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Monday, May 20, 2024

Growing up in Naperville – From one band job to the next

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As I said last month, my first band job was really tough because as a new teacher, you kind of feel you way as you go. I was lucky because no mater what I did, it was successful!

I continued to play in the Naperville Municipal Band when the band only functioned in the summer. We would start rehearsals the first part of March and the last concert was usually toward the end of August.

As I remember, the average age of a band member was around 30, as many who were playing were coming home from World War II or Korea.

When I began this long commitment of teaching band, I discovered the impact that music has on everyone. Sitting on stage and looking out at the audience, kids would be waving their arms like they were directing the band. Adults would be nodding their heads or tapping their feet.

We took a small ensemble of the municipal band to a nursing home and what a surprise. The head nurse told me there were individuals who’d never showed any emotion and they were clapping along with the music.

The home called me when my dad was close to death and I went for the last time to see him. He had not talked or moved for over a month.

Before I went, I’d got a cassette and made a recording of his favorite march, “Invercargill” and took it with me. He was in a coma, but I put earphones on his head and played the tape. After about 30 seconds, he began tapping his finger to the beat of the march! He died the next day, but the last thing he heard was his favorite march.

When I was working on my master’s degree, my assignment was to research and write a paper on music therapy. As my guide, I used the fact that music is all around us. It’s in grocery stores, elevators, movies, radio, television, and it’s designed to stir your emotions or set the scene. Think of “Star Wars,” “Victory at Sea,” “James Bond.” Every song has a melody that will stick with you.

For instance, at our NMB Winter Concert on March 19, we played a concert with the excellent musicians in the Neuqua Valley Wind Ensemble. The music we played included a medley from “The Music Man.” The kids in the band loved it. And there were several young people in the front and second rows that were totally into the music!

I’ll finish this month with this story. I was teaching band at Dwight Township High School when I got a telephone call from Frank Singer, head of hiring teachers for District 78 and District 107 in Naperville. At that time, Naperville had two school districts. District 78 was K-8 and District 107 was the high school. District 107 was the much larger of the two. Mr. Singer said that he had a band job in Naperville and asked if I were interested.

I responded, “You bet!”

He asked me to be in his office by 4 o’clock that day to sign a contract!

I put a sign on the band room door, “Home Emergency.” And I drove to Naperville and signed the contract on that April day in 1967.

More next time!

Editor’s Note / Save every Thursday evening from June 1 to August 10 for summer band concerts in Central Park. Themed concerts begin at 7:30PM and are usually over by 8:30PM. Plan to sit on park benches or bring your own collapsible chairs or blankets. Pack a picnic and purchase sweet treats and homemade pies at the Bake Sale hosted by a different local charity every week. Enjoy the City band that got its start way back in 1859.

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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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