Boerne’s Musical Window Into Yesteryear

It would be quite impressive if a band managed to stay together for 55 years. But a band up in Boerne has been together for 155 years.

By Jack MorganAugust 10, 2015 8:51 am

This story originally appeared on Texas Public Radio

A hot summer’s night in Boerne’s Main Plaza. Hundreds of people sit in lawn chairs while children run around playing. The large, pointy-topped metal and wood Gazebo is filled with musicians, many dressed in Bavarian costumes. Carol Westermeier describes going to her first Boerne Village Band performance about 8 years ago.

“In Dirndls and Lederhosen. I loved it!  And so you’ll see little kids dancing the whole time, or running around, and some of them like to play in the fountain, so they’re dipping in the water a little bit, so it’s a completely huge family get-together picnic kind of arrangement.”

Think Norman Rockwell. I also spoke to Carol’s husband Jim about his experiences with going to watch the band play on the Main Plaza.

“Every time we go to the plaza we meet young and old people. It also brings to mind our own personal German roots. We do have German ancestry.”

Patrick Heath Public Library Researcher Bettie Edmonds shared with me the way the Boerne Village Band originated.

“The Germans loved their music. Absolutely loved their music. They brought all their instruments with them on the ship.”

German immigrants landed on the Texas coast in the late 1840s and had to walk all the way to Boerne, dragging their instruments along with them.

“It was 1860 that Dr. Karl Dienger organized the band together. And the main thing to remember about this band is that they were very highly educated and very well-versed in music.

Terry Slezak sings with the Boerne Village Band and continued Bettie’s story about their origins.

“And he (Dienger) first formed the Gesangsvereinegung, the singing association. And then they thought it might be nice to have some musical accompaniment for this so they formed this band and initially it was called the Boerne String and Brass Band.”

The band continued and evolved over the years, with more horns and fewer strings. Eventually, major historical events made things particularly tough for the band: World Wars One and Two.

“The feeling against the Germans was just very, very bad, to say the  least” said Slezak. “A lot of people even changed their names, Anglicized them.”

But the band stayed together through it all. Time marched on, and as Slezak explained, time  itself gave the band this unusual honor.

“They are the oldest continuous German band in the world outside of Germany, which is quite a singular distinction, right here in little ol’ Boerne.”

Then a big change came for the band in the form of the Mayor who governed Boerne for the 20 years between 1987 and 2007–Patrick Heath, the man for whom the Library is named. Back in 1991 seeing the city wasn’t promoting its German roots he decided to create something new based on something old.

“Abendkonzert,” the German word, as he explained,  for “evening concert.” Every other Tuesday evening all summer long the Boerne Village Band plays in that gazebo on Main Plaza. Probably the highlight for most people there is the march. Terry Slezak explains what happens.

“Every concert we have a march for the kids…and the girls from the Bergesfest, the queen and the princesses and everything, they march the kids all around the park.”

Kids line one behind the other and snake through the crowd as the band plays on. As an observer, it feels almost as if you’re visiting a time long past.

Patrick Heath is philosophical about what the tradition means to the city.

“What we have done in Boerne is keep at least a modicum of that small town feeling. And the small town values. And a good way to do that is to sit on a blanket on the lawn of Main Plaza and listen to old time German music.”

The last Abendkonzert of the summer is Tuesday, August 4. Atypically, this one won’t be held at Main Plaza, but at the Civic Center on Adler Road.

For more on the Boerne Village Band go here.