Londonderry Bandstand

Did you know?

Londonderry Bandstand Drawing - Sheet 1.png

the amazing architect

First conceived in 1972, the bandstand was built over a period of four years by townspeople and local businesses. But, did you know, an MIT graduate student, Jeffrey Gutcheon, designed the bandstand. Mr. Gutcheon was a man with many talents. Born in New York City in 1941, Jeffrey was Phi Beta Kappa at Amherst College, then earned a degree in architecture from MIT. He played piano and organ in many styles (rock, country, gospel), and performed and recorded with, among others, Gladys Knight, Willie Nelson, Steve Goodman, Ringo Starr, Great Speckled Bird, and Geoff and Maria Muldaur. As an example, he played the piano on Arlo Guthrie's beautiful song "City of New Orleans". The album he released with his band Hungry Chuck (Bearsville records, 1972) has achieved cult status, the subject of numerous bootlegs and re-issues. He designed recording studios, most notably the Hit Factory on 48th St. in New York City. This is the last studio John Lennon recorded at. Mr. Gutcheon was one of the great stride piano players of his generation, and the original musical director of Ain't Misbehavin', the first hit non-book musical, which won the Tony award for Best Musical 1978. A true Renaissance man, he was also a force in the American art quilt movement, and authored or co-authored several iconic books on the subject. Mr. Gutcheon designed and distributed innovative fabric patterns for two decades through his company, Gutcheon Patchworks, and taught quilting and fabric arts to fans around the world. He served as president of the board of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine and is a member of the Quilters' Hall of Fame. He recorded four albums with the Texas band Lost Country before declining health forced his retirement. Mr. Gutcheon died in NYC in June, 2013. His interest in music and architecture clearly influenced the bandstand’s acoustic-oriented design. The solid cement block wall behind the band, the poured cement floor and the ceiling that slopes upward help to project the sound out to the audience. Although the design is open, it is also acoustically “directional”. Another Londonderry treasure that few people know the history behind, but we are so lucky to enjoy!

How it started

The bandstand project was suggested at the last meeting of the Londonderry 250th Anniversary Committee. They were meeting in September 1972 to determine how to spend the leftover $1400 raised for that celebration. The original bandstand idea was offered by Marge Nisula, and the committee voted to approve. A new Bandstand Committee was formed, consisting of many people including Charles Fowler, chairman, and Marge Nisula, secretary. They hoped that all of the labor and most of the material could be donated. At the next committee meeting, Anne Beebe joined, and became the co-chair and handling publicity. Ms. Beebe had previously gained experience in seeking funds during ten years on the USO board in San Francisco, which took care of Vietnam veterans returning home.

To learn more about the design and construction of a bandstand, the committee visited bandstands in surrounding towns. They consulted with musicians, notably George Ine, director of the 39th National Guard Band. He provided valuable insight, and also offered for his band to perform at the bandstand’s dedication for free. But now they needed a building design and plan. Ms. Beebe helped here. “I just went down to MIT and asked if maybe an architecture class couldn’t design us a shell as a class project.” she said. Architect-Musician “Jeffrey Gutcheon, who teaches architecture at MIT, telephoned me and said, ’can’t I do it? I happen to be a musician. I have some very definite ideas on what a shell should be.’” Mr. Gutcheon drove through a February blizzard to Londonderry. He looked over the Common, with its war memorial and cannon, sited the bandstand in his mind, then on weekly train rides from his New York home to his Boston job, drew up the plans and built a scale model. “In May he had it designed,” Ms. Beebe said. Several people and groups had to sign off on the design. Among them was a young Andy Soucy, who had just graduated from Keene State College and was the new band director at our junior high school. Mr. Soucy remembers going to a Londonderry home to view the scale model that Mr. Gutcheon constructed. He thought it looked great and gave his approval.

How it was built

Work began on the bandstand in 1973. You can download Jeffrey Gutcheon’s original the bandstand plans here. Money was raised, in part, by selling cement blocks to townspeople at that year’s Old Home Day for $1, contributing $211. The foundation and back wall were completed before winter set in. The next spring, Nick Codner of Town and Country Construction in Tewksbury volunteered to help with the trusses. He spent the next two and a half summer weekends working on the bandstand’s wood frame. Mr. Codner now works for Londonderry as an assistant building inspector. He writes, “I was “recruited” by Dick Hodgeman the Building Inspector at the time, and assisted by Charley Fowler, a mailman, and Pete Gaskill, a retired teacher. Charley Fowler was the driving force behind the project. He begged, cajoled, and nagged people to get the job done. The town spent very little money on the project, most of the bandstand was built by volunteers and donations.”

The bandstand was dedicated on August 22, 1976, as part of the Bicentennial Old Home Day program, and included a performance by the 39th National Guard Band.

We are so very grateful to those Londonderry folks who had the vision and the tenacity to create our bandstand, the site of weekly Concerts on the Common as well as our annual Old Home Days celebration. We are able to enjoy concerts at this wonderful venue because of them!