A Brief History of the Durham Community Concert Band
By David F. Smith, September 2012


DCCB at Forest Hills Park, October 20, 1996

In 2013, the Durham Community Concert Band celebrated its 30th birthday. The band is now an institution in Durham, with a large membership, strong links with the community, and appreciative audiences. It was not always so. How did we get where we are? Let’s look back over almost three decades of history.


The Birth of the Band

The birth of the Durham Community Concert Band, in the early 1980s, was not an easy one. There were two or three false starts, when a group of musicians, responding to a notice in the newspaper, gathered and rehearsed a few times, but then fell apart. One of the early attempts, led by George Stevens, met for a short time at the old Durham Arts Council building. In the fall of 1983, Randy Guptill and Vince Simonetti tried again, with rehearsals held at Brogden Middle School, where Randy was band director.

This time the momentum began to build, and the band stayed together. Our principal director in 1984-1985 was Pat Authement, band director at Durham High School (now Durham School of the Arts). We met for a time in the DHS band room, but school policies made that difficult. Fortunately, two of our members at that time were members of Grey Stone Baptist Church, and the church offered to let us rehearse in their sanctuary on Hillsborough Road. It was during this time that we grew in numbers and in musical ability and began to perform in the Durham area.

The constitution of the Durham Community Concert Band, written by volunteer band members, was approved on November 29, 1984, and amended the following year. The constitution set up a ten-member Board of Directors with two-year terms. A board that large was a significant fraction of our membership in the early days, but there were many tasks to be done, and identifying the job of each officer ensured that none were missed. Eight of the officers on the board have specific titles and responsibilities (Publicity Coordinator, Property Manager, etc.) while two are members-at-large. The by-laws that accompanied the constitution contained provisions for required attendance at rehearsals, with penalties for repeated absences, and several other formal and strict regulations. In fact, the boards over the years have chosen to operate more informally: no members have ever been dismissed for missing too many rehearsals, and no members have ever been required to pay dues. Some of the more rigid items in the constitution and by-laws were amended or removed by the band in November of 2011.

Over the years, about 80 people have served as band officers, some for just a couple of years, some for much longer. (The record is held by Rick Leinhas, who was Librarian for 25 years.) Of the current active members of the band, 29 are or have been officers.


The Egerton Years: Organization, Stability, and New Traditions

When Pat Authement left Durham to return to his native Louisiana in mid-1985, the band searched for a new director. We were very fortunate that Clarke Egerton, Jr., esteemed director of the Hillside High School bands, was willing to step up to our podium, because Clarke had the temperament and the musical skills to work with us, and also because he was able to offer us a stable rehearsal space at the old Hillside High School on Concord and Lawson Streets. The Hillside Band Room remained our home until 1988.

Clarke continued as our director from mid-1985 until 1991. Those years saw several milestones in our development as an organization:
 
Clarke Egerton, Jr.,
DCCB Director 1985-1991
  • the election in 1985 of our first Board under the new constitution
  • our designation as a 501(c)(3) organization, allowing us to solicit tax-deductible contributions
  • our move to the new Durham Arts Council building in 1988.
The first board elected under the new constitution took office on November 21, 1985, replacing a group of interim officers headed by Rick Leinhas. Two of the officers in that first group are still active members of the band.

Alan Petersburg, the first Chairperson (or president) of the band, made a few announcements at every concert, including an acknowledgment of gifts and a call for new members. David Smith, who succeeded Alan in that office in 1987, continued the practice, gradually adding interesting notes about the pieces or composers. The person who followed David as Chairperson in 1991 was less comfortable with public speaking and asked him to continue making those announcements. And so he has, ever since.

Our attractive plywood DCCB sign was constructed and painted by trumpeter Fred Lockley in 1985. His design – a round emblem with a Durham skyline above the musical notes and letters DCCB – formed the basis for the logo that now emblazons our shirts, jackets, and website. The sign itself, refurbished a couple of times over the years, is still in front of the band at almost every concert.
 
Throughout most of the late 1980s, band membership was 30-40, but it wasn’t evenly distributed. At one point in 1986, the board took note of the fact that a fourth of the band members played flute, and there was a brief attempt to close the flute section to new members until the other instruments could catch up. It didn’t work well, and since that time we have not tried to limit the size of any section.

In the spring of 1988, the Durham Arts Council announced the availability of grants to arts organizations. The board applied for a grant, after discussions of possible uses for money, including renting a concert theater, paying for guest performers, and buying instruments. In July, we received word that we had been awarded “$500 worth of space” in the newly renovated Arts Council Building. After reviewing the floor plans of the building, we decided to apply our grant to rehearsal space in the IBM Room. This decision led to more discussions and worries: Where would we get stands? Would there be a safe place for us to keep our percussion equipment? What would happen if we didn’t get a similar grant in a future year? Our fears were groundless: our continuing relationship with the Durham Arts Council, now well over 20 years old, has been congenial and beneficial, one of the most important pillars of stability for our organization, and one of our best advertisements as part of the Durham arts scene. (Our position of Fund Raising Coordinator was renamed to Arts Council Liaison in 1994, in recognition of this relationship.)

One of the issues faced by the band, as by most musical groups, is the balance between casual fun and musical rigor. In other words, what kind of organization do the members want? The board conducted a survey of members in January of 1991 to search for an answer. The snapshot of opinion that emerged at that time was that members wanted a little more seriousness than they perceived in the band – more hard work, more sectional rehearsals, more regular attendance, less talking and socializing – but not to the point of having fixed chairs and auditions.

Under Clarke Egerton’s leadership, we began to achieve visibility in the community, and we started some traditions of annual concerts.
  • Sept. 22, 1985: Centerfest in downtown Durham (annually through 2000)
  • Apr. 11, 1985: Durham Bulls home opener (most years through 1994 at the old DAP)
  • Jun. 13, 1987: Funfest at the Museum of Life and Science (annually through 1990)
  • Apr. 30, 1989: Hometown Band Festival in Cary (annually through 2003)
The Hometown Band Festival, organized by Dr. James Hammerle, director of the Cary Town Band, deserves special comment. It brought together in one place (first at Bond Park in Cary, then later at Lions Park) the four community bands of the Research Triangle area: the Cary Town Band, Raleigh Concert Band, Chapel Hill Village Band, and Durham Community Concert Band. The opportunity to perform before an audience of our peers, who could appreciate our musical achievements but also hear every missed note, gave the Band Festival an air of competition and brought out the best in us. It also showed us that we were just as capable as bands with a longer history and a bigger budget than ours.

Many of our concerts were in places with ready-made audiences, such as retirement centers (Carol Woods, JFK Towers, Henderson Towers) and shopping malls (Northgate and South Square), baseball games (Durham Bulls home openers), and festivals (the Centerfest street celebration in downtown Durham, Funfest at the Museum of Life and Science, and the Festival for the Eno on July 4th). We also began a long-running tradition of performing joint concerts with local high school bands, including Southern Durham and Hillside.
 
DCCB directed by Randy Guptill
at the Durham Bulls home opener, April 8, 1988

 

 DCCB directed by Tom Shaffer
at the Festival for the Eno, July 4, 1994

Of course there were some concert experiences that the band decided not to repeat. In December of 1986, we performed in the Carolina Theater, with Jim Sackett, a well-known local announcer on WDNC radio, as our emcee, and with featured appearances by Jim Ketch (trumpet) and Paul Jeffrey (sax). Despite good advance publicity and outstanding soloists, we did not attract much of an audience, and it was many years before we tried again to play in such a large auditorium.

Even more memorable was December of 1989. On two successive days, we played on a float in the Durham Christmas Parade, and then performed outdoors at an open house at West Point Park on the Eno. The weather was brutally cold that weekend – trombone slides were frozen, to say nothing of fingers. The board officially decided at its very next meeting that we would never again schedule an outdoor concert in the winter months.


The Shaffer Years: Growth and Outreach

 

Tom Shaffer, DCCB Director 1991-present
   
When Clarke Egerton decided to retire from DCCB duties after the July 4 concert at the Festival for the Eno in 1991, the board was faced with the task of replacing the beloved and respected conductor who had worked with us for seven years, leading us through the most important changes in our short history. How could we find someone with the right skills to take us forward? Fortunately, one of the applicants for the job sent the board a three-page letter detailing his ideas for the band, with four large goals and many specific proposals. The decision was easy, especially since he had been playing in the horn section for eight years, so Tom Shaffer was selected as the new conductor. His first concert was Centerfest in downtown Durham on September 28, 1991. Over the years, Tom has continued to focus on the four goals that he put forward in that job application:
  • Become more visible more often, by playing more concerts in more places where we can attract large audiences
  • Increase membership, through constant publicity and visibility
  • Play more public-appealing music
  • Solicit corporate donations for the purchase of more instruments and music
(Twenty years later, at the first rehearsal in September of 2011, the board, and the band, showed its appreciation for Tom’s first 20 years by presenting him a special plaque.)

Under Tom’s leadership, we continued some of the annual concert traditions started by Clarke (Centerfest, Hometown Band Festival, etc.) but we also started some new ones.
  • We first performed a Christmas concert at the Forest at Duke Retirement Center in December of 1992, and we have done so every December since then – that’s a 20-year tradition, and still going. The Forest at Duke has a big ballroom with great acoustics, and the audience is always large and welcoming.
  • At the opposite end of the acoustical spectrum is the VA Hospital, where we played our first Veterans’ Day concert in November of 1995. A four-story space with hard brick walls at crazy angles does very strange things to our sound, but an appreciative audience of patients, family members, and other veterans makes it worthwhile, and we’ve been back every year.
  • We have played Father’s Day (“Pops”) concerts for many years, but in June 2007 we began a tradition of performing them under the big water tower at the American Tobacco Campus. Thanks to good publicity from the Music on the Lawn series, we have attracted larger and larger crowds every year, despite the hot afternoon sun.
  • Since 2005, we have held a special early January rehearsal each year, open to all band musicians in the area, simply for reading music – new pieces, classic pieces, old warhorses – just for the pure joy of playing together.
  • Our newest tradition is the North Carolina Band Festival, held at Vance-Granville Community College in Henderson. This annual event, which began in April of 2010, combines workshops with individual concerts by three or four area bands and a final performance by a massive combined band of about 200.
Like most community bands, we often choose concert locations with ready-made audiences. Over the years, we have played at twelve different public parks, ten retirement centers, five high schools (and one elementary school), and six shopping centers. Special events are even better for bringing out a crowd. Grand openings (of the Science and Technology Wing at the Museum of Life and Science in 1993, and of its Butterfly House in 1999), important anniversary celebrations (of RDU International Airport – its 50th – in 1993), and dedications (of the memorial carillon at the VA Hospital in 1999, and of the American Tobacco Trail in 2000) were big occasions for us. We also played to entertain theatre-goers arriving at the Durham Performing Arts Center for productions of Grease in 2009 and Wicked in 2010. Our largest audience each year since 2000 has been at the annual Durham CROP Walk, a fundraiser for world and local hunger, where we entertain several thousand people as they gather on the lawn in front of Duke Chapel and start them on their walk with a rousing march.

Playing concerts in parks and other outside locations can be a good way to attract a crowd, but it has its disadvantages: wind that blows the music away, bright sun that glares in the eyes, and especially rain. Over the years we have been rained out, among other places, at Centerfest in 1994, Forest Hills Park in 1997, a CROP Walk on Duke Chapel lawn in 2001, the Streets at Southpoint in 2005, and a Durham city fireworks display in Wallace Wade Stadium (which would probably have been our biggest audience ever) on July 4, 2001.

Since 1993, the band has always performed one or two spring concerts, featuring more “serious” music and more formal attire than our usual red shirts with the DCCB logo. Tom likes to spend the first two or three months of the year preparing some difficult music. Of course the concert must be indoors – the
weather is unpredictable in March or early April, and we would hate to be rained out after working so hard. Many spring concerts (1993-1995 and 1998-2005) have been in the PSI Theatre in the Durham Arts Council building. It’s a fine place to play, but attracting an audience can be tough, especially on what might be a pleasant spring afternoon. We have explored other venues, all with good acoustics: the ballroom at the Forest at Duke retirement center (1996), Westminster Presbyterian Church (1997-1998), Hillside
 


DCCB at First Presbyterian Church, March 2008
High School (2006), First Presbyterian Church (2007-2008), and Baldwin Auditorium at Duke University (2009-2011). Most recently, in April of 2012, we played in the Durham Armory downtown; the acoustics were not as good, but there was a downtown celebration in progress on the same afternoon, giving us the opportunity to attract a larger audience.

We have for many years participated in joint concerts with the local high school bands, enlarging their audience and encouraging the students to see a future in amateur music beyond graduation. But in recent years, the band has begun exploring a deeper meaning of the word “Community” in our name. In 2007, thanks to a donation from the C. M. Herndon Foundation, matched by gifts from band members, we began offering scholarships to summer band camps for deserving high school students. In 2009, and again in 2011, with grants from the C. M. Herndon Foundation and the E. A. Morris Foundation, we sponsored a Youth Concerto Competition, with cash prizes (and the opportunity to perform with us) for the two winners each year. And in 2010 we began a partnership with Durham Habitat for Humanity, soliciting donations at concerts, sending small ensembles to Habitat events, and even putting band members to work at building sites.

In addition to our special guest soloists in December 1986 and our Youth Concerto Competition winners in 2009 and 2011, we have often invited members of the band to step to the front of the stage for concertos or other solo or small ensemble pieces. Over the years we have featured music for solo clarinet, trumpet, horn, trombone, euphonium, and tuba at our concerts. We have also enjoyed clarinet duets, trumpet trios, saxophone quartets, Dixieland quintets, and other special groups. One of our featured ensembles has taken on a life of its own: members of our trumpet section, who began calling themselves the Durham Bullhorns in 2010, have performed their own events and concerts, and they played the national anthem at the home opener of the Durham Bulls in 2012.

In the summer of 1997, another Durham musical institution formed from the DCCB when Durham Jazz began with a nucleus of a half-dozen DCCB members. Durham Jazz is a successful Big Band orchestra, playing concerts around the area. In recent years, we have shared the stage with them at our Father’s Day concert under the water tower at the American Tobacco Campus.

Keeping a community band running, as our board does, involves decisions about concert schedules and venues, finances, music, and publicity, of course, but there are other weighty matters. Technology changes, for instance. The first mention of a DCCB website was in September of 2004, and the following month the board agreed to purchase the internet domain durhamband.org. Our site became active in February of 2005. In January of 2009, the board minutes record that the idea of a Facebook page for the band was “not seen as useful or helpful;” a mere six months later, the Durham Community Concert Band joined Facebook. And the board position of Website Manager was added to the constitution in 2011.

The 2008 Kathryn H. Wallace Award for Artists in Community Service, administered through the Triangle Community Foundation, went to our director Tom Shaffer. The citation read, in part, “Mr. Shaffer’s personal style and unselfish dedication to the DCCB and to music has made the DCCB one of the most successful cultural organizations in the Triangle.” Coming from one of the most prominent philanthropic organizations in the area, that is high praise, and we are gratified by the recognition of our band and our leader.

DCCB at Durham School of the Arts, October 2010

Conclusion


The history of the Durham Community Concert Band is just beginning. We have come far from the early days in the 1980s, when we had to worry about whether enough musicians would come to play all of the parts at each concert. Now we are a big band – too big to fit in some places we once performed – and more importantly, we are a band that knows its history. We have learned what works and what doesn’t work for us. We have tried new musical styles, new concert venues, and new community connections, and we have grown as individual performers and as an organization. What’s next for us? What will we be doing in another twenty-five or thirty years? Keep watching and listening!

Acknowledgments: The author thanks Graham James and other band members for some of the photos; Wide Appeal for the 1996 panoramic photo; Hillside High School yearbook staff for the photo of Clarke Egerton; Beth Harward Bowling, Dave Coy, Rick Leinhas, and Faye Trilling for their memories of the early days; and the secretaries and other officers of the DCCB for carefully recording and preserving the actions of the board.