As published in the
December 2006 National Band Association Journal
Music for Life
Robbinsdale City Band – Celebrating 100 Years
By Michael Serber
few organizations, whether they are large global, corporations, small
family-run businesses, or local arts institutions, live to celebrate their
100-year anniversaries. Only those
that fill a fundamental need, produce continuous high quality output and offer
consistently outstanding service and value to their communities are able to
achieve such longevity.
the Robbinsdale City Band (RCB), of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, has been one such
organization. For the past 100
years, this community band from suburban Minneapolis has served as a musical
outlet not only for its members, who, for the most part, are non-professional
musicians, but also for its audiences, who have enjoyed the band’s high-quality
and stylistically varied musical performances for the past century. As a result, this band has thrived over
the years and is now poised to celebrate its centennial year in grand fashion
with a healthy amount of community support and goodwill.
all this come to be?
Robbinsdale, Minnesota was a small community on the northwestern edge of
Minneapolis. Its citizens were
eager for the community to grow and the Robbinsdale City Band became a
significant force to promote that growth.
of the band is traced back to the Grenell and Swift families, who decided to
form a small band consisting of a dozen or so musicians (mostly made up of
their own family members) to perform at a fundraiser for the new Robbinsdale
Library building. Ever since, the
Robbinsdale City Band has been on hand to help celebrate civic festivals,
holidays and other special events, business grand openings and local school
earliest years, the band was comprised mostly of family members of all
ages. In the mid-1900s, when it
was especially known for its marching precision and showmanship, the band was
made up of teenagers and young adults.
the band reorganized into its present two distinct groups: the Concert Band, consisting of
post-high school adult musicians and the Marching Band, open to both adults and
high-school students. While the
Twin Cities metropolitan area is a hotbed of community band activity with over
a dozen bands, the Robbinsdale City Band is one of the only community bands in
the area with both a concert and a marching unit.
its history, the Robbinsdale City Band has consistently drawn its membership
from the ranks of amateur musicians – people who have made a living, not
through performing on their instruments, but through other means. The current membership of the band is
no exception to this with members representing such varied backgrounds as
accounting, business, design, education, engineering, homemaking, medicine,
ministry, science, technology, and more.
In spite of
their different backgrounds, the band members share a common trait – they
all love music and they love sharing that love of music with other people. Public education is cited by many of
the members as the only way they were able to learn to play an instrument. The fact that they are still enjoying
music and contributing to the community with their playing after 40, 50 or even
60 years is evidence that money spent on music education has been well spent.
has been known as a closely knit social group. Members celebrate together for events such as weddings,
births, and birthdays. They have
held reunions and annual banquets.
They have been present and eager to assist at the time of illnesses and
funerals. Many describe the RCB as
a “family of friends.” They joined
the band because of music but found enduring friendships and a supportive,
Special about the Marching Band?
membership of the Marching Band currently ranges in age from 15 through
mid-50s. The band typically
marches in about 7 to 10 parades each summer.
For most of
its history, the band marched with a traditional military style, performed
traditional marches and wore traditional band uniforms. The focus for the band was on precision
2004, the band decided to abandon this style in favor of a more entertaining,
individual style. This style,
which has become widely popular with the audiences, features a non-traditional
uniform of colored bowling shirts, khaki pants, colored high-top tennis shoes
traditional marches, the band’s repertoire now includes such popular
crowd-pleasing tunes as Wild Thing, Build Me Up, Buttercup, and I
Get Around. Instead of a drum
line, the 3-person percussion section simulates a drum set with a bass drum,
crash cymbals, and a snare drum with an attached ride cymbal, cowbell and
woodblock. With a total membership
of about 15, the Marching Band has the unique look and feel of a nimble,
flexible marching combo.
As part of
its new focus on entertainment, the band uses the inevitable delays in parades
as opportunities to engage the audience.
When the parade stops and most other units just stand around, the band
digs into its repertoire of creative “bits”, which include having audience
members direct the band, playing “Happy Birthday” on kazoos to an unsuspecting
audience member, or engaging an audience member in a fiercely competitive game
Special about the Concert Band
Band membership numbers about 60, with a wide range of ages, from 18 to
85. Interestingly, a quarter of
the band’s members have been with the band for over 25 years. The band performs about 20 concerts
each year, including concerts in Robbinsdale and other Twin Cities area parks,
community centers, senior care centers and nursing homes.
The City of
Robbinsdale uses its own portable band shell. The use of this shell enables the band to perform in any of
the city parks, shopping centers or public spaces three seasons of the year.
are very special audience members.
The band offers several opportunities for them to direct the band. They are wide-eyed at amazement at the
“control” they have over the band.
feature of many of summer concerts is the March Around the Park. A band member directs the band while I
lead the children (and their families) on a march all around the park wherever
we are performing. We weave our
way through the playground equipment and up and down the rows of the audience.
Each year, the band performs at
least one joint concert with one of the local high school bands. The band enjoys performing alongside
the school musicians since it allow them to demonstrate to these students in a
very tangible and positive way that musical enjoyment and satisfaction through
performing can last a lifetime and doesn’t need to end when they finish school.
also regularly participates in the Robbinsdale Adult Academic Program
graduation ceremonies. This is
especially meaningful to this band of adult musicians as we help to recognize
the accomplishments of other adult members of our community.
has always been a very social group.
They derive great satisfaction, not only through rehearsing and
performing, but also through simply spending time with each other. In fact, several band members have
mentioned they enjoy the rehearsals every bit as much as our performances. Members especially look forward to
break time, when they can sip a cup of coffee, munch on a cookie or doughnut
and catch up with each others’ lives.
Oftentimes, they come to rehearsal feeling stressed from a long, hard week
and they leave feeling much more relaxed, more “human.”. If we can have at least one moment
during the rehearsal to have a hearty laugh, we consider the rehearsal a
members are encouraged to share their life experiences with the rest of the
group during the “Good and Welfare” portion of rehearsals. The members love to hear about the
special events in each member’s life, the accomplishments of their children, or
anything else notable about current or former members.
band is funded
For most of
its 100-year history, the band has been very fortunate to have been totally
funded through the City of Robbinsdale.
As an arm of the Robbinsdale Park, Recreation and Forestry Department,
the City provided funding for all equipment, salaries, repairs and
the early 2000s, state aid to local governments statewide was slashed and the
resulting local budget cutbacks affected many City departments, including
ours. This forced the band to
pursue other means for raising funds.
Now, the primary means of raising funds include soliciting outright
donations from individuals and local businesses, pursuing arts grants and
producing an annual benefit concert to support the band.
these efforts combined have been sufficient for the band to meet its financial
needs. Through the generosity of
donors and supporters of the band.
The people of Robbinsdale and surrounding communities feel a sense of
commitment to preserving the band.
the band commemorated its Centennial year?
celebrate its Centennial, the primary intent of the band was to show its
appreciation for the community that has supported it throughout the past 100
years. The band wanted to provide
a significant, lasting and worthwhile way to give back to its supporters. To do this, the band took on several
Centennial Celebration” Concert
culmination of the band’s centennial year was a huge concert entitled “A Centennial Celebration” on November
19, 2006. To show its appreciation
and to demonstrate its commitment of service to the community, the band offered
the concert to the public free of charge.
featured special appearances by band’s former living directors, going back
almost 60 years. These former
directors, Robert Mendenhall, Roy Olson and Roger Thompson, each were given the
opportunity to once again lead the band.
also invited all its alumni (over 1,500 people) to a special alumni reunion
celebration the night before the concert and to perform for the grand finale at
the concert – “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
featured at the concert was the premier of a new march that I wrote for the
band especially for this occasion, entitled The RCB Centennial March.
was hosted by John Reger, a weekend news anchor for one of the local TV network
affiliates, who grew up in Robbinsdale.
commissioned nationally-known local composer Shelley Hanson to write a piece
which was premiered at the Centennial Celebration concert. Entitled Whiz Bang, this piece
captures the spirit of the band and the variety of musical styles the band
performs. The title comes from the
name of the popular (and somewhat risque) humor magazine, Capt’n Billy’s
Whiz Bang, published in Robbinsdale in the 1920s and 30s. Whiz Bang Days is also the name of
Robbinsdale’s annual summer festival.
The piece is a fun rollicking, fast-moving, energetic work that features
slide whistles, sirens, whoopie cushions and all kinds of other musical
surprises and should be available for bands everywhere to perform.
To pay for
the commission, the band came up with a novel fund-raising method called
“Sponsor-A-Measure”. With a
contribution of $25, a donor could sponsor their very own measure” of Whiz
Bang and receive a special certificate identifying “their” measure of the
music. We calculated that, by
having every measure sponsored, we could completely cover the cost of the
significant output of the centennial year was the creation of a commemorative
providing an account of the band’s 100-year history, this book, almost 200
pages long, is much more than a history book of the Robbinsdale City Band. Conceived and edited by long-time band
member, Karelyn Anderson, the book also tells the many musical stories of
current and former band members, directors and even audience members told in
their own “voice”.
stories carry meaning, not only for those who are familiar with the band, but
also for anyone interested in music and the many ways it enriches our
lives. Through these stories, the
reader can clearly hear the importance of arts education in the schools, feel
the value of encouragement and mentoring and understand the need for feeding
not only the body and bank account, but also the soul.
funny and interesting anecdotes, photographs and more, this book paints a
distinct portrait of the joys of community involvement and music-making. The centennial book was printed and
published by a local printing/publishing company, Osterhus Printing.
also recorded a CD of most of the music featured on the Centennial Celebration
concert and offered it for sale.
To create this CD, the band engaged a new, local company, Legacy
Productions, that produces fund-raising CDs for school, church and other
community groups. While many of
the band’s concerts have been recorded “live”, this recording project enabled
the band to experience the excitement (and tension!) of a real, professional
also engaged a local graphic artist (who is also one of my adult private
students) to update our logo and asked a local company to produce embroidered
golf shirts, hats, sweatshirts and tote bags which we are offerering to the
public for sale.
One of my
other passions in life is running.
This year, as I celebrated my 50th birthday and mid-life
crisis kicked into high gear, I decided to run in the Twin Cities Marathon in
October. The band was asked to
provide on-course entertainment for the huge crowds and 10,500 participating
runnners. As a special “stunt” to
help promote the band’s 100th anniversary, I decided that, in the
middle of my run, I would stop when I got to where the band was performing and
conduct the National Emblem march.
This march is significant to the band since it was published in 1906,
the same year the Robbinsdale City Band was formed.
runs through all the band’s centennial celebration activities: this community band, which for 100
years has enjoyed the support of the community, has used its centennial year
commemoration as an opportunity to give back to its community. Throughout this year, for each of its
major projects, the band has engaged local resources: composers, TV news anchors, printers, publishers, CD
producers, graphic designers and others.
Through this, not only has the band demonstrated its support for local
businesses and community, it has also demonstrated the wide variety of talent
and skills that exist within its own community.
theme of this centennial year has been the desire to create something of
significant and lasting value.
Through the new music commissioning project, the band hopes to bring new
music to life that can be enjoyed by people all over the world. Through the Centennial Celebration
concert, the band hoped to provide the audience, band alumni and current
members lasting and enjoyable memories of a wonderful, significant shared
experience. The Centennial Book
lives as a testament to the importance of music in people’s lives.
Band = Community Support.
Community Band = Music for Life.
information about the Robbinsdale City Band, go to www.RobbinsdaleCityBand.org
Michael Serber has been
a member of Robbinsdale City Band since 1970. In 1976, he became the Director/Drum Major of the Marching
Band and in 1991 he became the Director of the Concert Band. He received a Bachelor of Music
Education degree from Northwestern University in 1978. Following graduation, he taught for one
year in Dows, Iowa and for three years in Anoka, Minnesota. He currently works for Ameriprise
Financial in Minneapolis, where he has been employed since 1983. He is a Life Member of the National
Band Association. Along with his
wife, Julie, he also teaches private music lessons. Michael and Julie have 2 children. Their son, David, is a Journalism graduate of the University
of Missouri - Columbia and is living in Mexico. Their daughter, Rachel, is a Trumpet Performance major
at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.