A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HUNTINGTON COMMUNITY BAND
The history of the Huntington Community Band (Huntington, NY) dates back to the year following the end of World War II. The band’s original members were a group of returning vets, professional musicians and music educators and members of the Huntington community possessing outstanding musical skills. In 1946, the band was formed with the goals of providing the community with the best concert band music and giving school, amateur and professional musicians a musical outlet.
The idea of forming the HCB belonged to Mr. Rufus Kern, an instrumental teacher in Huntington’s junior and senior high schools. At first, the band rehearsed in local schools, and by the late ‘40s they had acquired a semi-permanent rehearsal site at the August Heckscher Museum in Huntington’s Heckscher Park. From that point on, the band performed eight weekly summer concerts on the museum steps. Audience members were seated on personal folding chairs and blankets, just as they are today. In order to provide entertainment for the extended communities surrounding Huntington, HCB performances were also held in Huntington’s Manor Park, Babylon and Northport parks, and on area ballfields - illuminated at night by the headlights of the audiences’ cars. Occasionally, off-season concerts were held to raise money for charitable organizations such as the USO, Baskets for the Needy, and the Boy Scouts, among others.
By the late 1950s, the Town of Huntington’s Parks and Recreation department assumed sponsorship of the HCB, and erected a wooden bandshell in the park for summer rehearsals and performances. The Huntington Arts Council assumed HCB program planning, scheduling, and publicity when it was formed in 1963. The band was still funded by the Town. The summer concert series was reorganized and would perform upwards of six 75-90 minute concerts. Today, the number of concerts performed annually by the HCB is five.
In 1971 Rufus Kern handed the HCB’s baton over to Dr. William Baker, a long-time trumpeter with the band and director music for the Huntington UFSD.
During his time as HCB director, Dr. Baker composed and arranged works especially for the HCB, and also formed smaller specialty ensembles of HCB members for pre-concert performances. He continued Mr. Kern’s practice of the once-a-summer exchange of conductors between the HCB and the Northport Concert Band (directed by its founder, Robert W. Krueger). Dr. Baker also began the tradition of an end-of-summer picnic for the band members to wish each other well until they met again for the following season, eleven months later.
The HCB held the honor of being the only performing group at Heckscher Park as late as the mid-1960s. Then, beginning in 1965 the Huntington Arts Council initiated its Summer Arts Festival of performances in Heckscher Park (celebrating 50 years of free evening performances in 2015). In 1979, the Town of Huntington built a permanent brick-stone-pilings structure in Heckscher Park to serve as stage for the many performing groups which were then visitors at the Park. Since the stage was built, Huntington has become the center of cultural activities in Suffolk County. That stage is named the Harry Chapin Rainbow Stage and it has become one of the premier concert stages on Long Island hosting some of the most famous performers in the world during the past 50 years.
At the end of the 1988 season, Bill Baker passed the HCB’s baton over to Robert V. Domencetti, who was at that time the Director of Music for the Harborfields Central School District. During his tenure, Domencetti added his own concert programming style to the wonderful tradition started at the band's inception more than half a century ago. Domencetti held the post of Musical Director for the HCB for 15 years before retiring at the end of the 2003 season.
Beginning in 2004, the HCB baton was entrusted to Thomas N. Gellert. Mr. Gellert had been a member of the horn section of the HCB in the 1970s under William Baker and was also a high school band director. Gellert also assumed the position of director of music at Harborfields after Domencetti’s retirement in 1999. So, it was only fitting that Tom Gellert step into the role as HCB’s 4th music director and continue the many of the traditions of the HCB dating back to its very beginnings in 1946. Gellert continued to bring his own musical ideas and unique programming abilities to the HCB until he retired in 2021, handing the baton to Vickie Henson in 2022.
The HCB's transition to a nonprofit in 2022 was a major step forward. It allowed the band to expand its programming and reach more people, while continuing to provide high-quality musical performances to the community.