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The music changes, but the stories remain the same

--- 1st Brigade Band featured at Whitewater's Home-Coming Festival

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published June 21, 2007, 3:56 p.m.)

In the middle of a concert a gentleman who was clearly a veteran got up, walked up onto the stage, grabbed our American flag, kissed it and walked out."

The performances of the 1st Brigade Band has that effect on people.

"The patriotism of what we do and the love of county that we profess gets to the audience in different ways that are really quite impressive," said David Woolpert, of DeForest, the band's managing director, tenor hornist and member for the past 24 years.

The 1st Brigade Band is just one component of the six-day festival planned in Whitewater next week as part of the great Home-Coming Festival 2007 celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first-and last-celebration of this magnitude Whitewater has ever seen.

Special events, tours, speeches, baseball games, bucket brigades, bands, parades and a carnival are just a few of the scores of historical events planned all over town next week.

"Our music and stories talk about how difficult it was to be separated from their loved ones and how difficult it was to raise a family when part of the family was off to war," he said.

Their use of the actual instruments, music and reproductions of the uniforms of the period spur strong reactions.

Their musical skills and repertoire are show-stoppers and the oratory components of their shows put their performances over the top.

"The stories give the music context," he said. "And in a lot of cases, that context hasn't changed.

"That context hasn't changed. There are families here right now who are dealing with exactly the same issues."

The 1st Brigade Band practices once a week and performs nationally. Nearly every member has a day job, but the pull to be a part of the band leads them to spread themselves thin enough to be involved.

"It is a challenge for myself and all of our members to juggle the band with the rest of our lives," Woolpert said, who is a math teacher at Madison Area Technical College.

"We're important in the way that any historical society is," he said, adding that the fact that they are an all-volunteer band is a great example of the level of importance members feel toward the band.

"That love and sense of commitment comes across in our performances and gets across to the audience."

The band

In 1864, 18 men from the Brodhead Band enlisted in the Union Army as the band of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 15th Army Corps, according to band literature written by Woolpert's father, Dan, longtime bandmaster, current music manager.

They marched with General William T. Sherman in the campaigns of northern Georgia and the Carolinas and quickly became one of his favorites.

Today more than 80 men and women make up the band, now headquartered in Watertown. Members commute sometimes more than an hour to the weekly rehearsals and even farther to perform.

The performances

Their visual and aural impression of the 1860s represent the 6th Wisconsin Infantry complete with vivandiers-the ladies who accompanied the troops at the time-also set the mood by appearing in period dress, hoopskirts and all.

Their performances cover both military and civilian life through music and historically accurate educational orations including anecdotes, reports, tales and legends of the times "making history live," as their motto states.

On Sunday, July 1, the band will perform their most historically authentic performance, the Circle-of-Players Performance at 4-5:30 p.m.

"Our performances are conduits that link contemporary audiences to the personalities, politics, emotions and living conditions of the mid-19th century," the senior Woolpert wrote.

"The 1860s were impassioned times that literally wrenched our country apart and the music of the period reflects that. Military music ran the gamut from raunchy humor 'round a campfire to sobering reflection at a graveside.

"Our audiences experience the music that stirred the blood and fired the passions of the Civil War soldier and soothed the worries of the anxious weeping ones at left at home. Our audiences come alive in the period-to think and feel as our forefathers thought and felt."

The instruments

The band has wind and percussion instruments restored and in playing condition. All are antiques, not reproductions, including 30 of the characteristic over-the-shoulder instruments and bell-front, bell-up and circular instruments.

The instruments are owned by, or are on long-term loan to, Heritage Military Music Foundation, the band's sponsoring organization.

The music

The music is selected from extant books of Union and Confederate bands, manuscripts and original sheet music of the period of more than 200 completed selections.

A special project for the 1st Brigade Band is to revive the music of the 1st Brigade Band from their original books discovered in 1980. The band's members feel a sense of mission as they give audiences an opportunity to hear music that has been buried and unheard for more than a century.

For more information about the band, visit www.1stbrigadeband.org.

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