Music of H.G. Downs

H.G. (Herbert Grant) Downs was a well-known figure in the business community of Warren, Ohio, a steel-oriented city of about 50,000 centered in the "steel valley" between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Born in 1893, he began a photography career in 1913, using a $3.50 camera (a significant bit of money in those days) to take photos of Warren's 1913 flood, making and selling postcards. In 1915 he opened the Photolite Studio on Main Street (above the Gartner Jewelry Company), advertising a "new lighting system so arranged that pictures may be made at night as well as by day." In 1924 he opened a new studio, the Downs Studio, which remained active until near the end of the century specializing in portrait photography and high school graduation photographs. Always an innovator, Downs built most of the equipment used in the studio, including portrait cameras, lighting fixtures and darkroom facilities. In 1929 he received a U.S. Patent for a "photographer's retouching easel." He once boasted of being the first person in Warren to own a movie camera.

As an involved member of the Warren community, he was active with the Boy Scouts of America for over 40 years, being eventually awarded the Silver Beaver Award in 1940 from the Western Reserve Council of the BSA. He was (like any good small-town businessman) a long-time member of the Rotary Club, and his was a frequently seen name in the letters column of the Warren Tribune Chronicle.

Although he sometimes claimed to be unable to read music, he studied violin at the Dana School of Music (now part of Youngstown State University), played trombone in the Gilliland Military Band, and built and played mandolins of his own design. In the later period of his life he wrote over 200 compositions. He died on November 27, 1978 at the age of 85.

The Ptomaine March

About the Ptomaine March and its unusual title: Downs once told the Tribune Chronicle that he grew up on Warren's West Side and attended the Tod Avenue Elementary School with a group of fellow boys who enjoyed camping, hiking and fishing in the streams and woods surrounding the Warren area, eventually forming a club after World War I. This was long before the days of motor homes with built-in refrigeration, and on one of their excursions in 1932 they all succeeded in coming down with food poisoning, at that time popularly known as "ptomaine" poisoning. "Two boys nearly died, and Herb said that the others wished they had," according to the Tribune Chronicle. At their next meeting they officially named the club "The Ptomaine Club," with its own banner bearing the name and a skull and crossbones, which was displayed during all of their subsequent campouts.

For a 1963 reunion of the club Downs performed on an electric organ a new composition written in honor of the group, and so the Ptomaine March received its name and first performance. The march was later performed by Warren's Packard Band on its April 30, 1967 concert, conducted by John Farinacci.

Availability: Score and parts available as a Free Download.

Listen to The Ptomaine March (MP3 format, 3 MB)

The Buckeye High Rise March

The Buckeye High Rise March is dedicated "to the folks at the Riverview Apartments" and derives its name from the building's street address (700 Buckeye Street) in Warren, where a number of the composer's friends lodged. The work is notable for the agility expected from the brass, especially the trombones. It was first performed by Warren's Packard Band on its October 29, 1967 concert, conducted by John Farinacci.

Availability: Score and parts available as a Free Download.

Listen to The Buckeye High Rise March (MP3 format, 3 MB)

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Last updated 5/12/2020. ©2020 Lamont Downs.