Peter Buys

Dr. Peter Buys

Dr. Peter Buys was born in Amsterdam in 1881 where his name was pronounced "Beez". As a clarinet player, he joined the orchestra on a Holland- American Line ship in 1897. Six years later he became a member of the Military Academy band at West Point and became an American Citizen.

The Holland native was a member of the Sousa band from 1912 to 1918, playing E-flat clarinet. For a dozen years after he left the Sousa band, he continued to work as an arranger of music for the band. After Dr. Buys left the band as a musician, Sousa never used another E-flat clarinet in his band, saying, "The instrument cannot be played in tune except by a great master, and there are no more Peter Buys". The E-flat clarinet is a higher pitched instrument with a more shrill tone than the more popular B-flat clarinet.

After directing bands in Huntington and Mt. Union, PA, Dr. Buys took over the very young Hagerstown Municipal Band in 1920 and served it continuously until retiring in 1959. He died in 1964. During his many years in Hagerstown, he directed musical groups at Hagerstown High School and taught band instruments.

His fame wasn't just local, because he served a term as president of the American Bandmasters' Association. Moreover, he composed extensively for band. Many of his best known compositions in forms other than marches were regularly featured by the Hagerstown Municipal Band during the years and sold briskly to other bands all over the nation. However, many compositions and arrangements by Dr. Buys remain unpublished, utilized only by the Hagerstown or Sousa bands. Fortunately, a large collection of Dr. Buys' manuscripts has been preserved in the Western Maryland Room of the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown Maryland.

Two marches written by Dr. Buys have special association with Hagerstown. "The Gateway to the South" which was published in 1922 used as its title the nickname that was given to Hagerstown when people got tired of referring to it as the Hub City. "Rotarian", which was published in 1925, was dedicated to the Hagerstown Rotary Club. Both date from the early years of Dr. Buys' stay in this city. Two other marches are linked with the most famous band master, John Philip Sousa. "The Governor" is the title of a march which doesn't refer to a politician but to Sousa because that's what many Sousa band members called their conductor. "Sousa Band Fraternal March" was composed in 1954 for the centennial of Sousa's birth.

John Philip Sousa's Right Hand Man

"Mr. Sousa was a brilliant business man", Dr. Buys would say in his soft Holland accent. "In fact, he was more of a business man than a musician. He knew the public liked marches, so that's what he gave them, even though he would much rather have played operas and overtures".

It was in 1912 that Dr. Buys first met Sousa. A Native of Holland, Buys came to America early in the century with a couple of buddies, on the theory that a large country like America would present a bands man more opportunity. It did! For years Buys played in the West Point band.

Dr. Buys was playing clarinet in the 71st Regiment Band at Manhattan Beach when he encountered Mr. Sousa. Two other members had played with him on his winter tours, and they told him about Dr. Buys.

Mr. Sousa attended one of the concerts and afterward asked Buys to come to his office and signed him immediately. Dr. Buys toured the nation with the band in 1912 and 1913, playing in concerts and completing compositions in his spare time. Hectic as it was, this provided valuable training. Dr. Buys could compose marches, waltzes and polkas for the Hagerstown Band without using a piano in his work.

After the 1912-1913 tour, Sousa summoned in Buys and told him that Huntingdon, PA wanted a good young bandmaster. Sousa hated losing Buys but he wanted to see this young man get ahead. He also told Buys that he would be hearing from him.

Dr. Buys then moved to Hagerstown and took over the Hagerstown Municipal Band until his retirement. During that time, Buys became one of the best known men in his profession. In the 30's, he guest conducted bands all over the nation and frequently went to Baltimore and took over the baton of the city's Park Band. He was also a teacher keeping up an association with Juniata College that started when he moved to Huntingdon.

Dozens of his compositions are listed in the catalogues of band music publishers. He was a past president of the American Bandmasters Association. In Hagerstown, he achieved something Sousa himself would have been proud of. He kept together an organization of 50 men; men who gave up hundreds of hours of spare time for practically no pay at all.

Some of the Hagerstown bandsmen had also played under Sousa. The March King visited Hagerstown frequently in the 1920's to see Buys. In the evenings, when he visited Hagerstown, Sousa led the Hagerstown Band. Halfway through the program he would call Dr. Buys to the podium and turn over the baton to Dr. Buys. They were truly golden years of American bands and their music and the Hagerstown Municipal Band was, still is, and hopefully will continue to be, part of a rich musical heritage.