At 8 p.m. on Tuesday, October 5, 1993, in Memorial Hall on the Chadron State College campus, Carola Winkle raised her baton and led a group of some 30 musicians from Chadron and surrounding communities in the first 90-minute rehearsal of the Bordeaux Community Band.
Though Winkle didn’t know it at the time, she started a tradition that has for nearly a quarter of a century offered area residents of all ages the opportunity to hone and use their musical skills, and made Chadron one of an estimated 2,500 or more locations across the country where non-professional musicians share their talents as members of a community band.
“It’s very impressive that a community as small as ours has enough folks to have a community band,” said John Wojcik, who this fall assumed the mantle of conductor of the Chadron Community Band, as the group has been known since Winkle left 12 years ago. “It’s wonderful.”
The band’s membership, currently at 26, has fluctuated over the years, but the regular Tuesday practice schedule has been a constant, as have the twice a year public performances for the community and college.
“You are a community band. You meet once a week. Don’t underestimate yourselves,” Wojcik told band members during a recent Tuesday night rehearsal.
A love of music inspires community band members to make those weekly rehearsals and twice a year concert performances, part of their regular routine, said Wojcik, who has played in several community bands, and started one when he was teaching at a university in Mississippi.
“What it comes down to is this: People love to play,” Wojcik said. “You may be an accountant or a doctor or a nurse or other profession, but you come in and socialize with other musicians and want to play well. (Band members) love it. It’s a very important part of their lives.”
Creating an opportunity for people to use their musical skills was the motivation for starting a community band in Chadron, Winkle said. She was teaching music privately and working as an adjunct instructor at CSC when she broached the idea of a community band to CSC administrators.
“There were students who were graduating who were quite good (musicians) and staying in the area and had no place to play when they graduated,” she said. “People want to continue to play after they are out of high school or college.”
College officials accepted her proposal, allowed the band the use of CSC facilities and music, and let members rent instruments from the school’s inventory if they needed.
The flyers and newspaper notices that Winkle distributed locally brought in musicians from Chadron and surrounding towns, including Crawford and Merriman, as well as Hot Springs and Oelrichs, South Dakota. With players coming from different communities, it didn’t seem appropriate to name the group for Chadron, so they settled on Bordeaux, Winkle said.
The band made its first public performance on December 7, in a joint concert with the Merry Tuba Christmas, a group led by Winkle’s husband, Bill, former CSC band instructor.
A college news release about the concert said the band had members “from all walks of life, including attorneys, physicians, businessmen and women, housewives, loggers and students.”
Sponsors for the band included the Chadron Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, attorney Bevin Bump, businessman Bill Lindeken and the city’s World War II commemorative committee.
Bump provided funding for red bowties and cummerbunds that band members wore for public performances, and, along with Crawford physician Robert (Butch) Hanlon, was instrumental in the band’s success, Winkle said. She also singled out the contribution of radio news director John Axtell, who joined a few years later and is still part of the band, for his role in publicizing performances.
Winkle said she sought out a variety of music for the band to perform in concerts once each semester, usually in conjunction with the CSC band or another college group.
“We did mostly traditional music. Always a march; some of the older band literature and some newer and something that would be challenging and still accessible,” she said.
Wojcik agreed choosing a variety of music is important.
“With a community band you want to have some music that’s just kind of fun,” he said. “It has to be music that’s accessible to them, and there has to be challenges.”
Over the years, band members proved exceptionally dedicated and loyal, Winkle said. At her farewell concert in 2007, eight of the band’s charter members – Don Housh, Harry Holmberg, Barb Kreitman McCartney, Betty Reading, LeMay Britain, Julie Duncan, Bill Winkle, and Sandy Gulbranson – were still performing with the group.
While several different directors have led the band since Winkle left, McCartney and Duncan are still part of the band today.
Duncan, who plays euphonium, said she started with the instrument while in middle school, but hadn’t played for years when the band was organized in 1993.
“That’s when I picked up the horn again after 12 years,” she said.
McCartney, a clarinetist, also learned her instrument while young, and said playing in the band is an enjoyable way to keep her skills polished. It is also a welcome break from work as a public school teacher, and helps fulfill her love of music.
“It’s our time,” McCartney said.
Other band members expressed similar feelings about their participation. Jim Grimes, who joined the band in 2010 and plays tuba, euphonium and trumpet, said he learned the instruments in 1952 when he was a fifth grader.
“I just love to play,” he said. “It’s something I can do all my life. It’s a worthy skill.”
Trumpeter Rich McCall, who makes the hour-long drive from Alliance to attend weekly rehearsals and is a member of the community band in Gering during the summer, loves to play.
“I just enjoy playing,” he said. “I’ve been playing trumpet all my life.”
Clarinetist Katie Miller joined the band only a few years after it started, but came to music later in life. She started taking lessons from Winkle at age 53, and joined the band soon after. Her children were also band members when they were in high school, and Miller said she enjoys music and the skill involved in playing.
Students from CSC and from Chadron High School, have been part of the band since it started, and continue to be important components of the group today.
“We have a full age range,” said Wojcik.
Including students in the band is valuable, because they often play more than one instrument, which can help balance in the group’s instrumental mix, Wojcik noted. “With any community ensemble there is that challenge,” he said. “We are very fortunate this semester. The overall instrumentation for our 26 is almost perfect.”
Virtuoso talent isn’t needed to play with the Chadron Community Band, but Wojcik said it does take some dedication, and willingness to attend rehearsals regularly. “There are a lot of people who could easily play in the band, if they would just give it a try,” he said. “We’d love to have them.”
Maintaining the Chadron Community Band tradition fits well with a growing emphasis in music education on the importance of encouraging students to be life-long musicians, said Wojcik.
“Music can play a strong role in society, with the help of these community organizations,” he said. “There is really a push now to have music be an important part of the health of society.”
That’s part of why the band was started, Winkle said, who still plays in a community band.
“We just all like to play our instruments. The music brings us joy,” she said. “Twenty-five years ago, it was really catching on as a thing for communities to do. It filled a need. I’m happy it’s still happening.”
The Chadron Community Band will perform its spring concert on April 9, in a concert with the CSC Wind Symphony. There has been discussion about a special event to commemorate the band’s 25th anniversary this fall, but definite plans have not yet materialized, Wojcik said.