By Jared DuBach
MACOMB — For over 165 years, the Macomb Municipal Band has come together as another example of the partnership between the city and university community.
According to Band Director Mike Fansler, the Macomb Municipal Band has about 35 members on stage; sometimes 40. The band has a pool of 60 musicians.
“As we play throughout the summer, some people might be on vacation…playing this gig or that gig…at any given time the personnel changes slightly,” Fansler said.
The band opens the annual Heritage Days festival with a performance on the downtown square. The band also performs patriotic music at the annual Fourth of July celebration and has played a few dates at the Macomb City Hall lawn. This year, while the performance at Heritage Days and Independence Day fireworks continues, the lawn performances have been held at one date.
“This year we are doing three concerts only,” Fansler said. “Last year we did five concerts. The Western Illinois Museum was hosting a special event, so performed for them as well.” Although there is one date at city hall this year, Fansler noted the date is earlier in the summer than in the past.
Fansler said it’s customary for the band to honor the nation in some fashion musically even outside of the Independence Day performance.
“We usually end with ‘America The Beautiful’…’Star and Stripes Forever’…I think people appreciate that,” he said. “But we like to feature some of the better players of the band. We’ll be doing some of that this summer. We’ll be featuring Eric Ginsberg…he’s a clarinet professor at our first concert. And we will feature Bruce Briney, our trumpet professor at Western (Illinois University) at our Fourth of July performance. What I have been doing is kind of the unexpected. But what some people do expect is some sort of thread or theme in the programming. That’s become traditional. They’re not necessarily expecting a particular piece but they do expect some sort of theme. We’ve done all marches and at some concerts we’ve done show tunes. So things like that are what concert attendees have come to enjoy.”
When it comes to selecting themes and music, Fansler said there is a combination of the he and band members choosing music.
“Typically the conductor chooses the repertoire,” he said. “I’ll throw out there, ‘Hey, does anybody want to solo this year?’ and I’ll get some people who say they’ve been practicing a solo and have considered playing it with the band. I usually try to honor all those commitments for soloists. I pick the music kind of like I do with any band…which is a few pieces I haven’t done in awhile that I think the audience will enjoy and then maybe some music of a contrasting nature to that piece. I try to give the listener something different in each piece…something they might hang their hat on. So I try to keep the music diverse…at least in what it sounds like…tempos; key signatures. I want anybody who leaves our concert to think there was at least one piece they really liked.”
Fansler recalled that back in the 1960s, Forrest Suycott was the director. Fansler said that ever since that time, the main conductor has been the director of bands at Western Illinois University.
“There have been lots of guest conductors over the years, but typically the (Western) director of bands assumes that role once the other director retires or steps down.” Fansler is director of bands and conductor of the wind ensemble and chamber winds at Western Illinois University, where he also leads the graduate wind conducting program and teaches undergraduate music education courses. He joined the faculty in 2001 and is currently a professor of music.
Fansler noted that while doing his dissertation work on the history of the Western band program, that he went through numerous historical newspaper issues.
“What I’ve gathered — and someone can try to debunk this, but I wish them luck — our municipal band in Macomb had its first performance at the Fourth of July in 1852. They started out going around the square and went down to where the 4-H Fairgrounds are now. They were on a little flatbed trailer. To my knowledge, this band has been intact ever since.”
That would make the band 166 years old as of this Fourth of July performance.
“It’s pretty significant and very historic,” Fansler said. “It’s one of the games; the hidden treasures of our city.”
Macomb Municipal Band is set to perform:
•7-8:30 p.m. June 7 at Macomb City Hall
•5:30-6:30 p.m. June 21 at Heritage Days
•5:30-6:30 p.m. Fourth of July festivities Q-Lot at WIU
Macomb Municipal Band going strong since 1852
By Jared DuBach