Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 47, September 2003
EDGAR BEILBY and THE PAEROA MUNICIPAL BAND
By Len Beilby
Around September 1937, the Paeroa Borough Council advertised for a conductor for the local brass band and my father, Edgar (Eddie) Beilby, who was then a playing member of the Waihi Federal Band, was the successful applicant. He was a highly accomplished cornet player with a broad musical background and had made his debut as a conductor in a Hamilton band in 1920 when then aged 18 years. In his lifetime, in addition to brass bands, he conducted orchestras and a choir and in 1940, in recognition of his playing ability, was invited to attend the national brass band championships in Wellington as guest solo cornetist with the Hamilton Citizens' Band. The competitions were being run in conjunction with the New Zealand Centennial celebrations.
For about a year following his appointment to the Paeroa Band, he travelled from Waihi, as and when required to attend practices and recitals, until 1939 when he obtained a position with the Ohinemuri County Council. He was licensed in the use of explosives and became manager of the County Quarry at Komata. The Beilby family then moved from Waihi to Paeroa.
From the start, his prime objective was for the band to participate in the South Auckland Brass Bands contest which was to be held at Thames over Easter 1938, just five months ahead. It would be a formidable challenge, not only to bring the band up to competition standard in such a short time, but also to obtain uniforms and some new instruments. However, the president, Mr Edwin Edwards and his committee and the bandsmen themselves, were most enthusiastic and decided to launch a queen carnival to raise funds. With huge public support it was a great success and all goals were met. The army provided a complete wardrobe of outmoded regimental dress uniforms, all in new condition and for little or no cost. Just a few slight alterations were necessary.
In those days, few towns were without a brass band and competitions held much interest for bandsmen and public alike. The South Auckland Union embraced Auckland, Franklin County, Thames Valley, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Waikato and the King Country and contests usually attracted upwards of twenty bands.
The 1938 Thames contest proved very successful for the Paeroa Band, resulting in a first in the musical selection, second in the quickstep, third in the playing of a hymn and second equal in the musical aggregate. The win in the musical selection, "Titus" by Mozart, earned sterling silver medals with gold centres, for the bandsmen and a gold medal for the conductor. Eddie was also awarded a first place in the quickstep, as a player for the Waihi Federal Band. In the marching displays the Paeroa Band was led by the drum major, Selwyn Bridge. When the successes of the Band were announced, the members were ecstatic and after much cheering and tossing their caps in the air, they carried Eddie shoulder high from the field - much to his embarrassment!
After returning to Paeroa on an excursion train around midnight on Easter Monday, the band formed up and marched to the town centre, playing marches en route. They were welcomed in Normanby Road by a surprisingly large number of residents, along with the Band President, Edwin Edwards. He congratulated them on their fine performances and remarked that the people who had contributed to the band carnival would feel that their money had been well spent.
The "Hauraki Plains Gazette" on 20 April 1938 reported:
"Meritorious indeed was the performance given by the Paeroa Municipal Band in the South Auckland Brass Bands contest held during Easter at Thames. The band has been on a proper footing and established for only five months, yet in this, its first essay at competitive work, it gained a first, a second and a third in the contests, finished second equal in the musical aggregate and gave one of the best drill exhibitions in the quickstep".
The following is an extract from the "Waihi Telegraph":
"The victory of the Paeroa Municipal Band in the C grade competition at Thames was just as popular with Waihi residents as if it was their own band. The young band's progress in such a short period under the leadership of Bandmaster Edgar Beilby has been quite remarkable."
At the next contest, held at Te Aroha during Easter 1940, the Paeroa Band took first prize in the quickstep. High placings were also gained in other events but unfortunately no confirmation can be found at the moment. Much of the band memorabilia held by the Beilby family was destroyed in a Paeroa flood sometime around 1980.
During the war years, from 1940 onwards, more that half the members left to join the armed forces and often the band struggled for survival. However, with just a handful of older members, assisted by some promising youngsters from the learners' classes, Eddie always managed to provide a band for Anzac Day and other civic functions. There must have been times however, when he shuddered at the quality of the performance!
In 1947, with the War over and the band back to strength, another contest at Te Aroha resulted in a win for Paeroa in the quickstep. Again, for the reason mentioned earlier, placings in other events have not been verified. As with past successes, the band made a triumphal march down the main street after returning to Paeroa from Te Aroha, around midnight. Happy times indeed!
From 1937 until his retirement, Eddie conducted the Paeroa Orphans' Club orchestra which used to entertain at Orphans' Club gatherings and at reunions for returned servicemen. The orchestra was sometimes represented by up to twenty players and was made up of strings, woodwind and brass. Unfortunately, because they were unable to get together for regular practices and recitals, their potential was never fully realised.
In 1950, Edgar Beilby was forced to resign from the band for medical reasons and soon afterwards moved away from Paeroa, first to Tokoroa and later to Waikino. The years spent working underground in the Martha goldmine at Waihi had taken their toll and he was diagnosed with miners' pthisis, a lung complaint caused by the inhalation of quartz dust. As well, he became progressively crippled by arthritis and in 1969, died at Waikino, aged 67 years. The medals he earned as bandmaster have now been deposited in the Paeroa Museum.
Following is a list of members who played in the band during the period 1938 to 1948 and has been compiled with the help of fellow bandsman, Les Hansen, who now lives in retirement at Te Awamutu and my brother, Laurie, who, in his 86th year, remains an active playing member of the Thames Citizens Band. Other details have been plucked from memory, and I would apologise for any errors or omissions.
EDITOR'S NOTE: L E (Laurie) Beilby, abovementioned, died at Thames on 19 June 2003.
PAEROA MUNICIPAL BAND - SOUTH AUCKLAND BAND CONTEST 1938
1st Test Selection, 3rd Test Hymn, 2nd Quickstep, 2nd Aggregate
Back Row:- L VERCOE, F COSTELLO, W SANDERSON, P ORCHARD, SGT. W WAINES, C TAYLOR, G PEMBERTON.
Middle row:- L McDONALD (Secretary), W VERCOE, G VERCOE, R ROBERTS, A BRIDGE, B McDONALD, W ARDERN, R STEPHENS, J PEARCE (Delegate).
Front Row:- S BRIDGE (Drum Major), J VERCOE, W FORREST, T BROADLEY, O ALLISON, J CRAIG (Manager), E BEILBY (Conductor), W DUNSTAN, CPL H WHITE, J STEVENS.