Established in 1859 as the Naperville Brass Band and credited with its first performance on Independence Day that year, the musical group changed its name several times before being officially chartered as the “Naperville Municipal Band Association” in 1928.
Before taking readers down Memory Lane with milestones from this third millennium, consider this brief history of the band that’s attracted more than 1,000 dedicated musicians since its beginning.
Try to imagine downtown Naperville 160 years ago. In its early days, the band often performed evening concerts under a street light in order for musicians to read the music. As their commitment and popularity grew, wooden band stands were built for the band’s performances. A replica of the 1885 band gazebo stands in Naper Settlement near Century Memorial Chapel where today’s musicians sometimes entertain during summer events at the outdoor history museum.
After the end of the Civil War in 1866, the group became known as the Naperville Light Guard Band.
The Light Guard Band disbanded in the 1890s, short of funding to keep playing. In 1906, musicians grouped together welcoming a name change to “Lounge Factory Band,” recognizing a business sponsor that later became Kroehler Manufacturing.
Then a fourth name change happened in 1917 when the “Naperville City Band” was backed by the Association of Commerce, the business group now known as the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce.
The 19-member band played on in a series of wooden band stands, replaced one by one until a wooden “band shell” was built in the 1920s.
By 1963, the wooden band shell also had to go. Some concert-goers still remember when band members began demolishing their stage during their final concert while playing “Anvil Chorus.”
Big dreams of a new cement band shell were planned under the leadership of conductor Elmer Koerner, who had led the band since its charter in 1928. Sadly, the completion was never seen by Koerner who suffered a fatal heart attack in November 1965.
A young band teacher and Naperville native, Ron Keller, who had been one of Koerner’s students, took over as leader, a position Keller has enjoyed with passion ever since.
In the summer of 1966, the band began its first season in the new cement band shell in Central Park. The new stage was dedicated as the “Elmer Koerner Band Shell,” where it served the community well for nearly 34 years.
In 1999, that cement structure was condemned after a large chunk of ceiling fell onto the stage. A new home for the band was planned to take its place, complete with office space, dressing rooms, storage and year-round practice capabilities, but without public washrooms for community use during summer band concerts. The Naperville Community Concert Center also was designed with a Century Walk mural, “The Great Concerto,” painted on the stage door by artist Bart Gunderson.
The NMB performed for the first time in the new Naperville Community Concert Center following the Memorial Day Parade on May 26, 2003, a tradition the band has continued ever since.
Now in his 54th year, NMB Conductor and Musical Director Keller continues to lead the 90-member band, joined by assistants Emily Binder and René Rosas, as well as NMB Big Band Conductor Tracy Oliver. Also of note, trombone player Bill Albrecht, who joined the band in 1948, is still playing in it! As Keller teaches, “Music is for life!”
Plan to experience at least one performance during this summer’s 11-week concert series that begins at 7:30PM Thurs., June 6, in Central Park. All concerts, indoors or outdoors, are free of admission charge.
NMB Winter Concert begins at 3PM Sun., Feb. 17
Next up, the Naperville Municipal Band will kick off its 160th Anniversary Year during its Annual Winter Concert at 3PM Sun., Feb. 17, on stage at Wentz Concert Hall in the North Central College Fine Arts Center, located just steps from downtown Naperville.
(Note… The Naperville Municipal Band also will be showcasing A.D.O.P.T. Pet Shelter during its Winter Concert. A collection of items featured on the shelter’s wish list will be accepted in the lobby at Wentz Concert Hall.)
A few of many Naperville Municipal Band Milestones of the Millennium
2000 – Congresswoman Judy Biggert welcomed Ron Keller to her office with news that the House of Representatives and the Library of Congress had honored the NMB as a “Local Legacy.”
2000-2001 – During the first two summer seasons without use of the former band shell, the NMB performed in Central Park.
Jan. 4, 2002 – After 140 years, ground was broken for the Naperville Community Concert Center, a fully-enclosed facility with a humongous stage door that would open for performances in Central Park.
June-August 2002 – Summer NMB Concerts were performed on a platform built at Naper Settlement.
May 25, 2003 – NMB performed patriotic music during dedication of World War I Doughboy sculpture in Burlington Square Park when the outdoor art joined the Century Walk.
Summer 2003 – Naperville Community Concert Center is complete. Let the NMB begin playing again back home in Central Park.
Sept. 11, 2003 – NMB performed during dedication of the Commander Dan Shanower Sept. 11 Memorial.
Aug. 14, 2003 – Naperville Big Jazz Band is launched under direction of Ken Kalina.
Summer 2005 – New band uniforms in the tradition of 1886 Light Guard Band, funded in part by the Downtown Naperville Alliance, arrived in time to entertain at Naper Days.
2006 – The multiple Sousa Award-winning NMB continues participating in annual parades, special dedications and band concerts, indoors and outside.
2008 – Minuteman Press Naperville assists in publication of The First 150 Years…A History of the Naperville Municipal Band by Ron Keller and Julie Phend.
2009 – Alumni Band Reunion brought back former band members and their horns, including George Pradel, Mike Rechenmacher and Terry Jelinek, to celebrate NMB’s 150th birthday.
2009 – NMB performed during Veterans Day event for Field of Flags at Rotary Hill.
2013 – To the relief of thousands of concert-goers, the City of Naperville and the Naperville Park District hosted a ribbon cutting, of sorts, to open restrooms in advance of the summer season of band concerts in Central Park. During the first summer concert, the band played “Crimson Flush.”
October 2014 – Clad in alpine attire, the NMB German Brass Ensemble performed a little ompah for Oktoberfest at the Judd Kendall VFW Post.
2015 – Keller celebrates 50th anniversary as director.
2015 – NMB performs at prestigious Texas Bandmasters Association convention in San Antonio, Texas. Keller says he’s still thrilled with outpouring of positive feedback about band’s performance.
2017 – Ann Lord, Ron Keller and the Naperville Municipal Band are honored with Charles “Chuck” Bueche Lifetime Achievement Award among Naperville Jaycees Distinguished Service Awards.
2018 – Ron Keller establishes the annual Ron Keller College Scholarship, a one-time $2,500 grant for a high school senior headed to college to become a music teacher. 2019 application process now in progress. Deadline is March 15, 2019.
2019 – Vicki Keller celebrates 50 years in the band. Other band members with more than 50 years are Florence Landorf, Lynn Walter, Bill Albrecht, Bob Morris and emcee Ann Lord. Bob Hoffman retired in 2017 after 58 years on the cornet, Keller added.
2019 – NMB currently has 90 seats. The current waiting list includes well-qualified musicians who play clarinet, saxophone, flute and tuba, all of whom make themselves available as substitutes. Keller says the only need at the moment is a French horn. All musicians are welcome to try out in the event of a vacancy.
July 12, 13 & 14, 2019 – Naperville Municipal Band will host National Concert Band Convention.