BRATTLEBORO -- Bruce Corwin's 24-year stint as co-founder and director of the Brattleboro American Legion Band began with the answers to two simple questions.

After a brass ensemble played a concert in the area, someone asked Corwin "Can't we start a band at the Legion Post?" and "Could you direct it?"

Corwin's answer to both questions was the same: "I don't know why not?"

Thus in 1990, the Brattleboro American Legion Band was born. About 35 people came out for the first rehearsals, which Corwin directed. The band has grown from there, adding new members, improving and earning national honors.

"We're the only Legion band in the state of Vermont, and we're also the best," said Corwin in an interview Friday at his home in West Brattleboro.

Bruce Corwin, co-founder and longtime director of the Brattleboro American Legion Band, plays trombone during rehearsal, Wednesday, at the Legion Post on
Bruce Corwin, co-founder and longtime director of the Brattleboro American Legion Band, plays trombone during rehearsal, Wednesday, at the Legion Post on Linden Street. The band will honor Corwin, who has stepped down as co-director, during its May 14 concert. (Jon Potter/Reformer)

After the band's holiday show last December, Corwin told members he would officially step down as co-director of the Legion Band -- for the past few years he has shared the baton with Ray Brown.

"I told them I was nominating myself director emeritus," said Corwin, who remains with the band as a proud member of its trombone section.

On Wednesday, May 14, the American Legion Band will honor Corwin with a few appropriate remarks during its 24th annual Spring Concert, which takes place at 7:30 p.m., at the American Legion on Linden Street. Admission is free.

"He's been a good leader," said euphonium player Doug Switzer, a lifelong friend and musical mate. "I've known Bruce since we were about 12 years old, and I've played with him since then.


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"I think where the band has taken itself has a lot of do with Bruce's leadership," added Switzer.

Among the places Corwin has taken the band are two national competitions. In 2002, its first ever competition, the band placed fourth -- and won the hearts of fans by being the hardiest band around. When a huge rainstorm forced the grand finale parade to be halted in midstep, the Brattleboro band was the only one to keep marching and playing.

"What a band of drowned rats we were," said Corwin.

Three years later, Corwin took the band to a competition in Salt Lake City, where it placed second.

Through these experiences -- and countless rehearsals and local parades and concerts -- Corwin has kept things going.

"He has a good sense of humor, and he's easy-going, which you have to be in this group," said long-time alto sax player Sue Corey. "He's really promoted a sense of family."

"Legion band is like family, and he was the father," agreed Ray Brown, who became co-director of the Legion Band with Corwin a few years and now has the podium to himself. "It takes a chunk of your life. ... (Bruce's) whole life is music. If anything, the most important thing is how dedicated he is to the music."

Corwin grew up steeped in music in Bellows Falls. During World War II, Frank Bush, a music teacher there, came to Corwin's house and talked his mother into buying him a trombone "because I was quote-unquote 'built for trombone'" Corwin recounted.

He went on to the University of Maine to study forestry but switched his major to music. Right out of college, he was hired to teach vocal music at schools in Bennington. Two years later, he was hired to teach elementary school music in Brattleboro. He remained a teacher for 38 years.

Along the way, he kept playing his trombone. Now 80, he's been a member of the Grafton Cornet Band since he was 8. When the suggestion he start a Legion Band came -- along with $10,000 funding from the local Legion Post -- he didn't bat an eye.

Not that everything was smooth sailing.

"You can have a rehearsal and nothing goes right," said Corwin. "I just kind of bite my lip."

And roll with the punches. In preparing for its first ever Christmas concert in 1990, Corwin realized he had accidentally ordered the wrong piece of music -- the NBC News Theme Song, instead of a Christmas song.

"But we had it, so we played it," said Corwin.

Slowly but surely, the level of playing in the band improved, leading to its two high competition finishes. The group is aiming for first at a competition next year.

Mostly, though, the fun is in the playing not the trophies.

"Of course, it's the friendship. The artistry comes to it, too. I guess maybe the other thing is it's just plain fun, especially when you're doing it with other people," said Corwin.

At its May 14 concert, the Legion Band will play a variety of music, including patriotic tunes, a Count Basie medley, Irish-inspired melodies and more. The band will feature Marc Longeuil on trumpet in Leroy Anderson's "Trumpeter's Lullabye" and Sue Lemei on tuba in "The Old Grumbly Bear."

Jon Potter can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 149, or jpotter@reformer.com.