ROBBINSDALE CITY BAND
By Kay Anderson
Robbinsdale 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 force to promote that
growth. Members of the Grenell and
Swift families were instrumental in starting a band consisting of a dozen or so
members of all ages known as the Robbinsdale Civic Club Band. Over the years the name was changed to
the Robbinsdale City Band (RCB), the name in use today.
bands were comprised of family members of all ages. Mid century, when the band was especially known for its
marching, the band was made up of teenagers and young adults. The age of present day band members is
more diverse than it was 35 years ago.
The marching band has members ranging in age from 15 through 50’s. For the concert unit, “post high school
adult” has come to mean age 18 – mid-80’s. Their histories and life stories are just as varied with
educational backgrounds in biology, engineering, education, medicine, business,
accounting, design, music, homemaking and more.
In spite of
their differences, these people have found something essential to their lives
in common with all of the others.
They love music! Through it
they have found a way to feed their souls and make a well-rounded life. Public education is cited by many 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
– 60 years is evidence that money spent on music education has been well
The band has
been known as a closely knit friendship group. Members celebrate together for events such as weddings,
births, and birthdays. They have
held reunions and annual banquets, some with hired dance bands. They have been present and eager to
assist at the time of illnesses and funerals. Many describe the RCB as “family.” They joined the band because of music but found enduring
friendships and a supportive, caring community.
The band has
been led by a series of directors, who have put their personal stamp on the
band as it evolved into a highly ranked precision marching unit and a musically
excellent band. The roster of
directors is comprised of William Henry Grenell and his son, William Francis
Grenell, (founders of the band), Louis Spotten, Miles Sery, Clarence Hegg, Paul
Larson, William Allen Abbott, Robert Mendenhall, Roy Olson, Don Schiermer,
Roger Thompson, Michael Serber, Raymond Johanneck and the present director, M. Chad Green.
THE MARCHING BAND
history the band has been in great demand around the state for parades,
celebrations and concerts. The
band was invited to take part in the first Minneapolis Aquatennial parade and
was named “The Governor’s Own Band” in 1938 and 1939. The band has played in every Aquatennial since
its inception in 1939. During
those years the band has been chosen Grand Open Champion 21 times and
Torchlight winner 17 times. It is the only band to have won the title of State
Champion Band at the State Fair for 7 consecutive years.
While the entire
band both marched and played concerts until 1969 when the concert band was established
as a separate entity, it was as a marching unit that the band first attained
renown for itself and for the community of Robbinsdale. Early directors, drum majors and
assistants honed the marching skills of the members into a finely tuned
An example of
the band’s noteworthy competition was the 1941 Aquatennial Northwest Band
contest where the band received a score of 100%. The judge, Dr. Frank Simon, formerly solo cornetist under
John Phillip Sousa, gave the band high praise. He said, “The music, marching and showmanship of this band
is superb. Of all the bands I have
listened to and judged, I have never come across a band that is, as a unit, so
nearly perfect. …I couldn’t have
seen and heard a better show if I had gone to New York or Radio City. It was the most enjoyable half hour I
have ever spent. The director
[Paul Larson] showed outstanding showmanship.”
proved he knew what the judges were looking for in preparing his bands for
competition when he brought home many awards. Mike Serber tells of helping Roger Thompson measure the
streets of downtown Minneapolis so as to execute precise steps and turns.
In 2004, Mike
Serber faced the reality of dwindling interest in marching. Unable to compete in school categories
and unable to compete with the large non-school units, he changed the style of
marching to a small “combo” that provides parade entertainment.
In 1969 Roger Thompson,
the new director, created a separate concert band for post-high school adults
only. That group started with a
handful of members and quickly grew to a membership of 20 – 25. Present membership is 50 –
70. Some members of the concert
band are also members of the marching unit.
The concert band
performs regularly in Robbinsdale and its surrounding suburbs. Concert venues include parks, senior
residences, shopping centers, city hall and schools. Favorite away-from-home concert sites include Como Park in
St. Paul, and Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. The band’s broad repertoire allows it to select pieces that
are especially suited to a particular audience. Jazz, classics, polkas, show tunes, patriotic numbers and
kids’ favorites are all options. Some
audiences love to play “Name that tune” and others enjoy a sing-along. A concert may offer the option of doing
a polka with the queen candidates or a March Around the Park!
The band has
given generously of its music within the community, taking an active part in
celebrations within and around the community of Robbinsdale. The concert unit 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.
It also performs many concerts in one of the school auditoriums.
Armistice and Memorial Day celebrations were lengthy and patriotic. The whole community, with fresh
memories of the loss of loved ones and service participation, took part. Those of us who now play for audiences
made up of senior citizens have the privilege of playing for those same
people. They truly know what
patriotism is all about and still set an example for all of us.
Anniversary – 2006 For its centennial celebration, the band
commissioned Shelley Hanson, a local composer, to create a piece called Whiz
Bang. Director Michael Serber also composed The
RCB Centennial March in
honor of the occasion. Both world
premiers are a part of our musical repertoire. Our hope is that they will be be published and made
available to other bands throughout the country.
City Band is more than a series of concerts, parades and awards. It is a vital part of its
community. It is described by its
members as a “family.” Sharing the
love of music is at the core of its existence. But its uniqueness might best be summed up by the many
concert attendees who describe concerts and events as “the way our country used
to be.” We take pride in showing
that it is the way our community still is!