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A Web Salute to Military Bands

It's taps for this special genre--or is it? Site aims to keep the music, history alive.

November 30, 2000|STEVE CARNEY |

For centuries the trumpets, pipes and drums of military bands have stirred emotions and turned the tide on battlefields around the world. But now it is the music that is in retreat, according to Jack Kopstein.

"I'm trying to continue the spirit of a dying art," said Kopstein, who operates a Web site called the Heritage of Military Bands.

The site ( blares Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" as the home page opens.

The extensive site offers news about concerts worldwide, articles about military music and its history, and links to groups including the U.S. Marine Band, the band of Britain's 315-year-old Coldstream Guards regiment, the Jamaican Police Band and the Orchestra of the Estonian Border Guard.

It also links to hundreds of resources for recordings, sheet music and news about military bands and their music, from the simple battlefield bugle calls of the Civil War to the rousing marches of John Philip Sousa.

"There's a kind of passion to it. It's the street parades, it's the concerts outdoors. In essence, it waves the flag--it doesn't matter where it is--and it takes us back to a time, a golden age," said Kopstein, who spent 35 years performing in Canadian military bands. "It just spellbinds some people."

Amateur groups performing this music are increasing, from historical reenactors using period instruments and uniforms to community bands of retired veterans and newcomers, he said.

But budget-cutting countries worldwide have disbanded their musical units. For example, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police dissolved its band in 1994, and the Canadian armed forces also have cut back in recent years.

"It's not because of the people who are involved. At an amateur level, it's growing," said Kopstein, 66. "It's governments. It's just money."

To foster a musical tradition they felt was being forgotten, Kopstein and Christine Joneit of Ottawa, a Royal Canadian Air Force avionics technician, worked together to create the Web site five years ago.

A flutist with a military band in Kingston, Ontario, Joneit found her duties and family responsibilities left her with little time to work on the site, so Kopstein took over sole operation in 1998.

Joneit, who already had Web experience, created the original design.

Kopstein, who was less adept when he took over, began using Microsoft's Front Page program and has since redesigned the site to add more graphics and music.

The resident of Chilliwack, B.C., a small western Canadian city near Vancouver, said he spends about 15 hours a week tinkering, adding information and collecting the six to eight messages he receives daily, and he passes many more hours researching in the library.

Kopstein, who still plays clarinet and saxophone in local ensembles, said he originally envisioned the site as a place where band veterans could meet online. But more and more, they came seeking information and history as well.

One section outlines the history of taps, the mournful American bugle call sounded at funerals and at military posts to signal the day's end.

Another page traces the history of military music back to crude trumpets the Greeks and Romans used for ceremonies, and the shofar played by ancient Hebrews.

It even links to a site of band inside jokes: Why is a bassoon better than an oboe? The bassoon burns longer. How do you know when a clarinet player is at your house? He doesn't know where to enter or what key to use.

When the site debuted five years ago, Kopstein never imagined the breadth of information it would be disseminating, nor the number of people it would reach.

The site has received almost 50,000 hits since it started.

"There would be nothing in this world, in any shape or form, that you could ever reach this many people with," he said. "It's kind of a thrilling thing."


Steve Carney is a freelance writer.

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