The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 22, 2012

Summer spotlight: K.C.-area band featured at Joplin Pops

JOPLIN, Mo. — Members of the American Legion Band of Greater Kansas City have had a Joplin concert circled on their calendars for a while.

“Usually we are a part of patriotic events,” said Mark Drake, president of the band. “We’re the featured act, the headliner, and that’s exciting for the band. This is one of the standout events on our schedule.”

The band will play a program of popular, patriotic favorites during the Joplin Pops concert today at the oval on the campus of Missouri Southern State University. The annual outdoor concert is presented by Pro Musica Joplin.

Regular director Heather Pickett will miss the concert because of an illness. Bill Turley will conduct the band instead, Drake said.

The Joplin Pops is a different kind of concert, said Bonnie Yetter, interim director for Pro Musica Joplin.

“Usually, our season has formal, classical music with small ensembles,” Yetter said. “This is a large group that will play a few light classics and some more popular things that people like to hear.”

That includes a healthy helping of Sousa marches, Claude T. Smith, an armed forces salute and Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.”

Wait, Dvorak? It’s the most difficult piece in the band’s repertoire, Drake said.

“That individual piece will be a feature for the band,” Drake said. “It will be a competition piece for when we go to a national band competition in August.”

Though Dvorak’s symphony may not fit a patriotic theme, it is one of the more recognizeable pieces of music for orchestra. Adaptations for military bands such as this one are considered standard, traditional pieces.

Introducing new music to listeners is important to the band, Drake said. Though the program features the well known Sousa classics “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the band will also play “El Capitan.”

“Sousa wrote a lot of other things; vignettes that were musicals. Some weren’t even marches,” Drake said. “That’s one of the unwritten missions of our band, to bring that forward and draw the audience in.”

Bands in this style were popularized by Sousa, Drake said.

Military bands were common and popular in the early 1900s Ñ virtually every town had a band. The instrumentation features brass, woodwinds and percussion, leaving out members of the string family.

The American Legion Band of Greater Kansas City is one of those bands.

Formed more than 80 years ago, it has a history of performing at public and patriotic events throughout Missouri and Kansas.

The 67-member band features players as young as 17 and as old as 80, Drake said. Drake plays tuba in the band, and his daughter plays saxophone.

“I’ve been in for 20 years myself,” Drake said. “My daughter is a music student at KU. When the opportunity arose and she was at the right stage in her musical development, we had her come in. She’s been with the band for about four years now.”

Members rehearse weekly in the spring and ramp up practices until a national competition, where the band competes against other similar bands.

Since 1951 the band hasn’t missed playing in the annual American Legion Senior Band Competition. Drake said the band won in 2005 and has placed in the top three each year since.

The band is a featured part of commemorations and ceremonies in the K.C. area, including Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Independence Day celebrations.

Yetter said the concert is an open-air, casual concert, which listeners can bring their own lawn chairs, blankets and picnic meals. The annual Joplin Pops concert closes the Pro Musica Joplin season each year, and is a family friendly event.

“My granddaughters love it, because they can run and do cartwheels,” Yetter said. “it’s more relaxed and informal.”

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