Local music group celebrates over 40 years of performing
When you hear the phrase “Music City,” you might think of Nashville, Tennessee. However, our southern neighbor is not the only city where dozens of talented people reside. In our Derby City, you’ll find great performers with a musical flair. Some belong to big names like the Louisville Orchestra, and then there are others who play with smaller organizations like the River Cities Concert Band (RCCB).
If you’re unfamiliar with the River Cities Concert Band, it’s time you learned more about it. The group is made up of players from southern Indiana and Louisville. According to band president and tuba player Steve Ellis, the RCCB began in 1980 with its first rehearsal in the Jeffersonville High School Music Room.
“Gene Davis, the band’s high school principal, served as RCCB’s first principal, with Jeff Staten as assistant principal,” Ellis explains. “When Gene started the band, most of the members were his former students. We think the first gig was in May 1980. We even have a band member who was part of that first gig.
In the mid-1980s, rehearsals were moved from high school to River Valley Middle School in Jeffersonville due to Davis’ transfer there. As the band grew, more and more people from the Louisville side joined, so it made sense to move rehearsals to Kentucky. They established a residence at St. Matthews Baptist Church.
“One of our members attended this church and through him we made a connection,” says Ellis. “They were excited for us to come and play, and we’ve been there ever since.”
The River Cities Concert Band is actually a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, and relies on fundraising and donations to keep it afloat. The money is used to buy music and provide a small stipend for the band manager. As a community harmony orchestra, their instrumental composition consists solely of brass, woodwind and percussion. They do not incorporate string instruments such as guitars or pianos.
The music that the group performs is quite varied.
“We play marches, popular music, show tunes, and repertoire written for wind bands,” Ellis explains. “Some of the music we play is relatively new and has been written for concert bands over the past few years. Then there are a lot of classics that are almost 100 years old. A lot of the marches that everyone loves are from the golden age of the late 19th century to the early and mid 20th century.Many things people love to hear are the marches of John Philip Sousa and Henry Fillmore, both of whom are long gone.
The RCCB handles a number of concerts throughout the Kentuckiana area.
“We play one or two shows a year in Bardstown, and we play Jeffersonville frequently,” Ellis explains. “Farthest we’ve been but haven’t been since pre-COVID is Orleans, Indiana. We also play regularly in Corydon, Indiana. We’ve played Parklands a few times, which is a new venue for us. We would love to play there again. »
You can also find them performing at nursing homes and they will perform one concert a year at St. Matthews Baptist Church as a thank you to church leaders for letting them rehearse there.
“Once in a while we’ll play other churches and gigs,” Ellis says. “The group finds its pitches in different ways. Some we’ve done for years and years, and some are word of mouth. Someone will call to tell us that they have heard us play somewhere and are interested in how they can get us to play for them.
The band has had a number of great directors since Davis started the band over 40 years ago. He was director until 1995, then John Hoover took over and served from 1995 to 2004. Subsequent conductors were Rick Duggar from 2004 to 2005; Shaun Popp from 2005 to 2010; Jonathan Rohner from 2010 to 2012; Duggar from 2012 to 2018; and Brad Jopek from 2018 to 2021. The group chose a new musical director this year, saxophonist and pedagogue Desmond Anderson.
Anderson is originally from Louisville, having grown up in the West End on 39th Street. He attended Butler Traditional High School and after graduation he attended Morehead State University to study music education. He says it was his dream and his passion to become a band manager. After graduation, he returned to Louisville where he spent time teaching sections and private lessons.
“I was in Shelby County, I went to Spencer Middle School, and I was all over Louisville,” he explains. “I’ve been a fill-in and have been blessed with a variety of musical sub-positions for JCPS and New Albany/Floyd County.”
After his replacement year, Anderson says he was lucky enough to land a job as a group director at New Albany High School in Indiana. He stayed there for four years.
The opportunity to join the RCCB presented itself this year while Anderson was working on his master’s degree in harmony pedagogy at the University of Louisville.
“The River Cities position opened up because Brad [Jopek] had the opportunity to go to the University of Maryland,” says Anderson. “I actually knew Brad. We had taken a few classes together.
Anderson applied and went through the interview process.
“It was really cool in my opinion just because it was something completely different,” he says. “It was a community, and I think that’s one of the most valuable things in music, when non-music majors, people who don’t do this for a living, want to come and participate in the music It’s one of the most important things I stand for.”
Anderson is thrilled to have been chosen for the position and says he would love to bring the band into the larger community.
“The direction I really want them to take is to go beyond some of the venues they’ve performed in the past – to reach more diverse audiences and perform in more diverse venues,” he says. . “I think it’s really important to include everyone in the community. I especially feel that way as a black man. You don’t see many people like me in music. I really want to reach out to these people in the community to say, “I’m here, this is something we can do. I also think it would be fun for the band and more encouraging to continue the tradition of participating in the music.
The band rehearses Tuesday nights at 6:45 p.m. at St. Matthews Baptist Church, located at 3515 Grandview Avenue in Louisville. Anyone can participate and there is no audition process. Members must be able to read music and must have their own instrument. For more information about the band, visit rivercitiesconcertband.org.