During the fleeting days of a Minnesota summer, residents take their pleasures whenever they can, and wherever they choose. For some people this means long, lazy days at a lake; others retreat to campgrounds, whether wooded or by water, and certain families spend dozens of hours at baseball diamonds.
Me? I spend Wednesday evenings throughout June and July at Chautauqua Park, playing in the “Amazing” Worthington City Band’s clarinet section. (And every Monday night is set aside for band rehearsals.)
What’s really amazing: My musical summertime tradition has been maintained for nearly two decades now, and as my three kids have grown and also learned instruments, they’ve joined the band’s ranks as well. My tolerant husband is left to sit among the spectators, after having patiently taken child watch duty during the kids’ younger years–and he, too, occasionally gets into the act as a concert emcee.
My family is only one of many with numerous participants in the local city band; there are multiple examples of instrumentalists with various family connections–parent/child, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and grandkids–you name it.
And two decades of involvement pale in comparison to that of at least a dozen band members, some of whom have been in the band for 40 or more years. The “Amazing” Worthington City Band itself has been serving up summer concerts since 1893, due to the ongoing support of the City of Worthington and loyal audiences.
Since joining the band in 1996, I’ve enjoyed playing under the baton of several directors. Galen Benton was the first, and although he’s largely retired from his directing days, he continues to frequent the band’s tuba section–and will be playing his accordion for the concert’s intermission entertainment tomorrow night.
With Jon Loy’s able direction, the band’s ranks swelled with Worthington High School students, and in July 2011 he led a 55-member contingent to Worthington’s sister city of Crailsheim, Germany, where the band (along with the Great Plains String Quartet) was met with terrific hospitality and appreciation everywhere they performed.
This summer marks the second season with Mike Peterson at the city band’s helm. Peterson retired not long ago from a lengthy career as director of the Fulda High School band, and he brings experience, earnestness and discipline to the job. Like the preceding directors, he’s also been careful not to fiddle with most of the band’s traditions–like the kiddie march that immediately follows intermission, for instance.
As Peterson has said, “When something is working, you don’t want to mess it up.” So children frolicking in the park pause in their antics to follow two teenage band mates (bearing buckets of candy, the children’s ultimate reward) on a meandering course among trees and lawn chairs while the band plays a sprightly tune. And Peterson has followed in Loy’s footsteps, and in those of the directors before them, in starting each concert with “Say It With Music” and closing with “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Having played in the Mankato Municipal Band as a high schooler, what I love about being in the Worthington city band is the feeling of being transported back to my 16-year-old self, when band nights were a break from my summer waitressing shifts and a chance to reconnect with some musical friends and my instrument.
It was also a time to experience the same sort of multi-generational fun I relish here. Never will I forget the first rehearsal at which I sat next to the legendary Leas Schwickert, wondering how I’d ever be able to play “The Stars & Stripes Forever” with the same accuracy and aplomb he displayed.
And there was nothing quite like performing in Mankato’s Sibley Park, with the scent of roses and snapdragons wafting one’s way during concerts.
In Worthington, it’s Lake Okabena and its cooling breezes that beckon on concert evenings. Old-timers tell us the popcorn wagon’s absence leaves a gaping hole in the proceedings, but traditions and music otherwise prevail, allowing the hour to unfold in a comfortably predictable manner.
Let the band play on.