It’s one of those years. On the years that the Arkansas Traveler Baseball Club is on the road on July 4th the NLRCCB gets the call to pinch hit at Dickey Stephens Park to provide some entertainment for those who choose to use the ballpark as their vantage point for the Pops On The River fireworks display. It’s a great way for the band to celebrate the birthday of the nation which is our home and a chance for the musicians of the band to play before what normally turns out to be several thousand people by the last set. This year we have twenty tunes ready for the crowd and it’s like “how many different ways can you play the same four or five melodies. But this year we have included a couple of medleys of tunes that reach back 150 years or so to the American Civil War. It is an often overlooked fact that the Civil War and its aftermath probably is the main artery from which the “town band” flowed. There were so many bands attached to regiments and other military units during the war that when it was over and these bandsmen made their way either back home or westward that small groups of them found themselves together in various cities, towns and even smaller communities. The love of playing the great tunes that were a part of their wartime existence led them to reform as small bands in these various locales and continue to play. This gave rise to new composers and the growth of the live concert as an American entertainment staple. The military also kept the band s alive that had flourished during the war and each branch and post had some type of ensemble. Of course, the US Marine Band in Washington became the most famous when a young violinist named Sousa became their leader and then branched out with his own touring band. But on this day in 1863 the bands of both the north and south were needed to soothe the nation as the news of the most terrible three-day battle on our soil spread across the land with the name of a little Pennsylvania town suddenly finding itself on the lips of patriots both blue and gray. Gettysburg! Most did not know where it was even located, but they soon became too familiar with it and the story of what had taken place in and around the village. But the bands played on and are still playing today because our nation has withstood many challenges since that July 4th of 1863. So, tonight, as the NLRCCB plays for this Fourth of July I will remember those who have brought us to this point and given us the opportunity to perform for our countrymen and women. God Bless us each and everyone and may there be many, many more Fourth of July concert by bands in our future.
I am tardy again and I guess I just can’t get used to this Blogging thing. But just a few words concerning our upcoming concert on May 3rd. I have been friends with Jerry Williams for many years and when he approached me about a joint concert between the band he directs in Pine Bluff and our NLR Band I was elated. The community bands of our state do not have an association or such that allows us conversation between ensembles and we all seem to have much different concert schedules and programming, so joint ventures are not very common. It is always a good thing to see what the other fellow is doing and this will bring together two bands that have similar demographics as to personnel but much different ways of operation and scheduling. we are about twice the size in numbers as the PB Band and adhere to a schedule that is set for a year at a time and follows the same basic pattern each year, The PB ensemble takes a much more flexible approach to scheduling and plays many more small venues than we do because they are able to fit places that we cannot go. But as different as we are we still share the common ground of playing music in the traditional concert band setting. we keep alive the promise made to all beginning band members that music can be a life long pursuit. Our band is made up of musicians from their teens to a 90 year old, and I am proud of that fact. And when two groups of musicians from two different cities can come together to play music it just adds to the greatness of what we do. So join us on May 3rd at seven pm at Lakewood Village as we play with a little help form our friends.
As I was preparing to compose the press release for our March 10th concert I suddenly realized that I had been the Director of this band since fall 1989. That means I am starting the twenty-fifth year of picking music for concerts, rehearsing that music and performing it with the musicians of the NLRCCB. Mr. Brandon stepped down form the band on August 15th of 1989 and I can remember thinking that I could never follow in his giant footsteps. And I don’t think I have necessarily done that. I think the band is larger than either of us. I have thought quite a bit this week of the many musicians who have graced the seats in our band, and the many who are no longer with us. To try to recall all the names would be impossible without leaving someone out. But I must mention a few, starting with the likes of trombonist and quartermaster Mary Elizabeth Drilling. She taught us all and especially me, to love this band and what we were doing. There was Emmett Wiseman, librarian; “Doc” Harlan Holmes who was the only person I ever knew who played Db piccolo; Charlie Webster and his much too big for him euphonium; Farris Wood who I played many polka band gigs with; Charles Hull, who thought we should never play anything the audience wasn’t familiar with; and Mike Fuller, college fraternity brother and best man in my wedding who was always the first to remind us to change our clocks the night before our spring and fall concerts. All of these folks were faithful members of our band and there are so many more from Mr. Brandon’s years who are now gone as well. And they all brought something unique and special to the ensemble, regardless of how well they did or did not play their instruments. And the band was better for what they brought to us, just a sit is continuing to grow and mature with the players who are now in the seats once held by those who came before them. I think that is what has kept me going all these years. Sure, the music has been fun.(and I love to conduct a band) Yes, there have been many long hours stuffing folders, trying to make all the equipment fit into the trailer and van, and stressing about the weather or if we would have enough instrumentation to play what I had chosen. All of these things pale, however, and seem unimportant when I see and hear the band at the concert. I have been so fortunate that the band has allowed me to stand in front of them these past twenty-four years, being a ham with the audience and trying to get the band to play just one more level higher each year. To all of the musicians who have been a part of the journey so far i say thank you! And to the nine directors who turned down the offer in the fall of 1989 to lead this band i will say you don’t know what you have missed!
I want to apologize to any of you who have been looking at this site each week to find a new installment , but things with other priorities have overcome my efforts. But here I am and I think today I will speak a little to the history of the NLR Community Band and where what I perceive to be the best course to follow as we move forward.
The band was formed after a NLR High School Band reunion and in its original state it was a first class adult ensemble. The late, great J. Raymond Brandon had visions of a band matching the stature of the Northshore Band in Chicago which at the time (early 80’s) was the hottest community band going. The sections of the NLR Band were filled with some of the finest musicians from all over the central Arkansas area and beyond. Many of the players were school band directors and former top players from the fine college bands of the state. But, as schedules of players became more and more crowded, band directors moved away from the center of the state to other programs the playing level of the ensemble began to falter a bit. In 1989 Mr. Brandon’s health took a turn downward and when his Dr. insisted he give up something from his strenuous lifestyle he chose to leave the band. He left the board of the band a list with ten names as possible successors and the search began. I was number ten on the list and when it came to that point I accepted the position of interim director until someone could be found. After the next concert the band asked me to remain and so I have since November of 1989. Another exodus of players with the formation of the LR Wind Symphony, which quickly became the more quality ensemble. But the NLRCCB played on and has not missed a season to this date. we have re-tooled our identity into a true “town band” as a place for those who want to play good music but without the pressures of an audition type situation. Many areas the size of Greater Little Rock have only on “avocational” band but we are blessed with the LRWS and the The Natural State Brass Band which are select groups, The UALR Community Orchestra and the UALR Wind Ensemble which uses some community players to fill out their sections and many small ensembles and church instrumental groups. Many of the NLRCCB players perform with these other groups as well, so the pool of players and the scheduling of concerts gets to be rather complicated. So where does that leave us?
I perceive our band in the same way that universities do with their non-audition symphonic or concert bands. We are a band where anyone is welcome to play. One of our principal players made a comment about a past situation by saying “That’s just who we are”, and that has stuck with me. We are a group of musicians who range from some that are just past the beginner stage to some of the finest players in our area and all levels in between. We have musician from school bands all the way to those in their 80’s and 90’s. We gather to play music and enjoy doing it, presenting concerts for an audience that likes old fashioned types of programs with marches, show-tunes, overtures, and featuring an occasional solo by one of our finer players. We most often leave the contemporary genre to our friends in the Wind Symphony, but slip a tune or two past our audience among some older arrangements from time to time. There’s a spot for a grin and giggle or two in every concert, as well as a moist eye or a swelling of pride as well. Our chief goal is to entertain, and if we also impress it’s a bonus for us. We aren’t the only show in town but we have fun just being “who we are”.
Just a quick blurb to wish all of you out there in cyber space land a Very Merry Christmas and a joyous twelve days of Christmas( if you are a traditionalist like my household). I’ll see you soon.
Wow! Who would ever have dreamed that the NLR Community Concert Band would have a blog page for the Music Director. But here we are, just in time for Christmas,too. As for the title of this page I have chosen the term “Cadenza” since that is a freely interpretive solo and I hope that is what this will become. I hope all of our musicians and audience members have a joyous Christmas season and all of the other holidays around Christmas as well. I hope to post a new blog every week or so and talk about our past, present and future. So tune in for what I hope will be a little entertainment and information. See you soon.
Check back with us periodically as our new Blog will be up and running soon.