Salem Band continues musical tradition centuries in the making

Salem Band was established in 1771. It continues as a nonprofit made up of community musicians offering free concerts to the public.

WStoday_Salem Band

Summer concerts in Salem Square usually draw around 500 people.

Photo by Charles Beaman

Table of Contents

Every Tuesday night for two centuries, musicians have gathered to practice playing their instruments in what is now Old Salem. They are members of Salem Band — a full community concert band and the oldest continuous mixed wind ensemble in the US.

Musical roots

Moravian settlers in Salem, who were devout musicians, formed a mixed trombone ensemble in 1771 and the band evolved over time. There are now currently about 70 people playing in Salem Band — and Music Director Eileen Young says there’s a wait list for musicians who want the opportunity to join.

“We have some professional players. We have a lot of public school band directors or retired band directors — and then we have folks at a more amateur, intermediate level,” Young said.

Continuing traditions

Musicians don’t just honor the band’s Moravian heritage by still playing on Tuesday nights. They also play hymns as they were written centuries ago and delight audiences during the summer in the same place the group’s founding members played — Salem Square. Young says it’s an experience unique to Winston-Salem.

“There’s just nothing more all-American than that. Because in the early 20th century in this country, town bands performed everywhere and that was a main source of entertainment for people — and that’s kind of gone by the wayside except for here.”

WStoday_Salem Band

Salem Band welcomes musicians at intermediate or advanced skill levels.

Future performances

Salem Band is preparing for its upcoming fall concert on Sunday, October 1. It will be free and open to the public, like all of the band’s performances. Young says attending a concert — and sharing your experience with others — is the best way and support the band’s future.

“We do what we can to involve and engage with the community here and I think that’s been an important part of our growth.”