The Illinois Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home Band: 1898-1934

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The purpose of this study was to chronicle the history of the Illinois Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home (ISOH) Band of Normal, Illinois, from its origin through the tenure of the ensemble’s first long term conductor—Herbert O. Merry. I examined the band’s (a) origin and operation, (b) service to the home and surrounding communities, (c) instructors, and (d) resources. The state of Illinois established the ISOH in 1865 to provide care and education for the children of servicemen who did not return from the Civil War. An act of the Legislature in 1875 amended the purpose of the institution to include any children of veterans who had died or become incapacitated since their service in the military. The ISOH organized a band in 1898 to provide recreation for male residents and service to the school and community. Herbert O. Merry assumed the bandmaster’s position in 1908 and improved the instrumentation and musicianship of the ensemble. The group appeared frequently at the orphans’ home and throughout Illinois at civic events and meetings of the Grand Army of the Republic and other veterans’ associations. Merry left the ISOH in 1934. However, the band remained active under his successors and continued to provide members with a sense of identity and worth through a close-knit organization that served their school, city, and extended community of veterans throughout the state.


This article was published in Missouri Journal of Research in Music Education, issue 51, 27-42, 2014,'_Orphans'_Home_Band_1898-1934.