors, advertising, postage, purchasing equipment, music, insurance and so forth.”

The operation expenses for an organization such as this, add up quickly. Just to ensure the band cost over $1000 a year and the acquisition of new music can average $600 per performance, said the president.

Martha Peltier who has played flute and piccolo with the band for over a decade, is the librarian for the organization. As the person in charge of the sheet music for the musicians, she is aware of the hefty costs.

“It is so expensive to get the music,” Peltier explained. “We use a lot of the past music that we have for concerts, but a lot of times the band directors want to get something new and as the librarian, I'm realizing how expensive it is. Any little money is such a big help.”

In addition to being pricey, the time, effort and energy required to be part of the group can be daunting. Peltier said that for her, it is a beneficial endeavor.

“It's tedious and it takes a lot of time, but it's fun and it's therapy,” she said. “playing for me is good therapy.. to see the joy on people's faces at the concerts is also really rewarding.”

The band, which attracts players from a large area, including Thibodaux, Houma, Napoleonville, Vacherie, Lutcher and Larose, delivers smiles to local citizens via several concerts held throughout the year.

You can hear this lively band perform on Thursday, May 13, at Lindsey Hall (band room) at Nicholls State University, or on Thursday, May 27, at the Warren J. Harang Jr. Municiple Auditorium, where a special performance by Joyous Sounds, a singing group for Lockport, will precede the concert. Expert to Enjoy certain pieces by Rodgers and Hammerstein, as that was the theme of the grant.

Much of the band's success can be attributed to Hoffmann, who handles almost every aspect of the organization. Through scheduling adjustments and the implementation of musical offshoots, the band seems to have thrived under his rule. As thoughts of resignation dance through his head, the future of the Bayou Community Band is once again a bit uncertain. “I've been president for like 22 years and I'm looking for someone to take my place, but when I mention it, everyone runs away,” Hoffmann joked. “I'm almost 71 years old, someone is eventually going to have to take over.”