Summer Music in the Park: The Tradition Lives On


Imagine a bandstand in a park with a forty piece band playing a summer concert. Something of the past or something you can see now?

As noted on Tuesday, this summer, after teaching at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, I was able to take a two week trip with my family to visit my mother. The last night in Kansas we heard the last concert of the summer by a band that I played with from late high school well into my college years, the Emporia Municipal Band. The band in its present form was organized in 1941 (due to a predecessor band being associated with the National Guard–it was activated for WWII service) and plays a series of concerts every summer with little changed from what could have been seen and heard literally a hundred years ago in the same park.

I neglected to take a camera to the concert but I was pleased to find online a story about the band from last summer. This photo is linked from that article (well worth reading for more background info) and also in that article may be found among other images a photo of Bob Fry, who has been a member of the band (on Euphonium) since 1941 except for six years when he lived out of the area. More about him in a minute.

The concert itself was titled “Cooks’ Choice” and was comprised of works chosen by members of the band. It was their last concert of the summer and it was a crowd pleaser, dominated by marches (I would have never guessed I would hear “Nobles of the Mystic Shrine” in 2011 on three different concerts), movie music, and other lighter numbers.

To paint the picture a bit more, a Boy Scout troop raised the colors before the concert. In the photo you can see that there is a steam locomotive in the park (ATSF 1015) and actually Fremont Park is right next to the BNSF mainline. Five trains went by during the concert (a typical number) and also a community group was serving root beer floats.

Back to Bob Fry, a local newspaper article (in The Emporia Gazette) from this summer focused on him as well. He may be found as a young man in a photo of the band in 1941 (it may also be seen here, in the band website) and I remember playing many concerts with a horn player (now deceased) that may also be seen in that photo. And the original director was my brother’s high school band director who had grown up playing in earlier versions of the same town band, so the roots of the musical tradition run deep. In conclusion the article notes,

Fry said he would be willing to come back again next summer if he is physically able to do so.

“I hope I’m able to do it again next year,” he said.

You work out the numbers, but I sure hope to be able to make any kind of decent sound on a horn at his age and play it for an hour! And with any luck this type of community concert in the park will continue to be the local institution it is in communities all over the country for years to come. To all the summer community band horn players out there, bravo for keeping the tradition going.

University of Horn Matters