by James Garcia Jr.
It was very sweet to see two dear friends of mine in Kingsburg this past Thursday evening. I met Bill and Margaret Nicholls when I was a teenager working at the Swedish Mill Restaurant in town. They used to come two to three times a week from their home in Clovis, and we became fast friends. Although the Mill has been closed for well over a decade, something continues to bring them back to town for six weeks during the summer. What could it be that draws a couple that is well into their eighties to our small town?
The Kingsburg City Band is a tradition that goes back an impressive 124 years to 1887. It is one of the oldest community bands in the Unites States and extremely rare this side of the Mississippi River. The band boasts approximately eighty members who travel from as far away as Merced and Los Banos in order to play in the Kingsburg Band Shell. The longest tenured Musical Director of the Band and Conductor is its current one, Dale Engstrom. He has held his position for thirty-four years.
“The band is made up of farmers, doctors, professional and semiprofessional musicians, bankers – you name it!” said Director Engstrom. “The group has a tradition of presenting quality programs that please young and old alike. They all share the common goal of loving to make beautiful music together. Each concert features a guest soloist, conductor or small group. The musical selections vary from Sousa to Stravinsky.”
Kingsburg has had quite a few gems in its history and Dale Engstrom is no exception. He is also the current Director of Bands at Fresno City College where he teaches brass ensemble and music fundamentals. He has taught at Fresno State and Reedley College, and band and choir for Kingsburg High School for 17 years.
“The first director of the band was a Swede by the name of Mr. Claus,” continued Engstrom. “He was a cornet player and led the first band of fourteen musicians in 1887 at the railway platform.” There have been thirty directors in the 124 year history.
This past Thursday, which was week two of the six week run of performances, was a patriotic extravaganza, featuring the music of John Philip Sousa and a salute to the United States Armed Services. The band played an inspiring selection of marches and anthems, including “The Star Spangled Banner”, “An American Fanfare”, “God Bless America” (featuring a guest vocal by Jess Chambers, Executive Director of the Kingsburg District Chamber of Commerce), “Pride of the Fleet”, “America The Beautiful” and, of course, Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”.
Although there were a great many highlights of the concert, my favorite was the playing of “Armed Forces Salute” by Jay Bocook. The celebration of each branch of the armed forces was a wonderful moment as members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #6152 presented each flag during that branch’s anthem, and that branch’s veterans among the crowd were asked to stand and be honored. Before the song was over all of the veterans were asked to take to their feet one last time in beautiful unity.
During the course of the season there can be a few surprises, but the performances are steeped in tradition as well. One of those traditions and a highlight of the season is the Community Band playing Tchaikovsky’s “The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E flat major, Op. 49”, popularly known as “The 1812 Overture”, complete with actual cannon fire and the playing of bells by a nearby church. On July 14th, the guest soloist will be Joe Lizama, the drummer for the legendary Johnny Mathis.
There are only four performances remaining. This next concert, July 7, will feature performances of “The Wizard of Oz” and “The William Tell Overture”, along with two John Philip Sousa numbers. There will be two guest vocalists. Julie Dana is the director of choral activities and voice at Fresno City College. She conducts the College Choir, City Singers and Jazz Singers. Catherine Cooper has extensive experience as a performer and music educator. She specializes in new music and has performed in twentieth-century music festivals and recitals throughout Southern California. The band will perform “I Dreamed a Dream” with Dana on vocals and “When You Believe” with both Cooper and Dana.
The Summer Band “Concerts Under The Stars” are free concerts which begin at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday nights in Kingsburg’s Memorial Park, just across the street from Kingsburg High School. The evening begins with a Farmer’s Market at 5:00 p.m., just a few blocks walking distance on Draper Street. Food, crafts and fresh produce will be available until 8:00 p.m., followed by the concert from 8 to 9:30 p.m. The concerts are supported by The City of Kingsburg, the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce and various sponsors.
The Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce website promises “…an opportunity to slip back in time to an old-fashioned outdoor concert and Farmers’ Market”. There are only four performances remaining. Memorial Park is packed for this wonderful musical tradition, but there is plenty of room for more. As the concert’s announcer told the crowd last week, it is a great time getting to know some new friends and to become reacquainted with some old ones as well. That was exactly what my wife and I did with our dear friends from Clovis.
For more information, call the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce at (559) 897-1111.