Wildcat Regiment Band Preserves Civil War-Era Music

American Icons, Americana, Featured Article, History, Odd Jobs, People, Traditions
on April 23, 2012
Mark S. Chevalier Bruno J. Pino Jr. and son, Bruno, have performed together since the brass band’s 1992 inception.

Raising his baton, conductor Bruno J. Pino Jr. leads the Wildcat Regiment Band in a haunting version of “Lurline,” a song from an 1860 romantic opera, during a concert last June at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md. (pop. 705).

The 24-member group plays songs performed on Civil War battlefields and re-enacts the 105th Pennsylvania Regiment Band, dubbed the “Wild Cat Regiment” for the congressional district where musicians and soldiers were recruited.

“The Wildcats were in the thick of it in 1861,” Pino, 59, of Home, Pa., tells the crowd. “After the music, they were ordered to stack instruments, get stretchers and work in squads to take care of the wounded and dying.”

Pino resurrected the regimental band in 1992 after hearing a brass band perform at Gettysburg (Pa.) National Military Park. “The band was a personal approach to studying the time and the people involved,” says Pino, who works as an emergency medical services manager.

“I think my husband’s dream job would be park ranger,” confides Pino’s wife, Kathleen, 57, who sewed 22 Union uniforms for the band’s first concert. “I should have known something was up [when] we spent our honeymoon in Gettysburg!”

Since its formation, the Wildcat Regiment Band has performed hundreds of times, receiving a standing ovation in 2000 at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and playing before a crowd of 7,000 during a July 4th concert at Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia.

The band’s repertoire ranges from “Dixie” to “Yankee Doodle” and “Seventh Regiment Quickstep” to “Soldier’s Return March”—songs performed by regimental bands during the Civil War and gathered from private collections and the Library of Congress.

“One song we play is a ballad that was put into a quickstep, so the men could hear a ‘top 10’ tune of their day and be inspired by it,” says baritone player J.R. “Rick” McFerron, 64.

Between songs, McFerron educates the crowd about the group’s restored 19th-century cornets and “saxhorns”—alto, tenor, baritone and bass—that join percussion to comprise the band’s instrumental lineup. “No clarinets, no woodwinds. It’s a brass band,” he says.

Audience members are pleasantly surprised that the band offers more than music. “They’re terrific!” says Donna Gruszka, 55, of Morrisville, Pa. “They added history and told the story along with the music. I learned a lot.”

Band members range in age from 18 to 78 and hail primarily from the Indiana County, Pa., area. Half have been with the group since its inception. Drummer Bob Murphy, 59, who lives in Sharpsburg, drives three hours one way for band practices. Pino’s saxhorn-playing son, Bruno, 29, and McFerron’s son, Nikolas, 27, grew up in the band.

“This band has become a family, which is a blessing,” says Nikolas, a drummer.

Bruno J. Pino remains somewhat mystified by the band’s longevity. “When we started, we didn’t expect it to go much past a few concerts,” he says. “It grew and we bonded.”

While some of the music hasn’t been heard for 150 years, “it still has the ability [to move audiences],” says cornet player Paul Rode, 42. “It’s quality music, and we try to bring it back to life.”