Central Yesterday

The Note that Roared

By Mike Greife

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Don Essig taught himself to play his uncle's cornet at the age of five and began a lifelong fascination with music. When he received his first instrument, a bell-over-the-shoulder tenor horn, his passion was ignited. He spent his life creating the Essig Collection of Musical Instruments, now housed in the Department of Music at the University of Central Missouri.

Essig studied music at the Conservatory of Music in Chicago before embarking on a career as a master bandsman and music educator. His performances varied from symphonies to playing in the ferris wheel band at the St. Louis World's Fair and traveling with circus and show bands, accompanying the likes of Buffalo Bill and the Mighty Haag circus performers.

Don Essig

By 1920, Essig was a family man, and he settled in Warrensburg. He started the band and orchestra programs in the Warrensburg schools and performed with the community band and a variety of parade bands. He then accepted the position of director of bands with UCM.

Essig began collecting instruments as a young musician. He gathered brass and traditional wind and percussion instruments from throughout the world, eventually filling his home with some unique finds. From his longtime friend Frank Buck, a wild game hunter who captured African game for American zoos, he acquired authentic African tribal instruments. He bought instruments from people living in ethnic communities throughout America, such as San Francisco's Chinatown.

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