Striking up the band
When the Washington Municipal Band kicked off its 81st season Thursday night in Central Park, conductor Tom McNamar said that he was so impressed with the quality of the musicians that he can see the band continuing for another 80 years.
A few hundred people in lawn chairs and on the benches in the park listened to the musicians filling the bandstand. The selections performed included traditional favorites such as “The Entertainer” and “Gallant Marines” to more modern selections such as “Instant Concert” and “Bandology.” The band will be performing concerts throughout the summer on Thursday nights in Central Park. McNamar said that he believes the concert was not only outstanding for the opening concert, but would have been an outstanding concert at any time of the season.
“When we finished performing, the first thing I said to the band after I told them that they had done a great job, is that the expectations only rise from here,” McNamar said.
He said that he is particularly impressed with the band this year. He said the quality and number of the musicians is better than normal, and it led Thursday night to what he believes is one of his best conducting experiences in his 10 years conducting the band.
The 2013 season sees the return of many longtime band members, including such musicians as Wayne Brock and John Winga. McNamar also said that he is surprised by the number of young musicians who are coming from high schools in the area to perform with the band. He said that he is seeing musicians from Mid-Prairie and Highland, many from Washington High School, and even a group from Muscatine coming to perform with the band. At Washington High, he credits conductor Don Hughs for encouraging his students to try out for the band. He said the younger musicians had really “stepped up their game” for this year.
During most seasons, a band with 50 musicians is a lot for the municipal band. McNamar said the season opened with one of the largest bands so far, with close to 70 musicians.
McNamar said the two qualities that make a good band are the selection of music – getting pieces of music that are both rewarding to play and rewarding for the audience to hear — and the quality of musicians. He believes the band will have both during the coming season.
Several special events are scheduled throughout the season. On June 27, former Washington resident Sue Ellen Dawson Hedstrom will perform solo during the concert. Elizabeth Bennett will also perform as a soloist during the liberty performance, which will be held on July 4. Dean Kurtz will perform on the accordion during the coming season, McNamar said. Dr. David Johnson, a percussion specialist, will perform solo on the marimba and xylophone.
“We won’t have as many soloists as we did last year,” McNamar said. “We try to showcase local talent as much as we can.”
During Thursday’s performance, McNamar told the audience that it is things like the band that distinguish a town from a community. He said a municipal band has long been part of the American lifestyle and helps to make up a community. Equally important, he said, are the number and sophistication of the musical fans in Washington. He predicts the band will only get better and be ready for special showings next year during the celebration of the 175th anniversary of Washington.