The band plays on year after year

Hagerstown Municipal Band begins its 90th season tonight in City Park

Hagerstown Municipal Band begins its 90th season tonight in City Park

June 13, 2004|By KATE COLEMAN

Lynn Lerew will strike up the Hagerstown Municipal Band at 7:30 tonight in the Peter Buys Band Shell in Hagerstown's City Park.

Lerew, who joined the band in 1963 and performed as a member and euphonium soloist until 1974, is beginning his 30th year as director.

"It has been a joy," he said.

Thirty years is a long time, but it pales when compared to the longevity of the musical ensemble.

Hagerstown Municipal Band begins its 90th season this evening.

The band was formed through efforts of the city's Chamber of Commerce, according to a history prepared for the band's 75th anniversary in 1990. At the time, the city of Hagerstown had four bands, and several county communities had bands of their own. The band played its first concert July 15, 1915, at The Maryland Theatre.

The moral and financial support of the city have been key ingredients in the band's success and long life, Lerew said.


Also key, he said, is the quality of the musicianship.

The band doesn't have formal auditions, but players have to be able to play well.

The ability to sight read music - play it without previous study - is paramount, Lerew said. Each week the 45 to 50 musicians have just two 90-minute sessions to rehearse about 10 new musical selections for each of the summer's 11 Sunday evening concerts.

Lerew led an energetic practice last Monday, working through the program piece by piece. There were occasional attention-getting taps on his music stand when he wanted to stop and fine tune a section. Lerew explained what he was looking for, refocused the band and directed players where to start again.

"We play some tough ones," said David McFadden of Chambersburg, Pa. But he added that the musicians like challenging music.

Programs are varied. There are marches, classical pieces, pop pieces, overtures and Broadway tunes.

Beyond playing ability, the musicians need to be willing to commit to the band's demanding schedule.

"I gave up summer vacations," said McFadden, 84. "It took an awful lot of my time, but I've enjoyed every moment of it."

McFadden has been a member of Hagerstown Municipal Band for 54 years. He was invited to join by Peter Buys, director from 1920 to 1959. Buys, a native of Holland, was a member of John Philip Sousa's band from 1912 to 1918. The park's band shell, built in 1936, was rededicated and named for Buys in 1965.

There's an old-time, small-town "Music Man" feeling about the City Park's concert venue. There are wooden benches in front of the band shell, and plenty of nearby grass on which to spread a blanket or pitch a lawn chair. Concerts draw audiences of about 200 people, some who have been coming for decades.

The outdoor venue presents challenges for the weekly summer concerts, which begin at 8 p.m. Because it includes the Elks' annual flag day ceremony, tonight's performance begins at 7:30.

Shows are not canceled because of inclement weather until the concert is set to begin. Even if it's raining at 7:30 p.m., the decision won't be made before 8 p.m., said Richard Keesecker, a 45-year trumpeter in the band. Keesecker is in his 24th year as the band's business manager and secretary treasurer.

Except for the couple of years he lived out of town, Rick Mogensen of Hagers-town has played with the band for 40 years. He recalled one concert years ago. Probably in high school at the time, he took a breath, and a bug flew in his mouth.

Max Mogensen, his father, now deceased, played saxophone in the band for 50 years. Michael Mogensen, Rick's son, will begin his 14th year playing French horn with the ensemble.

Michael Mogensen, 31, is a composer as well as player. Among the music he's written are pieces for the band. He's conducted the ensemble when they are performed.

He's working on a piece commissioned in honor of the band's 90th anniversary. Its debut will be at the Sunday, July 11, concert. Mogensen said the title usually is the last thing to come in his composing, but he described the anniversary piece as exciting. There is power as well as nice melody lines, he said.

Mogensen acknowledged that learning and rehearsing a new program of 10 pieces of music each week is demanding. But the Hagerstown Municipal Band is a tradition in his family. Camaraderie is a big part of why he's there.

"It just gets to be part of who you are," he said.

Jackson Hopkins also has a long history with the band. The 15-year-old enjoyed the concerts in the park - even as a toddler. Tonight he will make his French horn debut with the band.

Jackson started playing trumpet in sixth grade. He took up the horn at South Hagerstown High School during his just completed freshman year.

Other than "An American Elegy" by Frank Ticheli, Jackson did not know the music on tonight's program until last Monday's rehearsal. When learning a new piece for school, he works on it about seven to 10 hours. As a member of the Hagerstown Municipal Band, he will have three hours to sight read and rehearse 10 new pieces each week.

But Jackson views being a member of the 90-year-old ensemble as an accomplishment.

"It's a nice feeling," he said.

If you go ...

Hagerstown Municipal Band

7:30 p.m. today

Peter Buys Band Shell at City Park in Hagerstown


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