RENSSELAER — The Newton-Jasper Community Band will be performing its last concert at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 in the auditorium of South Newton High School.
The concert is free and snacks will be supplied for attendees.
This final Christmas-themed performance will mark the end of a band which has performed in the area since area music teacher Joy Stowers founded it in 1985.
“I was told, I guess, that there was a band in Rensselaer before that,” current director Linda Vaughan said while recalling the band’s origins. “But then, they kind of disbanded.”
Stowers formed the Newton-Jasper Community Band shortly afterward.
The band reportedly reached its peak of more than 60 members during or around 2009, and about half that many will be performing Monday. Band members have cited these falling numbers as the reason for disbanding, since it can no longer fill out the instrumentation.
Vaughan is also stepping down from that position after serving as part of the band since its beginning.
Rensselaer’s Dave Walter, who plays trombone and occasionally other instruments, said he has been a part of the band for “about 30 years.”
“We’ve been doing this a long time,” he said.
When asked why he ended up joining the band, Walter said he saw a value in producing his own live music, for himself and the surrounding communities. He said it was a good alternative to constantly listening to pre-recorded music.
“I’ve always enjoyed music,” he said. “I don’t much like listening to music that other people have done. I like making my own.”
Walter said people are not seeing the value in live music performances. He cited a 1906 essay by famed composer and conductor John Philip Sousa, titled “The Menace of Mechanical Music.” In the essay, Sousa argued for the value of live musical performances and fresh compositions, as opposed to relying on and endlessly replicating recordings of music.
“I foresee a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste, an interruption in the musical development of the country, and a host of other injuries to music in its artistic manifestations,” he wrote, “by virtue – or rather by vice – of the multiplication of the various music-reproducing machines.”
Sousa said this mechanical music was, even in his own time, “sweeping across the country” and becoming a “substitute for human skill, intelligence and soul.”
“Boy, was he ever right,” Walter said.
Still, one can’t say that the local band hasn’t had many achievements over the past 34 years. Performances have been done for various local events, such as the Little Cousin Jasper Festival. The band also performed for former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ campaign and subsequent inauguration, as well an event for Sarah Palin in Indianapolis.
“That was a huge crowd,” Walter said of the Palin event. “We did not play on the main stage. We played for the people that were standing in line. We played college marching songs, up-beat stuff that young people were singing and dancing to.”
The band has also played at the Red Skelton festival, as well as Riley Plaza in Lafayette and three times at Disney World in Florida.
Vaughan, who grew up in Brook but has lived in Kentland for about 45 years, said she took over for Stowers as director sometime around 2013. Vaughan had played trumpet for the band from its beginning in 1985.
She also directed several musical numbers for the band in the 1990s or early 2000s during its performances at Disney World.
“I did direct a couple of numbers,” she said of the Disney performances. “And I did probably sing along with another guy in the band on ‘God Bless America.’ I did direct one or two numbers there.”
Vaughan took over for Stowers several decades after the latter woman helped to spark her own appreciation for music in high school.
“Joy Stowers was my band director high school,” she said. “She was my band director my freshman year and sophomore year at Brook, and she was the one that got me into music. I graduated in music from Indiana State University. She was the one that was very instrumental in getting me to go into music, into teaching.”
Vaughan taught for a year after college and has led her church choir for 45 years. The band she currently leads has been around long enough to see a changeover in generations.
“We’re going to have, I believe, 31 at the concert Monday night,” Vaughan said. “We’ve had several members pass away, we’ve had some people move away.”
However, she said the band still has young students from places like Rensselaer and South Newton. There are also members from places like West Lafayette and Watseka, Ill.
“(Members are from) Pulaski County, Tippecanoe County, Iroquois, Illinois, Newton and Jasper counties,” she said.
Vaughan said she informed the band this past summer that she would be stepping down as director.
“And not that I wouldn’t play in it again,” she said, “but it takes a lot of time and involves a lot of work, as I’m sure Joy found out. She was teaching as well as (directing) the community band, and it’s a lot of work.”
Though leading the band took a lot of effort, Vaughan said she was helped out by “wonderful band members” that would “do anything to help you out.”
Though there may be some chance that the band could continue next year if another director is found, one hasn’t been found yet.
“I don’t know yet,” Vaughan said of the band continuing. “If somebody would step up and take it over as the director, that’s a possibility. I don’t know.”
If someone does want to lead it, she said “that would be great.” The band does normally take a break during the winter and resumes around April, so there is a window of time for anyone interested to take the initiative.
“So far, nobody has stepped forward,” she said. “We have a lot of music that we have done, so we have filing cabinets full of music that we’re going to be left with. So we’re just kind of waiting, probably waiting until spring.”
Whatever happens, though, the band and all of its many members, past and present, have a lot of which they are proud.
“It’s been a great journey,” Vaughan said. “It’s been a wonderful era that we’ve had a community band. We’ve done a lot of festivals and programs and done a lot of wonderful things. And we have a lot of wonderful memories.”