Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Peak of Summer

Well, the peak of the summer season is here: the Sate Fair has opened. And there is something you can do to support bands...

If you go to the Fair, there will be a number of music groups playing mini-concerts around the grounds all afternoon. Different groups on different days, but there is always a group playing. Be sure to stop, listen, and cheer. Many of these groups are high school and middle school bands, and it may be the first time they perform for total strangers. Those of us who support community music groups must do all we can to make sure that the young'uns in school bands have a good time and leave high school with a positive outlook on their instruments, and on music in general.

So, go and enjoy a cream puff. After walking a lot, stop in the DNR area and enjoy the shade and the breeze that always seems to be there. See the pig races. But be sure to stop and take in one or more of the mini-concerts, and cheer for the musicians. Even if their performance is not perfect, they need your support. And maybe, just maybe, they'll be in a community band once they graduate from college.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Tradition in Racine

While I've mentioned the Racine Concert Band in a number of posts, I never did get into their history, which is very impressive. Best to do that now!

The roots of the band go back to the 1870's. The Schulte brothers began providing music in the park for Racine residents. In 1923, Henry Schulte approached the city council for funds for an official city band. And so, the Racine Park Board Band was born. For 44 years, it provided over 300 free concerts for Racine residents. Pretty successful by today's standards!

In 1967, the band, then under director John Opferkuch, changed the name to the Racine Municipal Band, which was affectionately called the "muni band" by members. The band also expanded the schedule to include a year-round concert schedule.

The band received a very special award in 1995. The John Philip Sousa Foundation awarded the band the Sudler Silver Scroll. This award is given only to those community bands that demonstrate excellence in musical performance and a strong community presence. In all the years that the Sousa Foundation has been awarding the Scroll, only 34 community bands have received it, even though tens of thousands of bands are eligible. The Racine band was the 10th group to receive the Scroll.

In 1996, the name was changed to the Racine Concert Band, to better describe the group's music and community support.

In 2002, Mark Eichner was appointed Music Director, being only the fifth director of the group since the first official band in 1923. And just this past July 4th, the band performed its 1400th free concert for the residents of Racine. Quite the history indeed!

And as long as we're on the topic of the Racine Concert Band, here's their schedule for the rest of the summer. All the concerts are at the Racine Zoo and begin at 7:30. Admission to the zoo for the concert is free.

Sunday July 27 - Children's concert
Sunday August 3 - Featuring Baritone Gregory Berg
Sunday August 10 - Featuring Rick Sunier on Euphonium
Sunday August 17 - Featuring Soprano Jeanie Hatfield
Sunday August 24 - Featuring Mezzo Soprano Allison Hull and Mark Eichner on Trumpet

I'll be at most of them. Hope to see you there.

Friday, July 18, 2008

No, I'm not knocking Sousa...

Here's a topic that some people find infuriating. They get so mad at me when I state that my favorite march king is not John Philip Sousa. I tell them that Sousa is my favorite composer of what I call "serious marches", but that I prefer "fun marches". I guess it's an emotional thing. Let me recap a true story from May that started all this.

The Knightwind Ensemble was performing at a Senior Apartment complex, one of those buildings with apartments for independent Seniors, and also apartments for those needing assisted living. The director asked the audience to name American composers, hoping that someone would mention the name "George Gershwin". Instead one gentleman shouted "John Philip Sousa". When our director mentioned that he was looking for a different name, the gentleman became upset. However, the audience did enjoy the Gershwin medley and the issue was forgotten.

But it showed me that to some people, Sousa was the greatest American composer ever, greater than Gershwin, Copland and Bernstein! And it illustrates why, when I mention that he did well at "serious marches" but that other marches are more fun, they are so upset with me. And then, when I mention the name Henry Fillmore, they do not recognize it. Fillmore is the guy that I think of for fun marches! I guess Fillmore needed better PR! But then again, Fillmore never really did what he was told to do...

At a young age, Henry Fillmore was very interested in the slide trombone. His father was not happy about that. His father, a very conservative publisher of church music, felt that the trombone was a sinful instrument. But Fillmore's mother got him a trombone anyway. Later, Henry did something else that his father was not happy about: he ran away to join a circus and married an exotic dancer working in the circus. Bet he scored a lot of points with that one!

Fillmore was always proud of his compositions. Fellow composer John Klohr told Fillmore that his marches sold because of his name, and not because they were good. So on a bet with Klohr, Fillmore wrote a new march under the name Gus Beans from Lima, Ohio. He named the march Mt. Healthy, after one of the suburbs of Cincinnati. And it was a hit anyway. Actually, he wrote marches under 5 or 6 different names. His march total was well over 200. If you're keeping score, Sousa wrote 136. However, to be fair, Sousa also wrote suites and operettas.

Fillmore's most famous group of tunes are known as The Trombone Family, a group of 15 rags featuring trombone smears. The one I most commonly hear at band concerts is Lassus Trombone. It turns out that Lassus Trombone was one of Sousa's favorites as well.

So for me, the summer band concert should end with a serious Sousa march...but somewhere in the middle should be one of two works by Henry Fillmore...lots of fun during the concert and a serious march for the ending! Doesn't get any better than that!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Transition Time - More concerts

We're in that transition time. It's the only time of the year when community band schedules get a bit messy! Some summer bands start in early June and go well into September. Others start at about the same time and finish in July, giving their members some of the summer for themselves. Still others don't have their first concert until July 4th, and then play until school starts. We're in that transition time!

So, some groups, like the Milwaukee American Legion Band, are shut down for the rest of the summer. Other groups, like the Racine Concert Band, are just getting going. And drum and bugle corps like Pioneer, will be going right through August. In any event, get out there and take in their performances. It's good fun, easy on gas and your wallet, and you'll have a great time.

If you live near Racine, take in the concert on July 13th at 7:30 PM at the Racine Zoo. It's free and fun featuring a xylophone soloist!

If Thursday the 17th is a better date for you, get to Atwater Park in Shorewood at 7 PM for the final performance of the Shorewood Concert Band for this season. Dr. Pat has quite the program in store.

In this concert, the trombone section is featured in Henry Fillmore's Lassus Trombone. The kids will like the variations on London Bridge by James Parcel. For the concert band aficionado, Dr. Pat has two works: the Vaughn Williams Flourish and the Holst Second Suite in F. Let me comment here that summer bands rarely play music of this difficulty, having only one rehearsal to put the entire program together. The fact that Dr. Pat is comfortable programming both pieces on the concert shows the level of musicianship within the group.

A few years ago, Dr. Pat introduced small groups to the Shorewood Concert Band series, and the practice has grown over the years. The last concert featured the Hornicopia Horn Quartet. This concert will feature a Clarinet Quartet.

Then, just to throw you a curve ball, Dr. Pat has programmed some rock (All You Get From Love is a Love Song). And she hinted that there might also be a famous Polka thrown in. Trust me, it doesn't get much better than this!

And all that in about an hour!

And I'll be there sitting in my green lawn chair. Stop by and say hi! (Not too many green lawn chairs there so far this season, so you won't talk to strangers!)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A tradition Continues

Tonight, July 6th at 7:30 PM, a tradition continues that has lasted 85 years. The Racine Concert Band will perform a series of 8 concerts beginning tonight at 7:30. For the next 8 Sunday evenings, you can enjoy a free concert at the Racine Zoo every Sunday evening.

The venue is very nice. The band shell is at the edge of a meadow at the bottom of a small hill with its back to Lake Michigan. The audience sits on the hill overlooking the Lake, and of course, the band. This natural amphitheater gives lots of room for you to bring the family, stretch out on a blanket or two, pop up your lawn chairs, or just sit on the grass. If you come earlier in the day, be advised that the Zoo now charges admission. But if you come for the concert, there is no admission charge.

It should be noted that the Racine Concert Band was also nationally recognized by the John Philip Sousa Foundation as one of the top community bands in all of North America. The Foundation awarded the Sudler Silver Scroll to the Racine Concert Band in 1995. The great music continues today.

Right now I do not have the listings of the music to be played, but I will get that information and publish it as soon as I have it. If you would like more information on the concert series, here is the link to the Racine Concert Band web site: And if you need directions or information about the Racine Zoo, check out their site: