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Making music for a century

Mankato Area Community Band was first launched in 1922, still going strong today


Oom-pah-pah, oom-pah-pah. It’s a sound that Mankato area music lovers have heard for a century, thanks to local musicians who have played in the community’s band.

The Mankato Area Community Band is celebrating its centennial anniversary this summer with the production of a book that documents the band’s first century of making music. A special performance is scheduled for June 28 at Lincoln Park in Mankato, and the group will also perform its usual summer concerts in Sibley Park.

The current Mankato Area Community Band in a recent rehearsal. Photo taken by Sarah Houle, the band’s current vice president

The band, which has about 40 current members, originated in 1922 as the Mankato Elks Band, under the direction of William Sandon. For a century, the band has entertained listeners with patriotic music not only in parades but also in Independence Day performances at Minnesota State University’s Blakeslee Field, and with Tuesday evening concerts in the Sibley Park band shell. Before the COVID pandemic, the band also performed in city parks and band shells in several southern Minnesota communities.

Many band members, like Martha Lindberg, are versatile in the instruments they play. Lindberg is experienced in playing the oboe, English horn (alto oboe), flute and piccolo, as well as some percussion instruments. She joined the band in 1994 because, she said, “I wanted to get better at playing the flute, even though I didn’t think I’d like playing marching music. Then I found out the band plays a greater variety of music.”

In addition to performing with the band, Lindberg serves as the band’s secretary-treasurer. She also handles grant fund applications for the non-profit organization. Although this behind-the-scenes work is important, it’s the music itself that has kept Lindberg involved for 28 years.

“The concerts are almost magical,” she said. “Even on hot days, it’s not as hot near the band shell in the park. The area is sprayed for mosquitoes weekly, and there’s a huge lawn with plenty of room for kids to run around.”

Each concert includes a time for children to be part of the musical celebration. Lindberg explained, “In the Children’s March, we choose a piece that the children might like, such as Baby Elephant Walk or some kind of Disney Tune--maybe It’s a Small World After All. The March is led by a volunteer, and is open to any age child, with bubbles distributed during the march, so children can blow bubbles during the rest of the concert.” Very few conditions cancel a concert--severe weather, extreme heat, rain that evening or, a very wet lawn from a previous rain.

Edwin Stock, a long-time band member and former director (as well as a retired public school music teacher and band director) became involved as a university student when the Municipal Band practiced at what was then Mankato State University. He explained, “In the late 1960s, the MSU Band Director, Dr. Clayton Tiede, would suggest an upperclassman to direct the Municipal Band, and he recommended me. I was hired and was paid a stipend--and I just never left the Municipal Band.”

Stock also directed two student marching bands--the high school Lancers and the junior high Cadets--both of which provided potential Municipal Band members. He points out that the Municipal Band includes musicians from diverse backgrounds, saying “A lot of smart people play or have played--teachers, homemakers, oil company owners, doctors, lawyers. It’s a group of really fine musicians and wonderful people. The format has remained the same--concerts in Sibley Park. We have had theme nights, a jazz night, a big band night--and ‘tons of tubas.’"

In 1982, Stock organized a 60th anniversary celebration of the band, which had evolved into the Mankato Area Municipal Band in 1963. His favorite memories from more than a half century of involvement with the band include watching the first director, Henri Udelhoffen, direct the band, hearing a trio of snare drum solos in the middle of a performance of “Sempre Fidelis” and the success of a young public school student who played the saxophone despite having a learning disability. He said, “She stuck with it, and 15 years later, she joined the Municipal Band.”

Researching a century of music

Research of the band’s century-long history began a couple of years ago, spearheaded by the band’s historian, trombonist Bryce Stenzel. Now a history teacher and author of nine non-fiction historical books, Stenzel was a junior high school student when he joined the Municipal Band, but he had attended the band’s concerts for several years before joining.

He explained, “My sister, Laurie, played the piccolo and flute in the band, so my parents and I attended many concerts before I got involved. Recently, Laurie and a number of other people have helped me with research for the centennial book.” Stenzel was referring to the hard cover book “And the Band Played On: Centennial History of the Mankato Area Community Band (1922-2022). He and other volunteers have researched and compiled the book, which will include both black-and-white and color photos.

A1922 photo of the Mankato Elk’s Band in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for their national convention. Note the bathing suits they are wearing for uniforms. This photo helped determine the origin for the band. The # 225 indicates their Elk’s Lodge number. The Elks still exist in Mankato, and their Lodge number is still 225.

In researching the band’s history, Stenzel learned that the Municipal Band grew from the Elks Band, which existed in 1920. The group of volunteers decided to designate the year 1922 as the Municipal Band’s official anniversary. It was that year that the band went to Atlantic City, New Jersey to take part in an Elks national convention that included a marching band competition. Instead of playing a march, the Elks Band performed “Wang Wang Blues”--which they plan to reprise this summer. There’s no word, yet, on whether current band members plan to appear as their predecessors did a century ago--wearing 1920s–style bathing suits for the parade because they had no uniforms.

The Mankato Area Community Band rehearses 10-12 pieces every Monday evening, and performs 65 pieces over the summer. The musicians, who range in age from early teens to a 92-year-old clarinet player, perform a variety of music aimed at an audience that runs the gamut from children to retirees. As Stenzel said, “In our concerts, we reach a demographic that might not otherwise be reached, including people who come to concerts from elder care facilities and other group residences--and children, of course. We introduce people of all ages to a variety of musical styles--jazz, classical, show tunes, Big Band (which is different from jazz), patriotic music, military music, etc. Everyone can appreciate music in one form or another. Music is a universal language.”

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