Ypsilanti Community Band caps off 30th year with holiday show
The show marks the conclusion of the Ypsilanti Community Band’s 30th anniversary season this year.
For Tuesday’s concert, the Ypsilanti Community Choir performs the first half, while the Community Band’s section of the program opens with Gigout’s “Grand Chorus and Dialogue” for pipe organ and band, with assistant conductor Dr. James Wagner at the console of the Pease organ. The program will also include Reed’s “Russian Christmas Music,” with the band and the choir joining forces for a grand finale.
An excerpt from the 2008 Ypsilanti Concert Band's holiday concert:
“The band and choir will do an arrangement of ‘White Christmas’ and the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from ‘Messiah.’ We like to end it that way because we’re guaranteed a standing ovation,” Robbins quipped.
Far from being an endangered species, community bands have been on the increase across the country since 1979, said Joe Burke, the Ypsilanti Community Band’s new president.
“As more kids grew up having been through the high school band experience, they wanted something to do. Almost everybody here played in their junior high or high school bands. People were looking to play, and play with other people, and have the whole band experience. It’s a lot of fun — it’s a lot like being in high school again. Jerry has to tell us from time to time to start behaving like adults.
“People who have played in other community bands have commented on our camaraderie. It’s a great blend of challenging music and still having fun,” Burke added.
The Ypsilanti Community Band performs over a dozen shows every year, outdoors in the summer and inside during the winter.
“During the summer we’re doing more show tunes, pop music, novelties, marches — less heavy music,” said Robbins. “The reverse is true during the indoor season. We have increasingly been trying to include some soloists, and in this coming February we’re going to have our first-ever professional soloist, (euphonium player) Adam Frey, imported from Atlanta.”
The Ypsilanti Community Band — the latest of several such ensembles dating back to the mid-1800s — began on a January evening in 1979 when Lynn Cooper, then in his 10th year as a director of bands in the Ypsilanti schools, called together a group of his friends, former students, and EMU students. For several years, Cooper had felt a need for an ensemble for adult musicians — a natural extension of his own public high school program. The Ypsilanti Community Band filled that need.
The average age in the Ypsilanti Community Band is 55. Musicians from Ypsilanti account for 32 percent of the membership, while 31 percent of members are from Ann Arbor, Robbins said. Others come from communities such as Milan, Whitmore Lake, Belleville, Chelsea, Tecumseh and others. Among the players, 82 percent live in Washtenaw County.
The group has 73 members on its roster, down from 86 last year. “The economy has caught some of our folks and they are having to go back to school and to jobs and that accounts for a few of them. And we just had some normal attrition,” Robbins said.
“We want to be as good and as big as we can be, and keep people happy,” Burke added. “And all in the confines of a non-audition, amateur, free-performance band.
In addition to its busy performing schedule, each year, in memory of YCB charter member and long-time conductor Kenneth Bowman, the band provides the funds for the Bowman Scholarship, which supports the major expenses for an area middle or high school band student to attend the following summer’s Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.
Robbins is the fifth conductor the band has had over its 30-year history, serving since 1998. An Arkansas native, Robbins retired as Dean of Eastern Michigan University’s College of Education in 2004. When he came to EMU in 1991, he joined the YCB as a trombone player, sometimes playing other instruments. In 1993, he was named assistant conductor of the YCB, a position he held until being named YCB conductor in 1998.
The group also organized a 20-member vintage town band last summer, performed joint concerts with other ensembles, and toured to schools in the area, in addition to playing every August for the Plumbers and Pipefitters’ graduation ceremony at Washtenaw Community College and the invitation-only Red Cedar Festival of Bands in Okemos five years in a row.
“That was quite a feather in our cap,” Robbins said of the Red Cedar event.
To mark the band’s 30 years, Robbins recently wrote a history of the all-volunteer YCB, which appeared in the Ypsilanti Historical Society publication “Gleanings” earlier this year. Alas, he didn’t dig up any scandals. “I couldn’t find any dirt at all,” he laughed. “And I was looking for it!”
Roger LeLievre is a free-lance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com.
PREVIEW Ypsilanti Community Band: A Holiday Concert Who: Ypsilanti Community Band with the Ypsilanti Community Choir, hosted by local radio personality Lucy Ann Lance. What: Holiday music. Where: Pease Auditorium, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti. When: Tuesday, December 15 at 7:30 p.m. How much: Free. Details: Ypsilanti Community Band web site; 734- 904-5453.