Tradition lives on with the Pine Hill Bugle and Drum Corps.
BY: Community Papers of WNY Staff | July 27, 2011
From Memorial Day to Veterans Day, the Pine Hill Bugle and Drum Corps can be seen in various parades and events throughout Western New York. The Pine Hill Bugle and Drum Corps is part of a vanishing breed and a long history of active drum corps in Western New York and New York State.
When you see the orange and black uniforms parading down the street, which are famous, you know it’s Cheektowaga’s own.
The Pine Hill Bugle and Drum Corps. (PHBDC) is the oldest active drum corps in WNY and firemen’s drum corps in New York State.
Established in 1928 as an affiliate of the Pine Hill Hose Company, Fire District No. 5, 2435 Genesee St. in Cheektowaga, PHBDC currently has 40 plus members, which include women. George Wagner I founded the PHBDC. George Wagner, Jr. and George Wagner III are still active members.
The corps was established to compliment the firemen of the hose company when called out by the chief to appear in-march in local parades, civic functions and inspections.
When PHBDC was initially started, almost every fire company had a corps. Some still in existence have cadence corps, meaning they use drums and bells, but PHBDC is the only corps to use bugles. PHBDC uses bugles, drums, bells and cymbals.
“Women weren’t let into the drum corps until the 1990s,” said John Stiegler, business manager for the PHBDC.
Now, women make up 10 percent of the PHBDC and the first female has been elected to the organization’s executive board.
Bill Heim takes the award for the oldest active member. He joined in 1947. When Heim’s father was in the drum corps, Bill would carry the banners. Many of the members have stories like that, carrying on a tradition. Many are second or third generation members.
“We don’t know what keeps us together sometimes,” said Stiegler. “In the 1960s, early 1970s, we were down to 15 members.”
Throughout WWII, men who could not serve or were not accepted into the military kept the drum corps going, buying their own uniforms and instruments that are now provided to its members.
Members do not have to be firefighters, though at one time though 50 percent of the PHDBC members were. They are now associate members of the Pine Hill Fire Department. Members also had to be within the Pine Hill District. Now, the PHDBC can join and live anywhere in Western New York.
During the winter the PHBDC practices at the Pine Hill Fire Hall. In the summer, you can hear them at the cemetery across the street from the fire hall practicing Monday nights.
“It gives us a place to march,” said Stiegler. “In the early days half the people who joined were in the military and they knew how to march before they came in. Now, not many new members know how.”
PHBDC marches primarily in 15 parades a year. They also do a myriad of concerts, ceremonies, including the Memorial Day and Veterans Day events at Cheektowaga Town Park, and perform at weddings.
The color guard was added in the 1990s.
To join, interested individuals must be at least 18 years old. Applicants must fill out a form and get a background check. Individuals with a criminal record are not accepted. Once accepted, members are on a six-month probationary period. Musical backgrounds are not necessary, neither is a knowledge of reading music. Most of the members play by ear and only five out of the 40 members can read music. They are always looking for members.
The PHBDC supplies everything but black shoes and black socks.
The PHBDC is a self-supported organization, earning money through the various parades, prize money, fundraisers and parade sponsorships. There is also a $6 fee per year for each member.
“We keep the tradition of a drum corps. alive,” said Stiegler. “It’s like a family here.”
For more information, visit www.pinehilldrumcorps.org, or contact Stiegler at Stiegil@verizon.net, or 982-8316.