Community Music from the Golden Heart of Alaska CONCERT BANDS IN THE LAST FRONTIER Contributed by Jack Kopstein Edited by Krista Slinkard Today's Fairbanks Community Band is part of a long tradition in Fairbanks history. Fairbanks bands have existed almost continuously from the near the beginning of the 20th century, but names and dates are subject to dispute; it all depends on whose memory you consult. Despite changing names, conductors, and even type of music played, the bands of Fairbanks' past inspired the Fairbanks Community Band to be what it is today.
The band that is known today has a heritage of many different beginnings as the years went by. Earliest records document a town brass band in 1905 with nine members directed by Charles Westley. According to a concert brochure dated in the 1950s, a 10-piece Cowboy Band was organized in 1909. Then, in 1914, William Gobracht, a very tough instructor with a heavy German accent according to Chuck Grey, organized and directed a band of 18 members. In 1920, V.F. Jake Jacobs took over leadership of the band until 1945. The band was in a hiatus until 1948 when it was taken over by Kenneth Lauritzen, who invited William Gobracht, who by this time was likely in his 80’s, back to conduct some of the rehearsals and a concert or two. Two years later in 1950, Eva Myhre took over as conductor of the community band, which finally had to disband in 1952 due to the Korean War.
In 1956 Tom Brady started the University Civic band comprising university students and community members, but no one remembers for just how long this particular phase of the band’s past stuck around. From 1959 through 1961, Bob Boko ran a community Band with Jack O'Connor. In 1961 Jack left the state and Bob Boko took over the reins of the Lathrop High School Band Program. His departure marked the end of the community band program in Fairbanks until the fall of 1994 when George Wiese, Band Director of West Valley High School, and Donald Hildie, Band Director of Lathrop High School, saw a need for a community band. They approached Tracy Gibbons, who was the director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Wind Ensemble, to see if he would have the time to conduct a community band as well. When he agreed to conduct, the three of them went to an attorney to draw up a set of by-laws for the band and to apply for non-profit status.
In 1997, Gibbons left the University of Alaska, vacating his position as conductor, and the Board of Directors asked then-retired band director Boko if he would reprise his role from the early 1960s and take over the job as conductor. When Boko retired from the band in the spring of 2004, the Board called on Hildie, the now retired Lathrop High band director, to assume his position. Hildie agreed and took the job of conductor/music director for the community band in the fall of 2004.
After a two-year run as conductor, Don retired from the band after a farewell concert on October 22, 2006 and the baton passed to Ann Musco, a faculty member in the UAF Music Department and conductor of the UAF Wind Symphony. Ann was the director of music and conductor of the concert band until the summer of 2007, when she passed the baton on to Roger Ridenour.
The following summer, Roger, expecting to be transferred out of state, resigned as director and was replaced by Wendy Ward, a music teacher in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. At the present time, Wendy is still director of the Concert Band, and is an active member of the Jazz Band, where she plays alto saxophone.
The Fairbanks Community Band is a non-profit organization for the presentation and support of rehearsals and concerts. Their members are adult musicians who want to continue performing as a lifelong avocation and to support the musical development of members of the local community. Participants are all volunteers and come from a wide variety of roles within the community. Most of the members received their early training in public school music programs, and some continued to study music through college or in the military. A number of members are active or retired music teachers looking for a creative outlet to play their instruments as well as lead their school groups in music education
The concert band (sometimes called a wind symphony or symphonic band) includes about 55 people who play woodwinds, brass, and percussion instruments. Their performances are drawn from the full range of the concert repertoire from marches to symphonies to popular compositions both old and new. The group meets from September through May and plays four concerts each year in a local auditorium at the Park Arts Center. The band does not charge admission for public concerts. Donations are welcome. Both bands present concerts, either separately, together, or with other groups. In the off-season, the band splits into smaller versions including a concert band and a jazz band.
The Concert Band is active from May through July, mostly playing concerts outdoors. The outdoor repertoire features music more suitable for that environment than the indoor performance repertoire, but may include some of the same pieces. Outdoor performances are informal. Audiences often move about during concerts. Kids, pets, and families are especially welcomed as are picnic lunches or snacks.
The Jazz Band is structured as a traditional Big Band. This is a group of about 16 performers, typically including 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, piano, bass, and drums. A vocalist or a guitar may be added to the basic group. The Big Band is modeled after the popular bands of the jazz and swing eras, many of which continue today. The history of big band music is rich and diverse. The music includes many forms of dance music and several varieties of jazz. The band often features vocal or instrumental solos by band members or guest artists.
Both bands play for community events and in support of non-profit organizations and are also available for hire for private events and special occasions. The Bands play occasional concerts and appear with other local performance groups, and they occasionally join with the Concert Band for a combined concert. Fees for performances are used to expand our libraries and to purchase and maintain our performance equipment.
During the summer, the bands play several outdoor concerts including the Wednesday evening concerts program at Golden Heart Plaza in downtown Fairbanks. They are a regular participant in the annual Golden Days Parade, the midnight sun festival, community walks and other celebrations. One or both groups usually play at the fair in August.
In addition to the concert schedule, the Concert Band provides music for graduation ceremonies of the Adult Learning Programs of Alaska, and other small schools which cannot provide their own music. We are proud to provide this community service to enhance the experience of students completing their high school education.
Because of their high involvement with the local community, and because we happen to think Alaska is pretty cool, we are proud to present the Fairbanks Community Band from Fairbanks, Alaska, as the Altissimo! Community Band Spotlight for the Month of May 2010.
For more information on this band, please visit their website here.
If you know of a band or are in a band you'd like to see featured in our Spotlight, please email Krista at firstname.lastname@example.org.