The Burlington Municipal Band plays peppy, patriotic Souza marches for the city’s Memorial Day celebrations. “Children do somersaults on the grass. People are proud. Those who attend feel the band is a strong part of the community; communities need something that is good for families. We are a positive attraction,” said Jim Priebe, one of the directors of the Iowa musical group.
Katharine Chestnutt Klang, manager of a community band in Atlanta, Ga., agreed bands build civic pride, even among their members.
“The band creates an incredibly strong community within the ranks. Some say that the band is their church.”
As important as a municipal band may be to a community, however, those in charge are also aware of the ever-present challenge of funding it. Burlington’s band began with city funding in 1927, when the Iowa Band Law allowed the city to levy a tax to support it. However, the city ultimately decided to just pay out of the general fund rather than actually collecting the tax.
Sadly, in 2011 municipal support was discontinued due to unexpected infrastructure expenses. By that time, activating the tax would have required a referendum still unlikely to take place. So for the moment the band is supported by private donations and relies in particular on a one-time generous gift of $40,000 from an anonymous benefactor. A Burlington Municipal Band Foundation was chartered to manage donations.
The Burlington Fine Arts League has also stepped up. It recently covered the cost of buying music, some percussion items and the band’s public address equipment. Despite this, “The long-term continuation of the band is by no means assured,” added Priebe. At this point, the group has enough money to play for four more seasons.
Atlanta’s community band is also a not-for-profit organization.
“About half of our performances are for pay, the rest are (for) charitable, educational, and community organizations,” said Chestnutt Klang. “In 1999, the S&FMA Endowment Fund was established to promote the band’s long-term preservation by providing reliable supplemental income to cover band operational costs. Donations to the endowment help insure the band continues to have the opportunity to play the charitable, non-paying community venues that are the heart and soul of the S&FMA.”
Sometimes bands go into a hibernation of sorts, but are capable and deserving of being brought back. C.B. Wilson, director of the Morgantown, W. Va., municipal band, said it was revived in 1990 after being defunct for a decade due to running out of trust fund money.
Local businessmen approached Wilson about restarting the band and helped raise money. Then the local musicians’ union got in on the act, contributing toward the annual concerts. The band is financially secure again due to a reinvigorated trust fund and endowment matched by community donations. The town not only enjoys the music, but also lends the musicians out to smaller places without bands.
Even with funding challenges, building a community band can be worth it in terms of growing community pride, providing cultural opportunities, and giving musicians an outlet.
For towns just starting a band, membership in the Association of Concert Bands provides opportunities to learn about growing a band’s audience, fundraising and more. It offers a magazine, website, and an annual convention to support those involved with or developing community bands. To learn more, go to: www.acbands.org.