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The World of Non-Profit Community Bands Help You (and Your Students) Make Music for a Lifetime

Marty Steiner • December 2021Features • December 18, 2021

Your community wants and needs LIVE music! Not everyone wants music where they must stand for the entire concert and possibly fear or be concerned about crowd surge. In many communities this need is addressed with the existence and performances by community bands, orchestras, or other ensembles such as jazz or even drum and bugle corps.

As a music educator in your community these community music organizations may also be a valuable resource and partner in your music education program. They may provide an additional music outlet for your students, their parents and families, and you.

SBO explores this non-profit world of community bands as the focus of this article. Community orchestras and other ensembles will be addressed in a future article.

Most of your music students will not become professional musicians. Even the most talented and capable will probably find and develop careers elsewhere. But many will continue to participate and enjoy their music-making in a community band or orchestra. SBO previously reported on one such group that focused on senior members in a marching band format, the St. Petersburg, Florida-based Second Time Arounders, known simply as the “Rounders.”

While the Rounders focus on marching performances there also is an entire universe of groups that focus on the concert performance experience. Generally known as community bands (and orchestras) they offer a continuation of those experiences that you, the music director, are and have been providing. There are also other formats such as community drum corps.

SBO explores this world of community music organizations, bands and orchestras as future outlets for those of your students not pursuing professional music careers. These community music groups also present ongoing opportunities for you, the music educator to bring your talents, skills and experience to the broader community. This may be in addition to your current role in education or later in your retirement.

Community music organizations are as varied as the communities where they operate and perform. An example of a cross-section of these types of groups was found in the shadow of the Rounders home base of St. Petersburg. The Dunedin Music Society has created the Pinellas Festival of Community Bands. This year’s fifth annual edition featured seven diverse performing groups from the Tampa Bay region of Florida. This area is known for a significant portion of the three million plus population spread across a number of smaller, well-defined communities to be seniors and retirees. Many of these bring with them a continuing passion for instrumental music performance.

“These are a fine mix of amateur and professional musicians in musical groups who enjoy the activity enough to continue playing long after the notes of their high school, college or military bands have expired. The quality of their musicianship is an experience to hear…LIVE!” offered Stephen P. Brown, director of the Dunedin Concert Band which kicked off the festival.

Bill Findeison, the Rounders director, commented about the festival, “Experience the sounds of these very different bands as they play traditional, familiar and modern concert band tunes. It’s a showcase of entertainment provided by participants who are enjoying a lifetime of music making!”

Four community groups, the Dunedin Concert Band, the Pinellas Community Players, Rhythm Kings Jazz Orchestra and Florida Symphonic Winds operate under the Dunedin Music Society (DMS) umbrella. Two of these groups performed at the festival. The Pinellas Community Players is the entry point, describing itself as “the group for beginning or intermediate woodwind, brass, percussion or string performers.” It meets once a week, year-round and performs multiple concerts at multiple venues. They not only play music but also “learn a little about music.” While performing simple music, they are charged with “playing it well!” Musicians may move up to the Dunedin Concert Band.

The Dunedin Concert Band dates back to 1981 and served as the basis for the Dunedin Music Society. It performs six seasonal and holiday concerts and is made up of dedicated woodwind, brass and percussion instrumentalists who are trying to improve their instrumental skills and deepen their musical understanding. It is limited in size to maintain sectional balance.

The other DMS ensembles include the Rhythm Kings Jazz Orchestra, which is a classic 12-piece dance band. This group performs from November through May with the repertoire of 1920’s and ‘30’s jazz and dance music. The Florida Symphonic Winds is a traveling ensemble which is formed for a specific concert tour.

The New Horizons Band of Gulfport (Florida) provides musical education, training and performance opportunities in a concert band format for adults at any stage of musical competence or experience. This Dunedin Festival is just one of their many performances. This band is one of many across the country formed under the Rochester, New York based New Horizons International Music Association. This band operates with members’ session fee support and, like most, rehearses once a week.

With the intriguing name of the Gulfport Gecko Amalgamated Concert Band, this relatively new group produces entertainment and fun along with their music. Perhaps not always what one might expect, but that’s intentional. Some of their repertoire is sing-along inducing “all-time favorites.” That’s musical fun!

Florida Brass (full name is Florida Brass Alumni Drum & Bugle Corps) presents the tonality of this musical format. It operates as a “non-competitive concert corps”. Most of their members have extensive drum corps background and experience in both marching and concert environment which is apparent when the group performs.

The St. Petersburg Community Band is the granddaddy of community music organizations in the Tampa Bay area. Founded in 1975 it has close ties to the school music education programs. The first conductor, Paul Nicholson, was the band director at St. Petersburg High School which is where the band rehearsed. He would be followed by Dr. George Westcott, retired director of music at an Illinois university. The band called Boca Ciega High School home at that time. The band numbers about ninety today and stays busy with nearly twenty concerts each year. John Bannon, the director, teaches music at two local colleges. His assistant director, Roger Green, has been a music educator in both middle school and high schools. He currently also serves as the music director to the Rounders.

The Eastern Hillsborough Community Band is conducted by three music educators. Founded in 2009, the principal conductor is J. Kevin Lewis who taught for 37 years with 27 at a nearby Hillsborough Muddle School. He is assisted by Ken Watts who also serves as the band director at the Chamberlain Adult and Community School in Tampa. Assistant director Linda Groh has taught orchestra at a nearby high school for thirty years. Her orchestra was the pilot program for all public high school orchestras in the area.

You may be thinking “all this is fine in a big community or even a large suburban metropolitan area like the Tampa Bay area, but not here in our small, rural community with no college or university!” The members of the Chuglak-Eagle River Community Band would take exception to that/your observation and concern.

The local newspaper told it best with “music and voices came out of the band room hours after the last class had let out at the Mirror Lake Middle School. Middle school band members were joined by high school musicians, retirees, college students, working adults and everyone in between. Thursday evening is the weekly rehearsal time for the Chuglak-Eagle River Community Band in Alaska.”

Chuglak-Eagle River, a community of about 35,000 population surrounded by Alaska wilderness. Like many other towns near a major city, in this case Anchorage, the town struggles to keep its separate identity while being a suburban community. Part of ts identity for the last twenty-plus years has been this community band. Travis Harrington, the director, is a graduate of Chuglak High and now serves as the band director at the Mirror Lake Middle School. He also was an SBO “Director Who Makes a Difference” on two occasions, 2018 and more than a decade earlier.

So you have discovered that there is local interest in a community band in your area, now what? First of all, see if there already is a community music group serving your area. Here enters the Association of Concert Bands (acbands.org). This organization bills itself as “The International Voice of Community Bands”. The ACB offers an online Find-a-Band directory. But what if there is no community music organization anywhere close by? Again, turn to ACB for almost everything that you need to know to start such a group.

Among the resources available to its members is the association’s “Blueprint for Starting and Maintaining Community Bands”. This document contains suggestions, sample forms, documentation and procedures for starting, organizing and maintaining a community band. The suggestions and guidance provided may seem ominous, but not all suggestions, office models and administrative detail provided are necessary everywhere.

Asked about the role of the community music organizations, Stephen Brown, the director of DMS, responded with, “music is essential for the heart, both physically and emotionally. Our impact as music educators on our student’s lives is always deeper and longer-lasting than we realize and give ourselves credit for. You have your students for just a few impressionable years. With your community music group, you have them for the rest of their lives!”

Perhaps the best summary about the value and importance of community music organizations to a music educator comes from Kevin Lewis, the conductor of the Dunedin Concert Band. Lewis was SBO’s Florida “Director Who Makes a Difference“ in 2004.”When I retired from teaching, I wanted to find an outlet to continue making music without the stress of graded performances and all the details of school teaching. I really enjoy working with adults who just play because they love it! Included in the (Dunedin Concert) band are some of my former band parents and also some former students. A real joy!”

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