Westerville's history of small community groups dates back to the Civil War, but few organizations can boast a history as extensively documented as the Westerville Community Concert Band.

Westerville's history of small community groups dates back to the Civil War, but few organizations can boast a history as extensively documented as the Westerville Community Concert Band.

The band is gearing up to celebrate its 20th anniversary, but this milestone will only mark the group's current incarnation.

"The current band itself is 20 years old, but there was a predecessor," said longtime band member Ralph Denick. "As we like to say, there has been a community band presence in Westerville of one or another since the mid-1800s."

According to documents in the Westerville Library's local history collection, records point to the presence of a Westerville Brass Band as early as 1867. The Westerville Concert Band first got its start in 1919 and was "supposed to be an organization for the young boys and men of the town, and its purpose was to hold concerts for the townspeople once a week in the summertime," according to resident Helen Dew, as quoted in "Ohio History" by Diane Little.

In its early days, the band would rehearse throughout the winter and perform a series of weekly concerts during the summer months, according to the writings of John Bierley, founder of the current community band. As typical for a fledgling organization, the band had some problems: Bierley recorded that an Uptown merchant once offered to sponsor the band for $15 -- or for $25 if the members wouldn't play at all.

One particular setback to the band in its adolescent years was the Interurban, Westerville's streetcar connecting the town to Columbus. According to Bierley, performances in the summer couldn't start until the 7:30 p.m. streetcar passed through. After setting up chairs on the tracks in front of City Hall, the concerts were forced to early conclusions at 8:30 p.m. when the streetcar made its return trip.

The Great Depression brought an end to the band in 1936, but it was revitalized in 1988. At that time, the North American Aviation-Rockwell International Concert Band had become popular in central Ohio, but when Rockwell closed its Columbus plant in 1988, the band found itself in need of a new home.

As chairman of the Rockwell Concert Band's board of directors, Bierley worked with Westerville City Council, Otterbein College and the Westerville Fund to bring the band into the city. The first rehearsal of the reborn Westerville Community Concert Band took place on Jan. 9, 1989.

"To be a continuation of that history is an honor. We do this because we want to perform, and it's a cultural service to the city that's needed," Denick said.

As the city finishes the celebrations for its own sesquicentennial, the concert band is beginning to prepare for its 20th anniversary season. The band recently received $6,628 in grants from the Columbus Foundation, the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Ohio Arts Council. Some of the money is being used to commission an original piece by contemporary composer James Swearingen, to be performed for the band's 20th anniversary. The band's 2008 concert season kicks off at 3 p.m. Nov. 16 at Westerville South High School, 303 S. Otterbein Ave.

lrice@thisweeknews.com