Strike up the Bands!
By Marc Shulgold
The Fourth of July is a joyous day filled with many traditions—it’s become an occasion for family picnics, jaw-dropping fireworks shows, and concerts featuring spirited Sousa marches. In virtually every American city and town, it represents the single biggest day of the year for brass-and-wind ensembles, which offer park concerts for patriotic audiences of all ages. Denver is fortunate to have two first-rate bands performing on the Fourth. This, of course, presents a dilemma for concert-goers. Will they be drawn to Washington Park for a program by the Denver Municipal Band? Or will they head over to Four Mile Park for a show by the Denver Concert Band?
This could get ugly. Are we looking at a Battle of the Bands, hungry for an audience, slugging it out with trumpets and clarinets instead of muskets and cannons? Hardly. Band directors Jacinda Bouton and Gerald Endsley have no intention of leading their troops into battle. In fact, they’re good friends and look forward to their annual collaborations at the Denver Wind Festival at Clement Park on July 20.
“We have a long history together,” said DCB director Bouton. Indeed, you’ll hear not a single snarky comment from either band director. It’s more than mutual respect, Endsley suggested—the consistently high standards of each group place them side-by-side in the public eye. “I think a lot of people don’t know the difference between (the DMB) and the Concert Band,” he said. Which may be partly the fault of the ever-generous Endsley: “One of the ways we promote ourselves is by inviting other groups to perform with us. We enjoy collaborating.”
Not that we’re talking Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum here. There are vast differences between the DMB and DCB. For starters, there’s a gap of 100 years. While the latter began life around 1961, when a group of friends thought it’d be fun to put a little group together, the Denver Municipal Band was founded way back in 1861 by Alex Sutherland, a bugler and reportedly a veteran of the fabled Charge of the Light Brigade. It’s performed at expositions in old San Francisco and St. Louis, and it’s been conducted by a trombonist from Sousa’s own band. It adopted the DMB moniker in 1891, and remains the oldest professional concert band in the continental United States.
Note the word professional. That’s another significant distinction from the Denver Concert Band, which is all-voluntary (except for director Bouton and associate conductor Ken Kopatich). The DCB makes ends meet through grants from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, the Lone Tree Arts Center (its newly adopted home), as well as from member dues, fees from venues and from ticket sales at the Lone Tree facility. The Denver Municipal Band, on the other hand, is a proud union ensemble, funded by grants from the City and County of Denver, the SCFD, the Denver Foundation and other sources. Players, all members of the Denver Musicians Association, are compensated on an adjusted scale.
Those details don’t matter much, when it comes to the pleasures of listening to either of these two—or, for that matter, when it comes to the pleasures of playing in the band. It’s all about the music, after all. Endsley has been a part of DMB since 1966, when he joined the group as trumpeter (his high school teacher was Ed Lenicheck, longtime director of the DMB). He worked his way from 6th trumpet to 1st trumpet and, finally, to music director. “Conducting felt pretty natural,” he said, adding, “You learn by playing under all those fine conductors.” During his early days on the podium, Endsley received a lot of help from his band-mates. “The guys have always been supportive. I welcome (repertory) suggestions from them, and if some want to try their hand at conducting, I like having them step up.”
As for his lengthy tenure with the Municipal Band, Endsley can only chuckle. “It sneaks up on you—but then, some have been in the group for 20, 25 years.” Ages range from young folks such as alto sax player Matt King, three years out of Metro State, to a handful in their 70s and one in his 80s.
Long-term commitments are likewise common in the Concert Band. Bouton has conducted the ensemble for 16 years, having previously taught music at George Washington High School. She’s a relative newcomer, compared to a few DCB members. “Some were there at the start, 50 years ago,” she said. “We have a few in their 20s and a few in their 80s. They’re so committed. Over the years, it’s become a very social organization. Some of them have been friends for decades.”
So, how does someone join the band? Openings, not surprisingly, are rare. Endsley noted that, if a player can’t make a gig, they’re responsible for finding a substitute. Over at the Concert Band, auditions are informal, Bouton reported. “Prospective members will sit by a principal player and I’ll let the principal decide whether the applicant can join.” Considering the amateur status of her band, Bouton has to be careful in choosing repertory. “In the summer, it’s all pretty light and poppish. I’ll try to pick music that will be entertaining to the audience, but it also has to push the players. I’ll always choose two challenging pieces on each program.” Ever since the Concert Band moved to the Lone Tree Arts Center two years ago, after decades in Denver’s Central Presbyterian Church, Bouton has seen the level of playing rise considerably. She’s so inspired by the Lone Tree facility that she founded an orchestra based there, spun off from the Concert Band.
Naturally, repertory for each ensemble’s Fourth of July program revolves around familiar patriotic pieces, each ending with—surprise!—Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” As Endsley puts it, “The Fourth pretty much takes care of itself. We will add a new piece: Tom Hanson’s ‘American Fanfare.’ And we’ll be playing (Morton) Gould’s ‘American Salute,’ which we haven’t programmed for a while.”
As we noted, Denver is blessed to have two dedicated, high-quality bands, each happy to honor America with free parks concerts on the Fourth (not to mention on days leading up to and following the holiday). So, here’s your dilemma: Which one will you attend?
The Denver Municipal Band Brass will perform in the Broomfield Auditorium at 7 p.m. on July 3, and at 11 a.m. on July 4 by Washington Park’s Boat House; the full band will appear in concert in Wash Park at 7:30 p.m.
The Denver Concert Band appears at Four Mile Historic Park, 715 S. Forest, at noon on July 4. The concert is free, but there is a park admission fee.
For more information on the DCB: denverconcertband.org
For more information on the DMB: dmamusic.org