Guest column: What the Dixon Municipal Band means to me

It was in 1960 when I had just graduated from the 8th grade at Madison Grade School in Dixon that I first had the opportunity to play with the Dixon Municipal Band.

That spring, I had won first prize in the brass division of the Lyon & Healy solo competition in Chicago and appeared on Chicago Public Television Channel 11 playing Gardell Simons’ “Atlantic Zephyrs.”

As I was a prize winner, Robert L’Heureux, the conductor of the band, invited me to play the solo at a concert on June 15, 1960.

After playing the solo with the concert, I was asked if I would like to play as a regular member of the band in their concert series. I was given a special dispensation to join the International Musician’s Union (American Federation of Musicians) even though I was not yet 16 years old and thus began playing each week with the band. We rehearsed on Monday evenings with concerts on Thursday evenings throughout the summer.

I continued playing with the band every year thereafter through my high school and college years. I also had the chance to play solos with the band each summer, sometimes three or four times. Playing with this group was one of the prime factors in my success as a professional euphonium player the rest of my life.

Playing at least 12 weeks or more of concerts each summer developed my familiarity and knowledge of a great volume of literature and the skill most important to a musician, being able to sight-read well. We had only one rehearsal to read through the program before we performed it.

In fact, when I had my first professional audition with the U.S. Navy Band, which consisted of sight-reading a book of band pieces, I found there were only one or two pieces I had not previously played, many in the Dixon Municipal Band. Also, at that Navy Band audition, they asked if I knew any solos. I had a list of more than 18 solos with band accompaniment I had memorized and played, many I had performed with the Dixon Municipal Band. One of the prime reasons I won that job was because of my solo experience, which originated with my experience in the Dixon Municipal Band.

There were many other young talented high school students who received similar experiences playing in the Dixon Municipal Band. These included both my brother, Victor, and my sister, Linda Jane, who later also became members of the U.S. Air Force Band in Washington D.C., where we performed together. Another notable member of the band was trumpet player Jerry Hey, who composes, arranges and performs professionally in Hollywood, where he has received six Grammy awards and 11 nominations.

There were many young musicians who received their first professional experiences in the band and went on to very successful careers in music.

The Dixon Municipal Band is not only a benefit to members of the band, but also provides a rare cultural opportunity and enjoyment for the resident of the greater Dixon area. Having live high-quality music available free in concerts each week during the summer months not usually associated with towns the size of Dixon is a wonderful advantage to the artistic life of those living in Dixon.

I still remember those wonderful concerts at the Dixon Band Shell, listening not only to the applause of those attending, but the honking horns of those who listened from their cars.

I understand that the city of Dixon is considering a cut back on the funding for the Dixon Municipal Band this coming year. I would encourage them to reconsider this and to increase the funding to support the cultural boon of having live professional music available to the residents and visitors to Dixon, as well as providing a proving ground and professional experience for the upcoming talented musicians of Dixon.

May this heritage of live music and professional, cultural experience not be diminished in any way in the future.

I am proud of my Dixon heritage and especially for my opportunity to have participated as a member of the Dixon Municipal Band.

• Brian L. Bowman, an alum of the Dixon Municipal Band and retired chief master sergeant with the U.S. Air Force, is a longtime Euphonium musician and music professor.