It's been 12 years since the Rev. Paul Gray last stood as conductor of the 312th Army Band.
Next Saturday, Gray, pastor at Heartland Community Church, 619 Vt., once again will take up a baton, step in front of the band and perform the role of conductor.
"I've missed it," Gray said. "It will be a little different not having done it for a long time, but I'm looking forward to it."
Gray and about 30 other former band members will play with the 312th during its first-ever alumni concert, set for 7 p.m. next Saturday at the South Park gazebo. The band, based at the Samuel J. Churchill Army Reserve Center, 2100 Iowa, currently features 52 soldiers.
"It just seemed like it was about time that we did this," said Staff Sgt. Ivan Brillhart, the 312th's unit administrator. "We started working on this last fall - going back and doing research and contacting the alumni."
The band was activated on Oct. 1, 1973, in Lawrence as part of the 89th Army Reserve Command headquartered in Wichita. It was an all-female band for a short period until 1977 when a recruiting campaign brought in both male and female musicians.
The band schedules 15 to 25 performances a year, including appearances at Kansas City Chiefs and Royals games. And once, it even played at an Oakland A's game. The 312th was named the official Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution Band and was an official Eisenhower Centennial band. It has performed across the country and earned several awards.
Gray was the band's commander and director for 18 years. He retired as a chief warrant officer 4 and was replaced by Warrant Officer 3 Robert Claggett, of Eudora. Claggett, the band's current commander, is on active duty in Texas but will return for the concert, Brillhart said. The band's acting director is Warrant Officer 1 Rob Nicholas, of Lansing.
Bobby Duffer, of Lawrence, was a first sergeant, or second in command, of the band for several years before he retired in 2003. He also will be at the concert and will play a solo on alto saxophone. Duffer also will conduct a couple of musical pieces.
Gray thinks military bands remain popular because they play music that lifts people's spirits and instills patriotism.
"For people who have been in the military, it's a reminder of their service, and for others, it is a reminder of the sacrifice that people have made so that we have had the kind of freedom we have today," Gray said.
"It seems like everybody loves a good march," he said. "The 312th band has been fortunate enough to have good players over the years to be able to play a variety of music that the general public likes."
The concert is free. Go online to www.kansasoz.com/band/ for more information about the band and to hear samples of its music.