Alonzo Leach

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1929 Portrait of Alonzo Leach

Text on this page by Tony Lund, The Iowa Bandmaster, September, 1968

A review of Alonzo Leach’s life history gives a portrayal of how an aspiring young musician received his training and of how he made use of his talents in the early part of the century when the Band movement was in it’s infancy.  He has held the position of Secretary and Treasurer of the Bandmasters Association since his election in 1930.

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The Leach Family Band

Born on a farm near Ackly, he came from a musical family in which his brother was a violinist and his father the manager of a dance band.  As a very small boy, one of his ambitions was to grow big enough to pedal the organ for his dad, an instrument he learned to play at the age of twelve.  Destiny sometimes takes a hand in providing some incident that creates a spark of inspiration or ignites the fire of an ambition which determines the future course of an individual.  Such an event occurred in the life of Alonzo Leach, when as a fourteen year old boy, Major George W. Landers and his 51st Iowa Band, on a tour after having returned from the Philippines in 1899, give a concert in Ackley.  Young Leach was present at this concert and was completely enthralled by the piccolo, played by a member of the Band.  So much so, in fact, that as soon as possible he obtained the nearest thing to it, a flute, and with the aid of an instruction book, he taught himself to play.  His home background also included training on the harp, which he learned to play at the age of nineteen.

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Iowa Falls band in Clear Lake for a 1910 performance

Back row, left to right:  Frank Kavornic, bass; Carl Force, cornet; Claud Koon, traps; C.B.M. Smith, solo cornet; Ray Weaver, 2nd trombone; Ed Houch, 1st trombone

Front row, left to right: Alonzo Leach, flute and piccolo; Roler Thomas, clarinet; George Beebe, conductor and solo clarinet; Walter Scofield, baritone; D.V. Leach, 2nd horn; Clark Wheeler, 1st horn

With these experiences as a background, Mr. Leach went to Chicago at the age of twenty-two for the serious study of music.  In the summer of 1907, he joined Wheelock’s Indian Band in Pennsylvania and became a soloist with that group.

Leach recalls with a chuckle that while playing in Indiana he took some kidding for being a blue-eyed Indian.  This was an example of the many traveling bands in existence at that time. 

Mr. Leach also stated that nearly every town had a band that gave concerts from a hayrack pulled into the town square, or from some other appropriate location.  He further states that almost all amusement parks had band concerts, either by a local band or by engaging a traveling group.  He himself played at Electric Park in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1909, giving two concerts a day. 

When asked when they practiced, he replied, “No practice.  We just played.”

Feeling a need for additional training, Mr. Leach next attended the Warren Military Band School in Warren Ohio.  He recalls that this was the only school of its kind in the United States and was from Kneller Hall in England.  He said no academic subjects were offered, so the students concentrated strictly on their musical studies.  Leach received flute lessons every day and also studied conducting and harmony.  In 1910 and 1911, Mr. Leach was engaged to play in Clear Lake, Iowa, and the following year in Spirit Lake, Iowa.

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