Community Band a century-old tradition in Madison
Sometimes, on certain summer nights, you can hear a familiar show tune in the air.
The source of those songs would be the Madison Community Band.
Around 20 area volunteers make up the band’s membership. Each year they perform eight or nine free concerts for the public.
Dennis Hegg has directed the Community Band for about 17 years. This year the band has played several marches, as well as songs from The Music Man, South Pacific and Star Wars.
Hegg, who has directed bands for nearly 42 years and is retired from Dakota State University, occasionally does his job while playing the baritone or tuba.
He believes the opportunity to attend a concert is a good thing for the community.
“It’s a great way to allow people to play who haven’t played for years,” added Hegg’s wife, Barb, who plays the French horn.
She likes playing the French horn because it’s a challenge and “has interesting parts to play.”
“I think it’s the most beautiful instrument. It has a very mellow sound,” she said.
Forty-year band member Gale Pifer plays the saxophone.
Pifer, who majored in music in college, said the saxophone is versatile with all the styles it can play, like marches, jazz and dance.
And if there’s someone who knows dance band music, it’s Pifer. He led the Gale Pifer Orchestra for about 20 years, according to the History of Lake County.
“I try to play my horn every day a little bit, and with the Community Band I get to play music I normally wouldn’t play,” he said.
Pifer encouraged anyone interested in playing with the band to contact one of the band members.
Like many of the players, longtime band member Diane Plack started playing her instrument – the trumpet – when she was in grade school.
“I chose that instrument when I was young because I always felt like you could hear that instrument. It had an important part in the song,” Plack said.
During her 40-year career, Plack taught music at Ramona, Rutland and Madison schools.
Donna Mathison, a music teacher at Oldham-Ramona School for the past 13 years, alternates among the flute, snare drum and baritone.
Mathison has played with the Community Band for two years. It keeps her skills sharp, she said, and she likes the nice full sound made from the group of musicians.
Mary Snyder joined the band last summer and plays the clarinet.
“They’re very supportive and non-judgmental and fun to play with,” Snyder said of her band mates. “It’s just a really good group.”
Snyder had played the instrument until 8th grade and recently took it up again.
“I like its tone,” Snyder said about the clarinet. “It often has the melody, so that’s fun.”
Marcia Wenk is another clarinet player and has been in the band on and off for many years. She’s played music for 70 years, but doesn’t have a favorite instrument. To Wenk, music is the part that matters.
“It was being in the band that was the important thing. Being part of a musical group,” Wenk said.
Wenk’s father, Bill Ireland, directed the Madison Community Band from 1948 to 1968, she said. During those same years, he also directed the Madison High School band. While Ireland was the director, most of the Community Band members were high schoolers, along with a few adults.
The Madison Community Band can trace its roots all the way back to 1896. At that time it was the all-male Madison Juvenile Band, according to the History of Lake County. In 1902 the band changed to the Madison City Band.
Some of the current band members played under Ireland’s direction, like Marilyn Hexom. She and husband Gene have played in the Community Band for the last two or three years.
“[Ireland] was really a special person in this community for many, many years,” Gene Hexom said.
The couple fills in with percussion. Gene is on the bass drum and Marilyn is on the symbols. They both say they play in the band for fun.
“We enjoy it and we enjoy playing for the people at the nursing homes and assisted living because they don’t get a chance to get out” and it’s nice to see them enjoying the performance, Hexom said.
One of the few high school students in the band today is Ashley Krogstad. Krogstad is a junior at Rutland High School and plays the alto saxophone. She said it’s competitive to excel with that instrument because of its popularity.
Krogstad has been in the Community Band for three years. She said it’s a lot different than playing in the high school band because she’s performing with teachers and other experienced musicians.
The Madison Community Band has finished performing for the summer. At the next Madison Area Arts Council Chautauqua Series, several of the band members will demonstrate how to play certain instruments. The event takes place at the Madison Public Library Aug. 12 at 7 p.m.
MAAC meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Madison Public Library. The public is invited to attend. Visit the MAAC Web site at www.madisonareaartscouncil.org for more community art news and events.
From Madison Daily-Leader August 5, 2009