This week two Northland symphonic bands will present holiday concerts. And they’re both free because the musicians are playing strictly for the love of music.
The Parkville Symphonic Band will perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Platte Woods United Methodist Church, 7310 N.W. Prairie View Road. The concert will include an original composition by Stephanie Berg, a former band member.
On Sunday at 4 p.m., the NorthWinds Symphonic Band will present “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” a program of Christmas music, at Park Hill High School, 7701 N.W. Barry Road. The Kansas City Metro Men’s Chorus will perform the first 30 minutes of the concert.
John Bell, a founder and co-conductor, of the NorthWinds ensemble, officially retired as a music educator and band director in the Park Hill School District, but cannot imagine a life without music. Danny Watring, his co-conductor, is director of bands in Grandview and has been a music educator 28 years.
When Bell finished high school a wise man asked him what he planned to do. Bell wasn’t sure, but the man was. “You are going into music. That is what you are good at.”
“I have never turned away from it,” Bell said. Currently he is artist in residence as director of bands at Northwest Missouri State University as well as directing honor bands in various areas of the state.
His advice to students: “This is not something you want to stop doing. Don’t put your horn in the closet and forget.”
He speaks for the other band members when he says, “I don’t know what I’d be doing. It’s part of my life.”
Both the Parkville and NorthWinds bands organized to provide members an outlet to play their instruments, but there are differences.
The Parkville band is more community-based, said Steve Berg, who founded the band in 1995 and directs it. He recalls the first concert was on Main Street, Parkville, on the Fourth of July. The fledgling band has matured exponentially since then and plays an ever expanding repertoire.
“We take anyone who can play and there is a wide range of proficiency,” he said. Band members have jobs outside the field of music and some have not played since high school or college. But music is enjoyable at any age, he said.
The Parkville band has 40 members and like NorthWinds some are originals to the group. The band gives four or five concerts a year and at least two are benefits. This concert will collect donations for the Southern Platte Emergency Assistance Coalition food pantry.
NorthWinds, mostly Kansas City music educators, grew out of a meeting in 2004 of band directors who explored forming a group to provide them an opportunity to perform. The response to the meeting was positive and the band grew quickly along with the enthusiasm of the musicians. Soon, Watring said, the group decided it should play for an audience and gave a concert at Oak Park High School.
Now the ensemble does four concerts a year and has a waiting list of people wanting to join. Some members drive a couple hours to attend rehearsals at William Jewell College.
“We are semi-professional,” Watring said. “We love what we do, are accomplished and enjoy challenging ourselves on our instruments.”
Watring is a percussionist and Bell plays a French horn. Although they are music educators they have little time to play the instrument they studied in school. Conducting is rewarding, but playing is a real joy, as well. They co-conduct the band in order to perform by alternating concerts.
Honored in 2006 with an invitation to perform at the Missouri Bandmasters Association Convention NorthWinds will perform again at the 2014 convention. Watrig believes the invitation is based on the band’s longevity and reputation.
The bands serve their members on several levels. No one should underestimate the camaraderie among the musicians, said Steve Walker, a member of both bands. Walker also enjoys the connection he feels with the audience. Bell mentioned the pause after the last note is played as the musicians wait for the audience reaction.
Jay Kimball speaks of the challenge. He plays his horn in both Northland symphonic bands and his church orchestra as well. That means practice sessions at least two nights a week, plus solo hours at home. And, like Walker, he is not a professional musician. A physician, he has practiced family medicine for more than 30 years.
“(Playing) is a diversion from the rest of my life,” Kimball said. “I have always enjoyed music and I enjoy a large group working to achieve a common goal. It is mentally challenging.”
Bell is amused when he mentions playing his horn alongside his doctor. But the association is deeper than that. All three Kimball children were in his band classes at Park Hill.
Berg mentioned the reward from taking music that is challenging and hearing the band play it professionally.
There is one ultimate challenge for NorthWinds: playing in the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts.
“Every group in the city, semi-professional or professional, wants to play in the Kauffman Center,” Bell said, “but it costs a lot to play there. That is the one thing we would like to do... We are looking for a sponsor. This is a very good concert band and deserves to be heard.”