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Historically Speaking: Roswell Symphony Orchestra and the history of music in the Pecos Valley — part two

Picture Clipping Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives Roswell Symphony Orchestra, Dec. 6, 1959. First concert, Handel’s “Messiah.”

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily


In continuation of the celebration of the Roswell Symphony Orchestra starting their 60th season, and the history of music and entertainment in Roswell, I write today about more of the early days of music in the area.

Roswell City Band

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Here is the article published Sept. 29, 1905 in the Roswell Daily Record about the Roswell City Band:

“The Roswell Band Will Present an Interesting Program

“The usual Sunday afternoon concert will be given by the Roswell City Band at the courthouse lawn at 3 p.m. sharp. The following will be the program:

“No. 1. — ‘Stars and Stripes Forever,’ Sousa.

“2. — Medley, ‘Popular Songs of Georgia,’ (Bottger). Introducing (a) As They Do In America, (b) My Little Georgia Rose, (c) P’liney Come Kiss Yo Baby, (d) The Medicine Man, (e) Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon.

“3. — Valse, ‘Loveland’ (Holzman)

“4. — Medley, “Popular Songs of Texas,” (Bottger). Introducing, (a) Why Don’t the Band Play, (b) My Heart’s Tonight in Texas, (c) I’ll Be Your Sweetheart, (d) In the House of Too Much Trouble, (e) I Ain’t Gwine to Work No More.

“5. — Selections from “Old Indiana.” (Chattaway).

“6. — Medley Overture, “Sounds From the Sunny South,” (Isenman).

“7. — March, “Yankee Grit,” (Holzman).

“Jack Fletcher, Band Master”

Hagerman Band

A Roswell Daily Record article, dated Oct. 12, 1916, states the following about the Hagerman Band:

“Delegation Starts Tuesday.

“The big delegation of speakers who will go to the plains section next Tuesday is being arranged and everything will be ready for the big start by the latter part of this week. The ‘Hagerman Band’ will accompany the speakers and there will be something doing all the way. The trip calls for four days during which every part of the plains will be visited.”

Durrant Orchestra

No articles are found on the Durrant Orchestra, but we do have a photo at the archives stating: “Circa 1915, the old Roswell High School, note the lamps.

“L. D. Durant, Band Leader on the drums, Donald Chartier, violin, Heton Little, banjo manager, Tom Mason, saxophone, McLaren, saxophone, and Wood Hill, piano.’

Aaron O’Neal Orchestra

Another orchestra for which I could find no articles, but consisted of local talent, was the Aaron O’Neal Orchestra.

The archives only has a picture with the following information:

“O’Neal Aaron Orchestra — Front Row Left to Right: Jermon Robertson (Piano,) Aaron O’Neal (Bass and Part-owner of Orchestra,) Bodie Close (Sax and Clarinet,) Pete Henderson (Sax and Clarinet,) Jimmie Jusk (Sax and Clarinet,) Earl Oneal (Sax and Clarinet,) Jimmie Duran (Manager, Director, Vocal and Booking Agent.) Back Row: Shorty Hood (Drums,) Clinton House (Trumpet,) Jack Desson (Trumpet,) Bob Burdette (Trumpet,) and Woodrow Cameron (Trombone and Arranger).”

Both the Roswell Army Air Field and later Walker Air Force Base brought in big talent. Part of the entertainment was played from an amphitheater (Band Shell as they called it) with entertainment such as the Woody Herman band and Jeanette McDonald.

This is but a brief history of the orchestras, bands and entertainment in this area. Of course, there were many more, such as school bands and orchestras, vocal groups, some very famous country and western bands and singers from this area, as well as mariachi groups, but these reviews bring us up to the time of the beginnings of the Roswell Symphony Orchestra.

Roswell Symphony Orchestra

In 1959, Glenn Cunningham invited the Community Choir to join his church choir in a presentation of “The Messiah,” by Handel. There were 53 orchestra members and 146 community singers as a result, which was the beginning of a Christmas tradition. The exact date of this first performance was Dec. 6, 1959, and was performed at the Pearson Auditorium on New Mexico Military Institute grounds.

The first orchestra was made up of 19 local violinists. To that was added a bassoon, a trombone and other wind instruments, a cello and tympani (kettledrums). The musicians included teachers, lawyers, florists, accountants, housewives and students. This was the forerunner of the Roswell Symphony Orchestra of today.

Named the Roswell Symphony Orchestra, by the newly formed Symphony Society Board who were incorporated as a nonprofit organization in April of 1960. In 1961, the Roswell Symphony Guild was founded. What a wonderful asset to our city and the Pecos Valley the Roswell Symphony Orchestra and the guild have been throughout the years. May this 60th anniversary season be the best yet, in hopes our community will continue to be blessed with their talents for many, many, years to come.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.


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