A Brief History of the Durham Community Concert Band
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.