110 years after – ‘Midland March’ on Founders Day

       Around the turn of the last century, the Midland Band, composed almost entirely of Colorado City railroad workers, won musical acclaim far and wide, even playing in President Teddy Roosevelt's inaugural parade.

Band leader Ed Nuccio conducts the New Horizons Symphonic Band (all members not shown) in the “Colorado Midland Band March” during a recent rehearsal at the First Evangelical Free Church.
Westside Pioneer photo

       But by the 1920s, the band had folded, along with the railroad for which it was named. Even its signature score - “the Colorado Midland Band March,” written for the band in 1899 - seemed to have been lost.
       Happily, that music has been found (thanks to efforts by Westside historian Dave Hughes and a timely visit by a musical cousin) and is being learned (thanks to the New Horizons Band of Colorado Springs). As a result, attendees at this year's Colorado City Founders' Day Aug. 8 in Bancroft Park will have a tuneful way to evoke the past.
       “It's really an interesting march,” said New Horizons band leader Ed Nuccio, a former Air Force Academy band member who taught at Cheyenne Mountain High School for 30 years. “It has a bright, early-times sound.” Typical of marches in those times, he added, are the roughly five-minute song's use of repeats and woodwind parts that are “very fast and with a ton of notes.”
       His 75-piece symphonic band started rehearsing the music in late May. (New Horizons has several bands, of varying skill levels, all of which practice regularly at the First Evangelical Free Church, 820 N. 30th St.) Even having a part written for an instrument that no longer exists - an E-flat French horn - did not faze the band members. Kris Johnson, a horn player, transposed the march and wrote it for the modern-day French horn (which is in the key of F). “Now the rest of the section can just read the notes right off the page,” Nuccio exulted this week. “We rehearsed it again last Thursday evening and it really improved a great deal. Everyone is so excited to be a part of this.”
       But there would likely have been no part at all had it not been for a bit of luck, in the form of a visit to Colorado Springs some months ago by a cousin that Westside historian Dave Hughes had not seen for 40 years.
       As Hughes tells it, he had been unsuccessfully contacting local musical organizations ever since hearing about the “Midland March” in the 1970s from long-time Westsider Luther McKnight, who had seen the instrumentalists/railroadmen play as a youth.
       (McKnight died in 1986, and it's his bequest that allowed the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS), of which Hughes is treasurer, to buy the old church that is now the History Center in 1992. The OCCHS organizes the annual celebration of Founders' Day, which this year has particular significance because it marks the sesquicentennial of Colorado City's 1859 formation.)

ABOVE: The Midland Band, in an undated photo (between 1895 and 1920). BOTTOM: A copy of the cornet part for the "Colorado Midland Band March."
Courtesy of Pikes Peak Library District - Special Collections (above); Westside Pioneer photo (bottom)


       Hughes' cousin, Warren Wilson from Wilke's Barre, Penn., is an amateur musician who had previously played in an Eastern Seaboard community band. “I told him I could not find references to that music even via the Internet, though I knew that the Midland Band was historically pretty famous,” Hughes said. “He said he would give it a go. I knew that music had to be SOMEWHERE.”
       And it was. Wilson went on to visit a conference in Florida, where he talked to the CEO of the C.L. Barnhouse music publishing company. This was a sensible move, historically speaking, in that the “Midland March” had originally been published by Barnhouse, which in 1899 had already been in business for 13 years. At Warren's request, the CEO searched for the composition and, upon finding it, sent it to Warren, who then sent it to Colorado Springs.
       Hughes was a happy man when that piece of mail arrived - a “nice fat package of 50 sheets of the band music for all the instruments,” he reported.
       The full story of how or why the “Midland March” was written is not known. Mel McFarland, the area's authority on the Midland railroad, has learned that the writer, Edward Kloepfer, was a “professional musician” from Chicago and a “friend of a friend in the band,” McFarland said.
       In his two recent “Cobweb Corners” columns in the Westside Pioneer (June 4 and 11), McFarland summarized the Midland Band and how it formed in the mid- 1890s - an outgrowth of Colorado City civic pride in an era when towns and railroads often had their own bands. The group won first place at a Denver music festival, traveled around the country and was a popular area group for about a quarter of a century. Around 1920, the sour notes began. The Midland railroad, which had been financially strapped by restrictions during World War I, according to McFarland, was bought out by the Midland Terminal railroad, which carried on - without a band - until it too closed in 1949.
       But the upbeat part of that history will swing back to life Aug. 8 when, in the town that the original players came from, the Midland Band's signature march will be performed again for all to hear.

Westside Pioneer article