Western Reserve Community Band dazzles at Bandstand, beyond

by Charles Cassady

The music world this year observed the 50th anniversary of hip hop. But in Hudson, it was the 25th anniversary of the Western Reserve Community Band.

Or is it the 26th? Or the 24th? Depends how one hip-hops around the calendar, thanks to the pandemic  hiatus, said conductor Ralph Meyer, referencing how quarantines and lockdowns affected performances.

“We lost two years because of COVID,” he said.

But this is certain: the WRCB first tuned up in 1997, on a mission “to provide free musical entertainment and cultural enrichment to communities throughout northeastern Ohio.” The group performs the American songbook, from marches to swing, from Broadway show tunes to Hollywood soundtracks – a repertoire of about 1,000 titles in all.

Musicians are volunteers from all walks of life, and they have hailed from 29 northeast Ohio communities.

“I think we had 13 at the first,” Meyer said. “And we have 85 now. And I still believe three or four members are originals.”

That would include Meyer. The Hudson resident –“I moved here in 1994,” he said – and retired chemical-plant human resources administrator is now one of three rotating conductors. Meyer, an Ithaca College Music major (woodwinds), also joins the ensemble with his clarinet.

Absent a pandemic, the band typically performs seven to 10 concerts per year at no admission charge to the public. Venues have included local churches, the Hudson Public Library, Hudson Middle School, the Gazebo on the Hudson Green, Hale Farm & Village and elsewhere in and around Summit County. They even guested at a special Ohio “Wizard of Oz” festival.

Concerts may feature solo performances by band members and special themes, such as a “Stars and Planets” compilation for the 2023 spring concert.

The traditional highlight of the WRCB summer-concert circuit is a late August extravaganza on the Hudson Band Stand.

“We’ve been doing that since 1999,” said Meyer. “…That’s a big deal for us, to play for the hometown. And fun for the people of the community.”

Such is the respect garnered by Hudson’s community band that it has the distinction now of its own original signature piece, concocted by a Kent State music scholar, teacher and film-score specialist.

“A local composer named John Pasternak,” said Meyer, “he wrote a piece of music called the Western Reserve March. …Since it’s written for us, we are very proud to have it.”

Another milestone makes its debut with the August 2023 show, a new side project of the WRCB, called the Bandstand Gazebo Band, initiated at the behest of brass section (tuba, to be exact) player John McIntyre.

“He’s very fired up about this effort he has spearheaded and the volunteers he has gathered,” Meyers explained.

In contrast to the 85 members of the full WRCB ensemble, the Bandstand Gazebo Band is a throwback to the sort of classic-Americana community brass band who might have played in Hudson in the 1800s. Think 12 to 15 members, heavy on the horns, with no amplifiers. “It’s just the instruments,” Meyers said. In other words, compact enough to fit in the average park gazebo on a fine summer day.

“I think it’s a very nice idea. We’ll see how the audience reacts,” he said.

Favorable acceptance should make the Bandstand Gazebo Band a regular attraction in addition to the WRCB’s schedule.

Membership in the Western Reserve Community Band (and its spinoff) is open to all adult instrumental musicians in and outside the surrounding Hudson area, via the Hudson Community Education & Recreation. Formal auditions are not necessary, but there may be a wait list to perform. Rehearsals take place Thursday evenings.

For full information and schedules of upcoming concerts, interested listeners and potential performers alike are welcome to hip-hop over to wrcband97.org. ∞

Beverly O’Connor, one of three conductors for the Western Reserve Community Band directs the 80-plus musicians through a “Stars and Planets” compilation during the Aug. 20 performance at the Gazebo Green. Photo by J. Stringer.

On our cover (Photo): The Western Reserve Community Band has grown from roughly a dozen members at its 1997 start to 85 today. Conductor Ralph Meyer said the local musicians treasure the annual hometown performance on the Hudson Bandstand. Photo by J. Stringer.