Social Music in 19th Century Kalamazoo
“Tripping the Light Fantastic”
Before the days of the big bands; before jazz and ragtime; while military bands ruled street parades and open air concerts, Kalamazoo’s many dance orchestras filled nineteenth century assembly halls and ballrooms with the sweet strains of the latest popular numbers.
From weddings and private gatherings to public dance parties and elaborate benefit balls, dancers “tripped it on the light fantastic toe” with the cotillion, the quadrille, the polka, the scottische, lancers, mazurkas, minuettes and waltzes.
White and Sherwood's Band (White’s Quadrille Band), ca. 1880. (W. S White: far right)
“Is dancing sinful? I am not able to say: but one thing is certain—people dance now-a-days.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 November 1849
The Great Dance Debate
But dancing in public was not without its opponents. Religious conservatives in America were harshly critical of amusements such as dancing during the early nineteenth century. Many viewed such activities as acts of sinful indulgence; indeed the very downfall of society itself.
Of all, the waltz was seen as especially scandalous. Dancing was (albeit reluctantly) viewed as “proper” if the partners only touched hands (perhaps even gloved), as with the minuet. But the waltz meant close bodily contact with a member of the opposite sex in public, and that was too much for some to handle.
“Modern square dances must be condemned not only for the pleasure which comes from this close contact, but also because they are misnamed so that they may deceive some by covering the filth of round dancing.” —Beryl
“It is deplorable that dancing, and amusements of nearly all kinds, should have fallen under the ban of the clergy, and should be preached against as sinful. It is a most elegant and exhilarating exercise.” —Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 April 1851
“The ball-room and theatre are now denounced as sinks of inequity and sin. But a new era is dawning... Who would object to the delightful and elegant amusement of dancing, when practiced under the influence of pious sentiments, and regulated with a pious regard to health and morals?”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 March 1849
A Working Nation
And it wasn’t only the faith-based who sometimes found fault with dancing. The American frontier during the early nineteenth century was a working world, and such activities as music and dance were viewed as a senseless diversion away from what were perhaps “more worthy” pursuits. Proponents attempted to counteract the dissent by promoting dance as a healthful form of exercise.
“...no amusement with which we are acquainted, brings into exercise, at the same moment, so many of our best faculties as that of dancing.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 March 1849
“A New Era is Dawning”
Despite—or perhaps because of—the objections of some, dancing continued to grow in popularity. As public perception changed over time, dancing eventually became an acceptable and enjoyable form of amusement and social interaction.
“The Simple Amusements of Other Times”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 December 1840
During the 1830s and 1840s, “when pastime went hand and hand with usefulness,” Kalamazoo’s early villagers celebrated planting time in the spring and held quilting bees and corn husking parties in the fall—seemingly useful and fun activities. From the assembly room at Johnson Patrick’s Hotel to the ballrooms at Wilder’s River House and John Green’s Silver Creek House, Kalamazoo buzzed with excitement as dancers and onlookers enjoyed occasional evenings of music and merriment.
Contra Dance and Cotillion Parties
Contra dance, a style of partnered folk dance, was especially popular in the United States until the mid-nineteenth century. Couples faced off in parallel lines opposite—or contra to—their partners and danced according to instructions given by a “caller.” Contra dance eventually gave way to other forms like the cotillion, the quadrille, and eventually, the square dance.
A Gazette article from 1880 describes a typical dance party during the 1830s and 1840s:
“The guests at these parties used to assemble at about 8 o’clock, and, after taking off their wraps in an upper room, they descended to the parlor, where the host and hostess received them. The older men then went to the punch bowl to criticise the ‘brew’ which it contained, while the young people found their way to the dining room, almost invariably devoted to dancing. The music was a piano and two violins, and one of the musicians called the figures for the cotillions and contra dances.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 10 June 1880
Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 December 1842
The cotillion, a form of country dance (that later evolved into the quadrille), was popular among pioneers in America during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. From the late 1830s, cotillion parties were held in Kalamazoo for those who wanted to “trip it on the light fantastic toe.”
“Our village this winter presents a scene of gaiety and mirth. Sleigh-rides and cotillion parties are all the go. Joy seems sparkling in every eye. In short, we believe we are the happiest people in the whole western world.” —Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 February 1839
Dancing Schools and Fashionable Attire
Instruction manual, 1878
For those who desired formal dance instruction, Mrs. Clark was offering a “Dancing School for Ladies and young Gentlemen on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons” from her residence at the corner of Water Street in the village of Kalamazoo. Cost for two lessons per week in 1838 was $4 each quarter.
W. G. & F. Dewing and Frederick Booher both advertised all of the latest and most fashionable “necessities” in 1838, including “hats of the latest fashion” and “gents dancing pumps.”
In 1847, Soloman Richardson was operating a dancing school at the assembly room of Moses Austin’s Hotel, offering instruction at reasonable terms in “all the new styles of dancing.” The Gazette proclaimed, “No one can do up the ‘fixins’ better than Moses.”
By 1876, Professor Kellogg and B. E. Fanning were giving lessons in the “science of dancing.” W. H. Peake took Fanning’s place two years later. Prof. and Mrs. Mackay held dance classes in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek in 1882, teaching “all the latest fashionable dances, both square and round.” Professor James Bayne opened a similar academy in 1884.
Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 October 1892
Professor H. H. Mittenthal, one of the famous Mittenthal Brothers, began a dancing academy in 1885, and was joined for a time by his brother, Sam. Herman Mittenthal continued to teach dance in Kalamazoo until the 1920s.
Dozens of other schools opened during the 1890s to offer instruction in the popular new “two-step,” including William McLachlan’s Dancing School and Hande & Clement’s Dancing School.
“Dancing school furnished entertainment,” said Miss Mary V. Gibbs in a 1906 interview, “and I attended regularly. The school was conducted by a man by the name of Shaw, and the music was furnished on the piano and violin or fiddle as the latter instrument was called. Square dances were most favored and included the lancers. The waltz quadrille was also popular” (Gazette).
“...a banjo, guitar, harmonica, bones and two violins, which with the organ made fine dance music.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 March 1890
“Fine Dance Music”
Much of the specifics of contra dance music in Kalamazoo and elsewhere during the early 1800s is not known, simply because it wasn’t written down. Repertoire would have consisted of traditional 64 beat “square” jigs and reels, or contemporary variations in the vernacular. It was functional and fun, and therefore the details of what was performed seldom made the papers. Musicians gathered and played whatever numbers they knew on whatever instruments they could find. If they didn’t know it, they made it up.
Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 December 1856
Kalamazoo’s Early Dance Bands
In her series, “Reflections of Kalamazoo since 1834,” Mrs. Jacob Hudson (Titus Bronson’s niece, born 1828) describes the 1834 wedding of William O. Austin and Maria West at the Kalamazoo House, and speaks of the band and the jubilant dancing.
1834 Wedding Dance
“They marched into the feast and Col. Luke Whitcomb and General Lawrence VanDewalker said they should dance at Maria’s wedding. Mr. A. and Maria were Methodists. At eight p.m. a band of music played and dancing began. Col. Whitcomb led the lovely Miss Mary Hubbard forth to dance. General Van Dewalker took the lovely Mary Edwards. Col. W. and Gen. V. being tall, danced in earnest and touched the plastering. Jim sent me up to see if the floor boards were not lifted by the effort.” —Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 September 1880
Round Dances and Waltzes
Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 May 1876
When a simple dancing party in the nineteenth century became a “fashionable ball” or a “gay masquerade,” there were plenty of dance bands and orchestras available in and around Kalamazoo to fill the bill. The growing popularity of round (couple) dances, including the waltz, polka, and later, the two-step, created great demand for local and regional musicians.
L. L. Harris & Co. was providing music “for balls, cotillion parties and other assemblages of social amusement” in the 1850s, as was Pierce’s Band. The Hull & Arnold Band from Constantine was immensely popular from the 1840s.
“Over $20 was netted to the library fund as proceeds from the dancing party at Mrs. DeYoe’s, Thursday evening.” —Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 November 1879
In most cases, little is known about each of the bands other than the names themselves, but the following list does give us some indication of their immense popularity. Membership and type of instrumentation (where known) are noted. Certain spellings may vary (i.e. Everard vs. Everhard, Crossette vs. Crossett, Lounsbury vs. Lonsbury, etc.).
Dance Orchestras In and Around Kalamazoo (1850-1899)
3 July 1872
20 September 1882
20 April 1884
12 October 1884
- L. L. Harris & Co. (Harris & Bonfoey), ca. 1850
- McCormick’s Cotillion Band, 1856
- Ellers & Crossett’s Quadrille Band, 1869 (“first and second violins, clarinet, basso”)
- Everhard’s Band, ca. 1870
- Everhard & Olmstead’s Orchestral String Band, ca. 1872
- Olmstead & Baker’s Band, ca. 1872
- Hall’s String Band, ca. 1872
- Crossett’s String Band, ca. 1872
- Crossett’s Full Band, ca. 1873
- Crossett & Baker’s Full Band (5 pieces), ca. 1875
- Pierce’s Band and Full Orchestra, ca. 1875-1877
- Bronson & Lounsbury’s Full Orchestra (W. S. Bronson), ca. 1876
- Ellis & Baker’s Full Band, ca. 1876
- Everhard’s Full Orchestra Band. ca. 1876
- Crossett, Baker & Everhard’s String Band, ca. 1876
- Smith’s Full Band (Schoolcraft), ca. 1877
- Wills’ Full Band (Hickory Corners), ca. 1877
- Crossett and Everard’s Band, ca. 1877
- Lounsbury’s Orchestra Band, ca. 1878
- Portage Club Dance Band, ca. 1878
- Burton’s Orchestra, ca. 1880 (“4 violins, 1 viola, 1 violincello, double bass, 2 clarionettes, 2 cornets, 1 flute, 1 trombone”)
- Lounsbury & Bronson’s Full Band, ca. 1880
- Ehler & Sons’ Orchestra, ca. 1880
- Kalamazoo Orchestra (12 pieces), ca. 1881-1882
- Bennett, Bonfoey & Bacon’s Full Band (Portage), ca. 1881
- Baker & Lounsbury’s Full Orchestra (10 pieces), ca. 1882
- Bennett & Bonfoey’s Full Band (Portage), ca. 1883
- Hunt & Bronson’s Orchestra, ca. 1885
- Bronson’s Orchestra Band (W. S. & C. Z. Bronson), ca. 1885
- Bronson’s Full Orchestra (10 pieces), ca. 1885
- Balcom’s Orchestra, ca. 1885
- Lounsbury’s Full Orchestra, ca. 1885
- Born’s Band and Full Orchestra, ca. 1885
- Ehler’s Orchestra, ca. 1885
- Pfeiffer’s Orchestra, ca. 1886
- Clement’s Orchestra, ca. 1886
- Pfeiffer & Baker’s Orchestra (6 pieces), ca. 1886
- Baker’s Orchestra, ca. 1887
- White & Marchant’s Orchestra (6 pieces), ca. 1888
- Maple Leaf Orchestra (Clement’s Orchestra), ca. 1889
- Crossette’s Orchestra, ca. 1890
- Chet Bronson’s Brass & String Band (C. Z. Bronson), ca. 1890
- Crossette’s Band, ca. 1890
- Newell’s Orchestra, ca. 1891
Phillips Brothers’ Orchestra, ca. 1893
- Symphony Orchestra (KSO), ca. 1894
- Symphony Orchestra (Fischer’s Orchestra), ca. 1897
- Warner’s Full Orchestra (8 pieces), ca. 1899
- Simons’ Orchestra, ca. 1899
- Fischer’s Orchestra, ca. 1899
- Fuller Brothers’ Orchestra, ca. 1899
“Launsbury & Baker’s orchestra band has made rapid improvements this winter. The music furnished for the Occasional Club party Thursday was certainly first class, and gave the best of satisfaction. At the Academy Monday evening the audience gave the boys a hearty applause. Such a band is a great benefit and pleasure to a place.” —Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 December 1882
Dance Music, 1877
The Sound of a Dance Party
These vintage recordings, made near the turn of the twentieth century, give some idea of what a 19th century dance party might have sounded like.
Historic Recording: “Cotillion March”
Recorded by George Rosey’s Orchestra of New York City, ca. 1898
Audio Archive, 78 RPMs & Cylinder Recording (MP3 audio file)
Historic Recording: “Wiener Blut” (Waltz)
Recorded by the Edison Symphony Orchestra, ca. 1902(?)
Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, University of California, Santa Barbara (MP3 audio file)
Quadrille Parties and Square Dances
“It is high time some change took place for the better in the style of dancing. ...in less than two years the quadrille will be the fashion entirely...”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 September 1853
Originating with 17th century military parades in France and England, the quadrille became fashionable in the 1800s among the upper classes as a lively form of dance. Four couples, arranged in the shape of a square (hence the term “square dance”), took turns performing the dance, one couple at a time. “Callers” shouted out instructions to the dancers who performed the simple walking steps, while the band played the traditional five-part pieces. The quadrille, like the cotillion, eventually evolved onto other forms of dance, including the waltz and traditional square dance.
Quadrille in Kalamazoo
By 1870, the quadrille had gained tremendous popularity in Kalamazoo. Social restrictions had eased and public dancing, though still a very formal affair, had became a more acceptable form of entertainment. The dancing parties and social balls given at the likes of Allen’s Hall, Arbeiter Hall or the Armory enjoyed great success until the 1890s. By that time, however, the quadrille had clearly become a dance for the “old timers.”
“...the party returned to the assembly hall, where the quadrille and waltz ruled the passing hours until the ‘wee hours of the night’...” —Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 February 1875
Quadrille Call Book, c1883
23 November 1884
Quadrille Bands in and around Kalamazoo (1872-1895)
Again, little is known about each of the bands other than the names. Some were undoubtedly the same as their “orchestra” counterparts (i.e. “Bronson & Lounsbury’s Quadrille Band” and “Bronson & Lounsbury’s Full Orchestra” were most likely one and the same, although the repertoire probably varied).
- Hull & Arnold Quadrille Band, ca. 1843
- Ellers & Crossett’s Quadrille Band, ca. 1869
- York’s Full Quadrille Band, ca. 1872
- Everard & Olmstead’s Full Quadrille Band, ca. 1872
- Potter’s Quadrille Band, ca. 1876
- Everard’s Full Quadrille Band, ca. 1876
- Ellers & Baker’s Full Quadrille Band, ca. 1876
- Bronson & Lounsbury’s Quadrille Band, ca. 1876
- Bennett’s Full Quadrille Band (Schoolcraft), ca. 1877
- Crossett & Baker Quadrille Band, ca. 1877
- White’s Full Quadrille Band, ca. 1878
- Bronson, Lounsbury and Baker’s Full Quadrille Band, ca. 1878
- Battle Creek Quadrille Band, ca. 1879
- Kalamazoo Quadrille Band, ca. 1879
- Newell & Eaves Quadrille Band, ca. 1879
- Fritz Ellers & Sons’ Quadrille Band, ca. 1879
- Baker’s Quadrille Band, ca. 1880
- Constantine Quadrille Band, ca. 1881 (Hull & Arnold)
- Niles Quadrille Band, ca. 1881
- Boos Quadrille Band (Jackson), ca. 1882
- Crossett’s Quadrille Band, ca. 1884
- Fritz Ellis’ Full Quadrille Band, ca. 1884
- Bronson’s Famous Quadrille Band, ca. 1885
- Bennett’s Quadrille Band (Portage), ca. 1886
- Bloit Quadrille Band, ca. 1886 w/ O. G. Clement
- Clement’s Orchestra Quadrille Band, ca. 1895
“An Enjoyable Affair in which Kalamazoo’s Fair Ladies and Gallant Gentlemen Take Part”
“According to announcement the St. Augustine Benevolent Society’s dance came off last evening, at Allen’s Hall. Everhard’s full quadrille band was in attendance. Long before the hour for the festivities to commence, the hall had become well filled and the managers were greatly pleased at the success which the numbers seemed to indicate. At precisely 9 o’clock the music commenced and dancing was kept up till half-past 11, when supper was announced, and the party sat down to tables loaded with the choicest delicacies of the season. After supper dancing soon began and was kept up till a late hour.” —Kalamazoo Daily Gazette, 27 April 1876
Hull & Arnold Quadrille Band, ca. 1875
Hull & Arnold’s Quadrille Band (ca. 1838-1888)
Perhaps the most famous of the quadrille bands in Southwest Michigan was Hull & Arnold’s Quadrille Band. Organized in 1838 shortly after the Hull family settled near Constantine, the band became known throughout Michigan and Indiana as one of the premiere orchestras of its kind. Led by violinist and caller John Hull, the band included Daniel Arnold, clarinet; Oliver P. Arnold, cornet; and Morris I. Arnold, trombone.
By 1880, Charles H. Arnold was playing trombone, and Charles E. Rogers was playing cornet. Rogers was famous throughout Michigan, Indiana and New York for his leadership of the Constantine (Michigan) Cornet Band, and later the Rogers Cornet Band of Goshen, Indiana. Following John Hull’s death in December 1884, H. P. Smith of Schoolcraft took over as leader and continued with the band until about 1888.
“The young women of the earlier days gave up dances and the like amusements after they married and devoted their time to domestic duties and the rearing of families. Previous to their marriage they participated in the social life of the time, a special feature of which would be a ball now and then at the Kalamazoo house or in a big ball room at Austin’s lake. The ladies would be conducted by their escorts to the scene of the festivities in omnibuses or lumber wagons having two or three seats which would be covered with blankets. The gentlemen would call for the ladies at about four o’clock in the afternoon and the party would not conclude until the wee sma hours of the next morning. The music for the cotillion would be furnished by a band from Constantine.”
—Miss Mary V. Gibbs, Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 March 1906
The Sound of a Quadrille Party
Although this recording was made well after the popularity of the quadrille had passed, listening to this vintage recording gives us some idea what a 19th century quadrille party might have sounded like.
Historic Recording: “Petunia Quadrille”
Recorded by the New York Military Band, ca. 1909.
Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, University of California, Santa Barbara (MP3 audio file)
Kalamazoo’s Popular Dance Orchestras
The 1880s and 1890s were exciting times to be a musician in Kalamazoo. While there were literally dozens of local bands and orchestras playing music for social occasions at the time, three key orchestra leaders emerged during the 1880s and remained among the most popular into the 1900s; George A. Pfeiffer, Gilmore L. Phillips and Oscar G. Clement.
Oscar G. Clement’s Orchestra
Oscar G. Clement, ca. 1902
“[O. G. Clement] is today the most popular musical director ever known in Kalamazoo. He and his little band of musical vibrators are sought after by most all the social gatherings in this section and it would be hard to find a person who has not at some time or other whirled away a dizzy waltz to the strain of their seductive music.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 May 1890
Oscar G. “Oak” Clement
Violinist Oscar G. Clement led one of the most successful local dance orchestras in Kalamazoo during the 1890s. A native of St. Joe County, Clement began playing professionally in 1857 and spent six years in Wisconsin with the Beloit Quadrille Band. After a year in Texas, Oscar and his brother, Joe, found themselves back in Michigan, where they established Clement & Clement, a cart, buckboard and cutter manufacturing firm in Kalamazoo.
“At 10 o’clock the guests ascended to the ballroom where excellent music by Clement’s orchestra kept the dancers in the mazy whirl until late this morning.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 November 1892
Oscar Clement organized Clement’s String Band in Kalamazoo about 1886, gaining immediate popularity. The original four-piece group, led by Oscar G. Clement, was soon expanded to a full six and later eight piece orchestra, and was providing music for social hops, dancing parties, soirees and weddings throughout Southwest Michigan. Clement’s Orchestra was praised by the Gazette as one of the “best in the state.”
Clement’s Orchestra (ca. 1886-1897)
- Oscar G. Clement, leader, first violin
- John Lounsbury, second violin
- Charles Skinkle, second violin (George H. Skinkle in 1888)
Chet Bronson, clarinet (replaced by James Zanders, flute, in 1887 and again by George Balcom, clarinet, in 1890)
- August Strehle, double bass (replaced by Nicholas W. Hodgeboom in 1888)
- Joe D. Clement
“The dance music artists and instructors in the art are introducing several new dances which are creating considerable interest. In the waltz quadrille Mr. Clement calls several new and very pretty changes and the 16-step lancers is a new style which makes that sleepy number one of much interest.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 January 1889
First Class Home Talent
Clement’s popular orchestra provided music for several of Kalamazoo’s many schools of dance, including the Mittenthal Brothers’ and Prof. R. Hande. Oscar Clement himself often took part in many of the local charity minstrel and variety performances, where his whistle solos drew great cheers from the audiences.
In addition to his own orchestra, Oscar Clement was a member of the Kalamazoo City Band, Kalamazoo’s short-lived Philharmonic Orchestra, the Academy of Music Orchestra, and White’s Military Band. Clement remained in Kalamazoo until 1897, and then moved to Grand Rapids where he remained a popular orchestra leader into the 1920s.
Phillips Brothers’ Orchestra
Gilmore L. Phillips, ca. 1915
The Phillips Brothers’ Orchestra emerged in the mid-1880s and soon earned a solid reputation for providing both concert and dance music. By December 1886, the quartet was performing for community programs and church socials in Oshtemo (their hometown), Paw Paw and Kalamazoo. Eventually expanded to as many as ten pieces, the Phillips Brothers’ Orchestra performed for an almost endless string of dances, social parties and weddings during the 1890s.
Phillips Brothers’ Orchestra (ca. 1886)
- Gilmore L. Phillips, violin, leader
- Sylvester C. Phillips, violin and vocals
- Joseph F. Phillips, violin, viola and vocals
- Joshua W. Phillips, bass violin and vocals
“Phillips Bros. orchestra rendered a fine musical program”
The Phillips brothers were individually and collectively involved in several leading local musical organizations throughout their careers. Joe Phillips and his brother Sylvester were part of Madam Jannasch-Shortt’s Orchestra during the 1880s. Joe was a member of the original Kalamazoo College Orchestra and later a member of George Pfeiffer’s popular orchestra. Gilmore Phillips was one of the founding members of the Symphony Orchestra in 1894, a forerunner of today’s Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and three of the brothers later formed the core of Kalamazoo’s Philharmonic Orchestra between 1894 and 1896. The Phillips brothers continued to perform concert and social music well into the nineteen teens.
“Fully 60 couples were present and at 9 o’clock the strains of Phillips Bros’. orchestra brought all upon the ball room floor. The light fantastic was enjoyed until an early hour this morning.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 December 1892
George A. Pfeiffer’s Orchestra
Violinist George A. Pfeiffer formed his four piece orchestra about 1886, and began playing music for weddings, dance recitals and other social occasions. Within a year, the lineup had expanded to a full twelve pieces, including several well known local musicians.
George A. Pfeiffer, ca. 1921
Pfeiffer’s Orchestra (ca. 1886)
- George Pfeiffer, violin
- Mrs. Torrey, piano
- Fred Davis, cornet (KSO)
- James Zanders, flute (Clement’s Orchestra)
Pfeiffer’s Orchestra (ca. 1887)
- George Pfeiffer, caller, second violin
- Prof. Trainor, first violin (from Battle Creek)
- Chas. Trainor, second violin
- Mrs. Torrey, piano
- Joseph F. Phillips, violin (Phillips Brothers’ Orchestra )
- George Balcom, clarinet (Philharmonic Orchestra)
- Fred Shoecraft, cornet (Academy of Music Orchestra)
- William Brinker, cornet
- Prof. Martin, flute
- George Ketchum, double bass
- John Henson “Heinz” Everard, trombone (KSO)
- John Vleiken, snare drum (KSO)
George A. Pfeiffer
Like Oscar Clement, Pfeiffer’s Orchestra provided music for many of the local dance instructors.
“The ‘Tube Rose’ dancing party given by Prof. Mittenthal at Turn Verein Hall New Year’s night was largely attended and a flattering success in every particular. Pfeiffer’s Orchestra won unstinted praise from all present for the delightful music they furnished.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 January 1886
In addition to his own orchestra, George Pfeiffer was involved with Newell and Bronson’s immensely popular orchestra in 1890 and the Academy of Music Orchestra a year later. Pfeiffer served as a postal worker in Kalamazoo for more than 33 years until his retirement in 1921.
Open-sided dancing pavilion at Long Lake near Kalamazoo, ca. 1907.
Fashionable Summer Dancing Parties in the 1890s
“A private party of about 40 couples had a very pleasant dancing party at the west pavilion at Lake View last night. The floor was canvassed and the pavilion was beautifully decorated with Chinese lanterns. The music was furnished by the Symphony Orchestra. They showed that they are not only capable of playing concert music but dance music of a high order.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 June 1894
Summertime dancing parties were all the rage in and around Kalamazoo during the “the Gay Nineties.” Local restaurateurs John Culver and Neal Nicholson built an open-sided dancing pavilion at Lake View Park on the southwest side of Woods Lake and hosted a series of popular dancing parties there. One of their first featured the Symphony Orchestra, led by Chester Z. Bronson. More than 16,000 visited the park and the dance hall during the 1894 Fourth of July celebration, while “merry dancers ‘tripped the fantastic toe’ to the music furnished by a first class orchestra” (Gazette). Later in August, Battle Creek’s popular Germania Orchestra performed for a Lake View Park dancing party that was “attended by thousands.” C. Z. Bronson returned to Lake View with the Symphony Orchestra in October for a series of well-attended fall dances.
“The dance hall was enjoyed by many and all who went to Lake View had a good time.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 July 1895
Germania Orchestra of Battle Creek, ca. 1894
Elsewhere during the 1890s, Eugene McElhany’s Academy of Music Orchestra often gave dances at Long Lake during the July Fourth holidays, and the elegant Emancipation Day balls at Turn Verein Hall typically featuring the Phillips Brothers’ Orchestra. Countless thousands flocked to the nearby lake resorts like Allendale, Highland Park, and La Belle, while others held festive summer dancing parties in the shady groves near White’s Lake, West Lake, and Gull Lake.
“A company of young people enjoyed a supper at Lake View last evening which was followed with a dance and fine music.” —Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 July 1896
State Normal School (WMU), East Hall Gym, ca. 1930s
The Same Old Song and Dance
Herman Mittenthal once said, “If you can’t dance you are a back number.” Clearly, dancing did not go away after 1900 and indeed, it remains an integral part of our culture to this day.
During the 1920s, Kalamazoo instituted an ordinance prohibiting social dancing for “sanitary reasons,” among other things. The ordinance specifies, “Whenever any public dance shall be held in the city of Kalamazoo, the proper distance must be maintained between partners participating in said dances at all times. The heads of such partners must not be allowed to touch and the ladies must not be allowed to place their arms around partners neck, and all exaggerated and suggestive forms of dancing are forbidden.” (Gazette)
But social norms have changed, musical styles have changed, the dances have changed, the bands have changed, and musical tastes have changed. But as the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The dance is never ending...
Like many of our Local History essays, this article is by no means a definitive study; rather it may be viewed as a work-in-progress. If you have new information, corrections, or items to share, please contact the author or the Local History Room.
“Reflections of Kalamazoo since 1834”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 September 1880
“In the Good Old Times”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 11 March 1906
“Music Has Formed Important Part Since City Was Founded”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 16 June 1929
Kalamazoo Gazette. 4 December 1983
Local History Room Files
History Room Subject File: Music.
- Special thanks to Mr. Ray Buhl of Walkerville, MI, for providing additional information about Hull & Arnold’s Quadrille Band.
Related reading from Kalamazoo Public Library’s Local History essays.
- “I was quite impressed with Keith Howard's page on 19th-century dance music in Kalamazoo. The level of detail is quite good. I was very surprised to see the photo of Hull & Arnold's Quadrille Band. They are a significant and important group. They and some other Kalamazoo groups are mentioned in an article I wrote, "Fiddling and Instrumental Folk Music in Michigan," in Michigan Folklife Reader (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1987). There is a direct connection to the Michigan grange hall dance orchestras of the 20th century.”
—Paul Gifford, Associate Archivist, University of Michigan-Flint Library, April 2011