There was a time when nearly every community had its own resident communal band, called on for holidays and special occasions; and a passionate collective of musicians from every conceivable background are striving to return the tradition.
The Klamath Falls Community Band was reformed in 2015, and the following year obtained 501©3 nonprofit status. It typically performs three concerts a year: one at Christmas time, one in the spring, and an outdoor concert on Independence Day. The collective rehearses weekly at the Mazama High School band room under the direction of Mazama music instructor Rob Izzett. Preparations for the upcoming holiday concert have been ongoing since September.
The group will perform its fourth annual “Sounds of Christmas” concert 2 p.m. Sunday at the Ross Ragland Theater. Tickets are $12, or $7 for students and seniors, with free admission for children 12 and under.
Community bands in pioneering days were called upon to welcome dignitaries to town, lead parades, perform at festive communal events, and even serve a military role. Anyone who could pick up an instrument with relative precision was recruited to participate, each band forming an important cultural identity for the communities which they represented.
Over time, the tradition of community bands has slowly died off, but former members and interested younger musicians have worked hard for several years to revive the cherished musical tradition of community bands in Klamath Falls.
For Niles Reynolds, band member and curator for the Klamath County Museum, the historical context and tradition behind the community band is one he takes very seriously. Reynolds and Izzett have been two of the driving forces behind Klamath Falls’ Community Band revival.
“There is a great history of community bands that stands out to me,” said Reynolds. “Even in Klamath Falls there has been some kind of community band since Linkville’s founding. It may have been different groups of people in different points of time, but there has always been ways to organize.”
The Community Band is a fascinating collective of musicians who share a common passion for music. There are doctors, teachers, city employees, secretaries, a retired dentist, carpenters, retired seniors, and high school and college students. Oregon Tech students have added incentive to join, as participation in the Klamath Falls Community Band earns college credits.
Rehearsals take on an often lighthearted approach, with plenty of razzing, for a fun social atmosphere while there is serious work to prepare. There are goals to accomplish and compositions to perfect in preparation for the public performance, but with a less serious approach than the standard orchestral practice.
There are no auditions to join the Klamath Falls Community Band, though it is expected that participants have a certain level of musical ability. According to Izzett, every year after shows, interested parties inevitably approach him or band members about joining. For students it is a little different, requiring a recommendation from their band director and an informal audition before being accepted.
“The group is full of friends, people who are really sharing a passion for music and are willing to contribute a lot of volunteer time to see it come alive in some kind of community event,” said Reynolds. “I think the word ‘community’ is a big part of it, these are people who come together not just for music but the community it can offer.”
A different take
For the upcoming concert, the group is preparing a different take on the traditional Christmas concert. While there will be plenty of familiar holiday tunes, the group is also willing to veer into other genres, including a Hanukkah song, and a Latin spin on holiday music.
That isn’t to say the concerts don’t have a certain structure, the annual holiday concert takes a festive swing at the Christmas season, while the Fourth of July concert takes on a patriotic flair. It is the annual spring concert where the group gets to challenge themselves and try different themes – last year they performed a concert titled “Around the World in 80 Minutes” performing music from different regions and cultures from across the globe.
“Band music is something very unique, and we play a style that won’t be heard at other concerts during the Snowflake Festival,” added Reynolds. “It is a very specific thing, and there is a history behind it that makes it a special thing for community to come together during the holidays.”