Banding Together

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
You can’t blame Don Weinbrenner for tooting his horn about the newly formed Hillsboro Community Band.

Or tooting his horn in the band, for that matter.

Weinbrenner, who operates a gas-engine shop in Lehigh and hobby farms west of Hillsboro, has become the fledgling group’s strongest advocate, according to Gregg Walker, the band’s founder and director.

“Don Weinbrenner is really the person in the community here who had really taken off with the idea,” said Walker, who is director of bands at USD 410. “He’s just really been a big help.”

“I’m just a person who loves band,” said Weinbrenner, who plays trumpet in the group. “So whatever I can do to help, I’ll do it.”

So far, one of Weinbrenner’s biggest contributions has been to recruit members.

His effort has paid off. The Hillsboro Community Band, has attracted around 25 members-depending on the night-in its premiere season and has already performed three concerts this summer. It will make its Marion County Fair debut tonight after Vicky’s School of Dance takes the pavilion stage at 7:30 p.m.

Band members cover the gamut of age, musical background and instrumentation. The oldest members are in their 70s and the youngest is 12. Most members are from the Hillsboro area, but a few travel from other communities, including Marion and North Newton.

The group includes five present or former band instructors but also has a few players who are just starting to learn an instrument-or to relearn it.

How good a recruiter has Weinbrenner been? Ask Carrol Ediger, who hadn’t played clarinet since graduating from high school 49 years ago. She’s now a mainstay in the group.

“I didn’t know Don Weinbrenner before, but he is a man of perseverance,” said Ediger, who retired about a year ago as director of the Wiebe Media Center at Hillsboro High School.

Ediger had purchased a clarinet at a yard sale several years ago with the intention of playing the instrument again in retirement. Being part of a community band hadn’t been part of her plan.

But then Weinbrenner, having seen her name in an old yearbook, began calling-and wouldn’t give up.

“I told him I couldn’t remember how to finger (the notes),” she said. “He said ‘You’ll be surprised how quickly it comes back, just come try it.'”

Weinbrenner was right.

“I’m amazed how it came back,” Ediger said. “And I really have had a good time with it this summer.”

Weinbrenner speaks from his own experience. He began his musical career in the fourth grade with a clarinet, then switched to the trumpet in junior high. Sticking with it through high school, he took his horn with him when he enlisted in the Navy.

But when his naval career ended, so did his playing days-until he took up Walker’s invitation to join the HHS pep band during the past basketball season.

“I told Gregg when I started playing in pep band that my tongue felt like a brick,” Weinbrenner said with a chuckle.

“After so many years, you can’t tongue right anymore. You feel like you don’t belong there. But like everything else, practice helps and you take your time.”

These days, Weinbrenner said he tries to practice an hour or two each day.

“He practices more than most of my (high school) band students do,” Walker said. “He’s really improved a lot.”

Besides providing an outlet for polished and repolished musical talents, being part of the community band has become an enjoyable social time, say those involved.

“It’s sometimes hard for them to find time for rehearsals,” Walker said. “But after they’ve gotten there, most of them have enjoyed just being there. Rehearsals that start at 8 p.m. and are supposed to last an hour usual end around 10 p.m.”

“We really have a lot of fun,” Weinbrenner said. “I sit beside Lewie Hagen (in the trumpet section). He’s an ex-Marine and I’m ex-Navy, and we’re at each other’s throats-but we actually like each other a lot, and we have a lot of fun.”

Walker said he’s been interested in community-based musical groups wherever he’s lived, including his own home town of Topeka.

“I grew up playing in community groups,” he said. “It was a chance for me to play along side of older people-and some really professional players, too. It was a benefit.”

When Walker and his family moved to Hillsboro two years ago, he began dreaming of starting a band here.

“I felt like this is the place we really wanted to settle down in, and it’s a place I really wanted to invest this kind of time and effort,” Walker said.

“I’ve been talking about (a community band) off and on at (school) concerts, but it was not until this last school year that I really began trying to get people involved.”

Walker said he’s been pleased with the response-and the result. The music has been good, but the social aspects have been even better.

“It’s just a chance for them to get to play and have some time together which they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Walker said. “I think that’s part of the band experience.

“They begin to act like kids,” he added.

In at least two cases, the band has provided a chance for parent and child to play in the same group. Craig Roble (sax) and son Michael (baritone), and Kathy Woelk (sax) and daughter Anna (clarinet) have made the Hillsboro Community Band a family thing.

Kathy said she had rarely played her sax after graduating from Goessel High School in the late 1970s, but began playing with the HHS pep band this winter. She decided to join the community band when she talked her daughter into doing it with her.

Anna, who at 12 years is one of the band’s youngest members, has been playing for only two years.

“I got talked into it because there weren’t any clarinets, really,” Anna said. “But now there are.”

She admitted she was intimidated at first.

“They’re all better than me,” she said. “But it’s fun. I like some of the songs because they’re interesting.”

Walker has chosen march music as the band’s primary repertoire.

“For most of them, that’s the enjoyable factor,” Walker said of his band members from the senior generation. “For some of the younger players, it’s still kind of new to them, but they enjoy it, too.

“You have to realize that many of the folks who are playing with us grew up playing (marches), so in a sense they’re easier for them to play,” Walker added. “But if you’ve never played one, they’re really kind of difficult to play because they were written in key signatures that are not as common anymore.”

Weinbrenner is among those sold on playing marches.

“There’s a lot of people my age who remember the marches and really like that type of music,” he said.

“It kind of nice having the youngsters in the band and play some music that was written maybe 100 years ago,” Weinbrenner added. “I’ve talked to a couple of youngsters who really like it and enjoy it. We can bring some of that back just by doing it in the band.”

The audience at the band’s first three concerts was small. Walker admits they didn’t promote the events as well as they could have. But the band has received a lot of positive feedback from those who came.

“Probably the biggest response has been person-to-person after the concert we did in the middle of June,” Walker said. “But we’ve really gotten a good response from the community.”

Walker said the band’s performance season will run primarily through summer, but they may play additional concerts throughout the year. He said having several former directors in the group means the band doesn’t have to go on hiatus once his busy school year begins.

“Most of the groups I’ve been in have had two or three different directors who actually took turns conducting the group,” Walker said. “I see that being a benefit to the group playing more often.”

Weinbrenner, who has vivid boyhood memories of excellent local high school bands performing at the county fair in the days when it was held in October, sees a lot of potential in this community band.

“A band is a good public-relations thing for a community,” he added. “It’s very entertaining, it’s wholesome, and it’s a nice thing for the youngsters to see that instruments aren’t just for grade school and high school and college-and then you put them away. You can play them all your life and get pleasure out of it.

“I’d like to see the band stay together and grow into a solid group,” Weinbrenner said. “There will be people who come and go as time goes on, but I hope we can keep the desire to play together, and play some of the music that doesn’t get played much anymore.”

Weinbrenner’s own commitment to the band is long term-but he said it’s OK with him if others step into the leadership role he’s assumed.

“There could come a time when somebody else will push like I am,” he said. “But it’s just a nice thing to be a part of.”

The Hillsboro Community Band would welcome more members-and has a particular need for trombone players. Walker’s goal is to have a band of 40 or more players.

Anyone interested in more information about joining can call Walker at 947-0200, or Weinbrenner at 620-483-3191.

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