Clarinetist and lifelong Chautauquan Debbie Grohman thinks the Chautauqua Community Band is a perfect representation of the spirit of Chautauqua Institution. For her, it captures the sense of music at the center of a multi-generational community and the good use of leisure time.
The band, which includes musicians of all ages, skill levels and backgrounds, will perform at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 4, on Bestor Plaza. Jason Weintraub, Community Band founder, will conduct a program that features the four composers he considers to be the most “American”: Leroy Anderson, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan and John Philip Sousa.
Anyone can play in the Community Band. Some members, like Grohman, are professionals — but they could be playing next to someone who’s still learning how to play their instrument. That kind of interaction, Grohman said, is rare in music, and it’s what makes the Community Band so valuable to the community.
Longtime Chautauquan and member of Chautauqua Foundation Board of Directors Jack Connolly has been a member of the band since its inception in 1990. He thinks the Community Band is integral to the Chautauquan fabric so much so that he created the Jason and Nancy Weintraub Chautauqua Community Band Fund, which now covers all of the band’s operating expenses.
Connolly joined the band for its first season because Weintraub — notorious for his ability to recruit musicians — heard that Connolly had played the euphonium in middle and high school.
“He found out that there was a euphonium player somewhere in this (group),” Connolly said. “So, he came up to me, and he introduced himself.”
Twenty-eight years later, Connolly now pulls out his euphonium every summer and begins practicing several weeks before the annual Fourth of July concert,preparing for some of the trickier passages in tunes like“The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Weintraub first came to Chautauqua 47 years ago to play the English horn with Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. At the time, he didn’t think he would be here for very long.
“For some people (Chautauqua) just gets in their blood. And it certainly got into mine.”
–Jason Weintraub, Founder, Community Band
After 19 years in the orchestra, Weintraub started the Community Band because he was surprised by how few festivities there were for the Fourth of July.
“The most American place in the country, and nothing’s happening on the Fourth of July?” he said.
Since then, the band has grown from a small group of about 15-20 musicians to a full ensemble with more than 70 people.
Weintraub is pleased with that growth, but he’s most proud of the way the Community Band set off a movement of amateur and community music -making at the Institution. Members of the band in its early years have since started other groups such as the Thursday Morning Brass, Chautauqua Amateur Music Program, Fairpointe Brass Quintet, the Summer Strummers and the Dixie Lakesiders.
At today’s concert, the audience will have an opportunity to join in on that spirit of community music-making. Younger children can participate in a march led by Weintraub, and older children will have the opportunity to take the podium and conduct the band. Everybody can join in to help the band with “On The Mall,” a Community Band tradition with an audience sing-along section.