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Bemidji Community Band: Magic of music brings spouses, family members together

Among the family members performing at Sunday night's Bemidji Community Band concert are, clockwise from bottom left: Erik Evensen and Erica Svanoe, Vicki Wang and Ron Brown, Craig and Deb Schwarz, Pam and Paul Mork, Michelle and Glenn Seibel and Bonnie and Tom Swanson. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

When people come together to form a community, they bond together in a single focus whether for safety, recreation or survival.

When people come together in the universal language of mankind - music - it is for camaraderie and the joy they get when giving to others. When the final note is played and the appreciative audience rises to its feet, the joy and satisfaction of having done a good job is apparent on the faces of the musicians.

Back in the mid-1970s, Professor Ted Thorson of Bemidji State College formed a community band in the summer for people who were interested in playing in a group, and also for college music students who received course credit. A band, as opposed to an orchestra, is composed of woodwind, brass and percussion players and most noted for marches and lighter music. But that is changing with more classical music that does not require string players.

The current Bemidji Area Community Band Director Dave Murphy started playing percussion with the community band back in the late 1970s and then went onto a career in instructing percussion elsewhere. He returned to the area about six years ago and back to his roots.

"I am so glad to be back in northern Minnesota," said Murphy. He and his wife, Lynnette, are the First Couple of the Bemidji Area Community Band. Lynnette plays B-flat clarinet and Dave is band director and percussionist for the Dixieland on Stage, a combo of players who make their appearance a few times during the summer concert season. The BACB can boast several loyal band members who are also family members and have played together for almost as long as the band has been in existence.

Craig and Deb Swartz, summer residents of the Bemidji area for more than 30 years, live in Des Moines, Iowa. Part of their summer routine is playing in the BACB. Craig teaches trumpet at Grinnell College and is a 25-year tenured member of the Des Moines Symphony. He has been a part of the BSU MusiCamp for many years. Deb is employed by the Des Moines Public Schools and joins her husband in the band in the French horn section.

Pam Held and Paul Mork met in 1964 while playing clarinet and trombone in the Worthington (Minn.) High School Band. That same summer, Paul attended All State Band Camp at Bemidji State University under the direction of Professor Frank Bencriscutto. Pam went on to play in the Macalester College Band and Paul played during his Army enlistment in the First Army Band at Fort Meade and the 29th Army Band in Okinawa. They married in 1971 and their instruments went into storage until they joined the BACB in 1999. Now, they both play with the Park Rapids Area Community Band and the BSU Symphonic Band. Paul went a note further and played with Trombones of Bemidji.

Another couple who have been part of community bands for more than 50 years is Tom and Bonnie Swanson. Bonnie recalls the days playing outdoors in her hometown of Fosston where the audience sat in their cars and honked their approval. Tom said his hometown of Detroit Lakes erected a band shell for the community band. As well as being in the trombone section and as a soloist, Tom served as director of BACB for a number of years. Bonnie plays in the horn section with Deb Swartz. Their daughter, Jennifer Swanson, was the soloist at the July 4 concert, and their son, Paul, joins the band whenever he is back in Bemidji.

Longtime band members, who also have a daughter who played with BACB, are Glenn and Michelle Seibel. They have been with the band since 1992 after moving to Bemidji. Glenn can recall only one six-month period when he did not play with one band or another since 1956 in New Rockford, N.D. He and Michelle were joined by their daughter, Tiffany, a recent graduate of BSU, in the Park Rapids and Symphonic Band for a number of years. Tiffany is now living in the Twin Cities, but there is always a spot for her back home in the community band.

Carol Johnson, who has played clarinet in the BACB for more than 25 years, was joined by her daughter, Jennifer, while she was a student at Bemidji High School. Jennifer, a multi-talented vocalist and musician, is a music education student at Concordia College. But back here in Bemidji, Jennifer is known for playing percussion with BACB and her father, Ron Johnson, videotapes and photographs concert events.

One of the newer couples to join the band are Ron Brown and Vicki Wang, who met in Bemidji in 2003.

"For us, music is magic," said Ron. "It is hard to imagine life without music, the universal language that brought us together, and we are forever grateful."

They both play trumpet with the band, even though their prior training is diametrically opposed. Vicki is classically trained and Ron is an old rock 'n' roller.

Another couple joined the band this year, Erik Eversen and Erika Svanoe, after moving to the area. Erika is director of bands at BSU and professor of clarinet. She conducts the Woodwind Ensemble, Symphonic Band and Red Line Swingers. Erik is a graphic designer and illustrator in Bemidji and plays saxophone for fun. They both play for the Claremont American Band in Claremont, N.H., whenever their travels take them back East where Erik is an adjunct faculty member of The Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Murphy said numerous senior citizens play with the band. One of them is Betty Masoner, on snare drum. Masoner said the current BACB is probably a spin-off from the original college band. She has played with the band since its inception, almost 40 years ago, and intends to keep on playing, even though she must now sit on a chair instead of standing. Another long-time band member is "Tuba" Jim Thompson, a retired doctor and the son of Carl O. Thompson for whom Thompson Recital Hall is named.

Murphy also noted that players come and go during the summer season because of family obligations elsewhere. But they are always welcomed back to the family of the Bemidji Area Community Band.