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Museum exhibits jazz up local music history PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   

In an age of iPods, internet radio, home theaters and Netflix, it’s hard to imagine what people did for entertainment a century ago.

Some were lucky enough to have a Victrola phonograph, and later a radio, but often young people had to get creative with some good old-fashioned, toe-tappin’ fun.

“They just had a good time,” said Virginia Mosenteen, recalling her parents’ stories from the 1930s.

Music was often part of an evening’s entertainment, as friends would get together with their instruments to pass the time—a “jam session” of sorts.

Mosenteen said her dad, Oliver Anderson, played the trumpet and sax when he was a boy in the school bands, and later played around with things like the violin and banjo during the neighborhood jam sessions.

Phillips County Museum is lucky to have Oliver Anderson’s ukulele banjo in their music collection, donated by Anderson’s daughter, Virginia Mosenteen. Faint writing on top of the instrument lists names of band members in the “Trego Orchestra,” a group of friends from the Fairfield community in the 1930s.  

—Enterprise photo

It was never an official band, she said, but rather an informal hobby for the young people in the area. They didn’t travel much back then, so getting together at a neighbor’s house was the highlight of the week.

Anderson grew up in a farm family in the rural Fairfield area, northwest of Holyoke. This primarily Swedish community had many young, single people in the 1930s, so there was much opportunity for them to get together, with their musical instruments in tow.

Mosenteen’s mom, Dorothy, was another young person who moved there to teach at the Fairfield school.

“How unusual to have that many young people!” said Mosenteen. “They just ran around and had a lot of fun.”

On rare occasions, the group would head down the highway for some roller skating or a picnic, with the guys providing the cars and gas in exchange for a picnic meal prepared by the girls.

Mosenteen said the Fairfield community was very religious, so although they played music, their entertainment never involved any dancing or card playing.

In addition to his banjo, Oliver Anderson’s cornet is on display at
the museum, another treasure that links visitors to the interesting
music history of Phillips County.

—Enterprise photo

Anderson’s ukulele banjo now sits at the Phillips County Museum, a treasure trove of stories from the past.

According to documents at the museum, faded writing on the top of the banjo lists members of the 1933 Trego Orchestra. They include Agnes Anderson and Hellen Trego on piano; Oliver Anderson, Alva Trego, Francis Gibbons and Reeves Loveland on violin; Arthur Frerriekson and Douglas Trego on cornet; Melvin Lydine on clarinet; Bern Trego on saxophone; and Ernest Oliver and Violet Anderson as spectators.

Mosenteen said her mom knew how to play piano, but she was never part of the neighborhood orchestra.

“Girls always learned to play piano,” she said. “It was just part of growing up.”

For those wondering just what bands looked like at the end of the 19th century, here’s quite a treasure found at the Phillips County Museum. Pictured at the Trego home in 1897, this neighborhood “Beachville Orchestra” included musicians Frank Sprague, Harvey Clark, Clara Trego, Alva Trego, Theodore Peter, Harry Sprague and Florence Trego.

Music in the Fairfield community seems to have passed down from generation to generation. Another piece to the puzzle found at the museum was a photo of a neighborhood orchestra at the Trego home in 1897.

The back of the photo labels it as the Beachville Orchestra. Beachville was another rural community and schoolhouse near Fairfield, northwest of Holyoke.

Musicians in the picture are Frank Sprague, Harvey Clark, Clara Trego, Alva Trego, Theodore Peter, Harry Sprague and Florence Trego.

These are just some of the artifacts holding secrets to local history at the Phillips County Museum.

A banjo, which belonged to George Werner, tells the story of the Pleasant Valley Orchestra in the 1930s. Other museum documentation talks about the Walgren Family Band and the Professor Bunch Band.

Some music groups were informal like the Fairfield group, whereas others were actively playing gigs at dances and other events, bringing entertainment to Phillips County long before there were radios, TVs, boom boxes and iPods.

The museum is also loaded with old radios, record players like the historic Victrola, school band uniforms and pictures, pianos, organs, brass instruments, accordions, woodwinds and a variety of other instruments to take visitors on a blast to the past.

Phillips County Museum is open every Wednesday afternoon, and visitors never quite know what secrets they will uncover there!

Complete with its bamboo needle and records, this Victrola,
manufactured by the Victor Talking Machine Co., is one of many old
record players and radios housed at the Phillips County Museum.  

—Enterprise photo

Holyoke Enterprise September 20, 2012