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Bemidji Area Community Band looks back, forward

BEMIDJI - When the baton goes down on the first concert of the 2012 Bemidji Area Community Band, two well-known and respected musicians will be missing from the group.

The band lost two of its members this past year and their value to the ensemble will be remembered and honored with special arrangements of familiar songs.

The first concert of the season begins at the traditional time and day of 7 p.m. Sunday, which is Father's Day, on the grassy area just south of Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex on the campus of Bemidji State University.

The location is new, but the usual suggestions still apply: Bring a chair to sit on, a wrap in case it gets cool, some mosquito repellent and a keen sense of anticipation for the music to be played.

The conductor for the first two concerts will be Erika Svanoe, who is director of bands at BSU. For the premiere concert, she has chosen "Benny Goodman: The King of Swing" as arranged by Paul Murtha in celebration of the life and music of clarinetist Jerry Ekberg.

Gale Brooks, who has been with the band since 1957, offered some thoughts on his colleague Ekberg.

"We sat side-by-side for about 12 years and I am going to miss him," said Brooks. "He covered all my errors."

The second person to be remembered and honored is Don McKinnon, who was a musician with the U.S. Army and a music teacher after retiring from the military. He will be honored with a special rendition of "Over the Rainbow" from the movie "The Wizard of Oz."

"Don was originally from Maine so we shared the same dry Yankee sense of humor," band member Erik Evensen said. "The first day I started with the community band I noticed a sticker from my alma mater, University of New Hampshire, on his instrument case.

"Don went to a music camp there when he was in high school and I worked at the music camp while I was an undergraduate. I never knew about his Army days until I went to his funeral."

Many band members agreed that both men will be missed for their expertise and professionalism.

Svanoe's program will also include music from the movie "Titanic" and selections from the musical "Wicked." She also will lead the second concert, scheduled for July 1, which also will be at the Bangsberg site.

Mike Carrigan of Walker will be back this year for the third concert and a newcomer to the conductor ranks is Les Torgerson, a retired band leader who started his teaching career with the Bemidji High School Band. Torgerson is from Clearwater County.

The band received grants this past year, providing it with funds to purchase Plexiglas covers for the music stands and matching shirts to wear at concerts.

As always, the concerts are free, and good-will donations are accepted to help defray the cost of the concerts and the purchase of new music.

Concert-goers will not have to wonder where to go if the weather for the day is questionable. This year, no matter rain or sunshine, all of the concerts will be at the Bangsberg complex on the BSU campus.