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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Growing up in Naperville – Drawn toward the art of teaching music

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Above / Ron Keller, pictured here in 1969, has been a member of the Naperville Municipal Band since 1954. (PN File Photo)

This column, “Growing Up in Naperville.” will be a little different this month. Many friends and readers of this column have asked how I got into music. To start with, music came in all four sides of my family—all the way back to my great grandfather, Joseph Bapst, who led the Naperville Band in the 1870s and 1880s.

My grandfather, Frank Keller, and great uncle, George Keller, played in the band. And then my mom and dad; my sister, Julie; my wife, Vicki; three children and two of my grandchildren all played. You might say it’s a family affair.

During my senior year in high school, I was student director. I also was the very first recipient of the John Philip Sousa Award in 1957.

I attended Northern Illinois University with a major in music. In fact, five of us in the freshman class that year took first chair in the band and we held our seats all four years.

Late in the month of April and early in May 1961, I started interviewing for my first teaching job. My first interview was on a Wednesday in Richmond, Illinois. The superintendent said he had one more candidate to interview and he’d let me know on Monday.

My next interview was at Earlville, Illinois, on Thursday. I heard the same story about one more person to interview and I’d know by Monday.

On Friday, I interviewed at Milledgeville, Illinois, in the evening with the whole board of education, a bank president and six farmers! They fired questions at me for more than an hour and finally the superintendent asked if anyone had any more questions.

The bank president asked, “If you get the job, would you stay at least three years?”

I answered, “Yes, I will.”

Then one of the farmers asked, “Why would you do that?”

I answered that I needed to find out what I don’t know so when I start my Master’s Degree, I know what to concentrate on.

The superintendent turned to me, invited me into his office and said, “I have a contract for you.” I signed.

Monday morning Richmond called to offer me a contract. I said, “Sorry, I signed with another district,” and I hung up.

The phone rang again. This time it was Earlville offering me the band job and I had to tell them I’d signed with another district.

I turned to my wife and said, “I went from no job to three in one day!”

I later found out that I was the sixth band director at Milledgeville in seven years! There was no library list of music, no list of instruments owned by the school and the band uniforms dated back to the early 1940s.

No matter what I did, the band looked and sounded better than what had gone on before me.

One Monday, I learned I had to have a band ready for the Carroll County Fair and march in the grandstand parade by Friday. The principal helped me call all the band members in the high school and 8th grade. They all needed to be at our first rehearsal that evening. I put out an easy march that I thought would sound good, but they couldn’t read music! I recall asking the senior girl sitting on first cornet if she knew the name of the first note. She replied, “No. But I think it is open fingering!”

That’s when I called Mr. Elmer Koerner in Naperville and said, “Help!”

His comment to me was, “Now you’re going to find out if you are a teacher!”

I pulled it together every evening, practicing, marching and playing at the same time!

We marched in the parade on Friday evening and the parents went wild. They said it was the best the band had ever sounded.

Wow! What a mess I had. Yet, no matter what I did, the band looked and sounded better than when we started!

I’ll continue this story in the April issue in PN!

And the band plays on and on, thanks to Ron Keller

From Central Park for summer band concerts to Veterans Park for special observances to honor Veterans (And City parades whenever needed), Conductor Ron Keller has been leading the Naperville Municipal Band since 1966. (PN File Photo)

Editor’s Note / The Naperville Municipal Band will perform its Winter Concert at 3PM Sun., March 19, at Neuqua Valley High School, located at 2360 95th Street, Naperville. Admission is free. Come out to enjoy the sounds of the Naperville Municipal Band and the Neuqua Valley Wind Ensemble for a free concert at Neuqua.

Kindly note this concert will be the final indoor concert until the annual Thursday Evening Concert Series begins in springtime this year in Naperville’s Central Park. The first outdoor concert will be the first Thursday in June 2023. Save the date! Watch for details about the June 1, 2023, Municipal Band Concert coming soon!

After the combined ensembles of the NVHS Wind Ensemble and the Naperville Municipal Band had performed selections from The Music Man, many band fans were heard humming “76 Trombones” as they left the Neuqua Valley High School auditorium. Thanks for the memories to Conductor Ron Keller, Assistant Conductor Emily Binder and NVHS Conductor Jonathan Lauff. (PN Photo, March 19, 2023)

One more thing / Note this addition about applications to participate in the lottery to host a weekly bake sale at the Gazebo during Thursday evening NMB concerts in Central Park. Click here for story added online late March 19, 2023.

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Ron Keller
Ron Keller
Ron Keller is a lifelong Naperville resident, tuba enthusiast and has been conducting the Naperville Municipal Band for over 50 years.
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