The band plays on: Diverse group of musicians returns to perform for another summer of Lawrence entertainment

Charles Page plays the tuba during a Lawrence City Band practice at Murphy Hall on Kansas University’s campus in preparation for its June 10 performance. The City Band has played on and off since the 1850s.

High school teachers. Attorneys. College professors. Computer experts. Former Army members. Photographers. Professional musicians.

All have separate lives. Some go to work every day. Some are retired. Some have been doing this for more than 30 years. Some are brand new.

All share one common theme: They love music and play in the Lawrence City Band.

The City Band, which has existed on and off since the 1850s, performs concerts at 8 p.m. Wednesdays in South Park from late May to mid-July. About 55 musicians come from Lawrence, all over Kansas and even farther to practice and then perform. They draw diverse crowds of young and old who come for the good music and summer weather with their community.

In February, the city of Lawrence listed the band as a possible option for cutting funds, but officials say the concerts are funded through 2010.

Band practice

People carrying cases trickle toward Murphy Hall on campus. They enter a room full of people with their instruments out, chatting like old friends. A father and son share space in the percussion section. A husband wields a trombone, while the wife plays clarinet.

Robert Foster stands at the front of the room. He’s been around for a while. He’s officially directed the band since 1992 but directed occasionally since the late 1980s. He played trumpet for almost 20 years before that. His son now sits in the trumpet section.

Foster starts practice right at 6 p.m. There’s some talk about weather — it might rain. For now, the concert will stay outside in the South Park gazebo, which is more than 100 years old. A single clarinet plays, and the band tunes to the tone.

Then the music starts. First a march, and Foster asks for a “good, bright tempo.” Then some recognizable tunes: “Over the Rainbow,” “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and songs from “The Lion King.” Occasionally the band stops at Foster’s request to figure out the level of volume and to work out solos. Some songs stop halfway through because the band already knows them.

There’s only one hour to practice. It’s that way every week. Foster says he puts recognizable songs in each program, but he also puts in new ones. That means that sometimes, band members are playing songs in the concerts for only the second time.

“It’s a testament to the quality of people who do it,” Foster says.

There’s a legacy in the rehearsal room. Players range from the two youngest, the college students, to those who have been playing in this band since the 1970s.

Bob Friauf, Ed Bartley and Foster are in that latter category. All three joined the band during the disco decade but joined to play marches by Sousa and classic band music with talented musicians from the area.

Friauf, a retired Kansas University professor, came to Lawrence in 1953 and started playing clarinet in the band around 1975.

“There’s just nothing like playing in a band,” he says.

He’s played since fourth grade and continued through graduate school. He says the band in Lawrence is a sign of the community.

“It’s a real piece of Americana, like a Currier and Ives painting,” he says.

Bartley, a former Lawrence High School band director, started playing trombone in the band in 1970. He played since he was 8 years old and says as a local director, he was expected to play in the City Band. But he says the band isn’t just important to him.

“City Band is not for the musicians,” he says. “City Band is for the people who come listen to the concerts. The band belongs to the city.”

At the concert

Curtis and Cleda Dalton try to come to the show every week. Curtis was born in Lawrence, and the couple have lived in the city for 20 years after moving away for a while. To them, the show is about community.

“We just enjoy the live music, and we’ll always see a friend we know,” Cleda says.

Louise and Dietz Dylce have been driving from Ottawa every Wednesday night for 20 years to listen to the City Band. To them, the City Band concert is a tradition, and they like the mix of music played.

“We love good band music, and this is good band music,” Louise says. “It’s the highlight of summer to come to the band concert.”

Young and old people sit in lawn chairs and on blankets, chatting with friends and those sitting nearby while the “Peer Gynt Suite” plays in the background. Kids play a game of Frisbee behind the park’s gazebo, while others climb trees, race and play tag. There are dogs of all shapes and sizes, ranging from a tiny Jack Russell terrier to a 120-pound Bernese mountain dog.

Keri Rodriquez owns the Jack Russell terrier, which barks at other dogs walking by. She hasn’t been coming for 20 years. In fact, this is only her second concert. Her kids are there, but they’re off playing in the park’s fountain. For her, the concerts are something fun the family can do together.

“During summer, it’s hard to find things to do that don’t cost and arm and a leg,” she says.

Protecting the band

Louise Dylce is protective of the band. She’s willing to contribute money if the band is in danger of losing its funding. The same goes for trombonist Bartley. He says it would be awful for the community if the band stopped playing.

“Why should you take art out of the community?” he asks. “If these things go away, so will the people.”

Casey Toomay, budget manager for city of Lawrence, says right now the band is not in danger. The band concerts were originally considered for a budget cut when the state announced it was considering keeping liquor tax proceeds rather than give them to cities. This tax pays $12,000 to fund the band.

Foster says each member gets $30 for each concert, but that hardly covers the cost of the commute for some. They come from all over, as far away as the two-and-a-half hour drive from Boonville, Mo., and from Emporia and Kansas City.

Toomay says the state decided to keep giving liquor tax proceeds to cities, so as of now, the band is funded for this summer and next. On July 2, the city manager’s office will release its recommended budget, which currently still has funding for the city band. City commission is scheduled to approve the final budget Aug. 18, and the commission can make changes before then.

Foster, however, says there will be a band no matter what.

“It represents the quality of life that is so special and unique to Lawrence,” he says.

— Kansas University intern Brenna Hawley can be reached at 832-7290.