Water Street was blocked off and a crowd began claiming tables in front of Kelleher’s Irish Pub and Eatery while others set up lawn chairs in a nearby grassy area more than an hour before the Peoria Municipal Band took the stage on a recent Wednesday night.
“It’s a unique venue, and it’s popular with a lot of people,” said band director David Vroman. “It’s a great partnership with those businesses in the Warehouse District. The city is trying to make that area a place where people want to be, and I think we’ve helped with that.”
Many in the crowd ordered dinner, some sipped wine or other adult beverages and others simply sat back to enjoy the show, which featured “Swinging Songs of Yesterday” that night.
The 50-member band, which has been funded by the city of Peoria since 1937, plays two concerts each week from early June through mid-August. The free shows start at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Warehouse District and on Sundays in Glen Oak Park.
Vroman has directed the band since 1991 and is also director of band activities and the music department chair at Bradley University. He came by the job naturally as his father, Russell, directed the Metamora Community Band in the 1960s and was a longtime band director for East Peoria Community High School.
One band member, clarinetist Nancy Booher, played for Russell Vroman in high school and babysat her current band director when he was a boy.
“It’s kind of a neat perspective for her, having played now for both of them,” said Booher’s husband, Bill, who’s played trumpet with the band for 53 years.
“I was 19 when I started playing with the band,” added Bill Booher during Wednesday’s concert intermission. “In the old days we sometimes played three concerts a week. I just love playing. I love the music, and it’s something to do in the summer to keep in shape.”
Fellow band member Angela Loring has played flute with the band for about 15 years after studying under Vroman at Bradley.
“It’s a fun variety of music, and we have such great community support that comes out consistently,” she said. “It’s just fun to entertain when you have an audience that’s so receptive.”
While the band has undergone various budget cuts over the years—some that resulted in playing only one concert a week one year–Vroman said the mission has always remained the same: to provide great entertainment for the people of Peoria.
Band manager George Graves Jr. said this season’s band budget is $84,875, an amount that hasn’t changed much in recent years.
“The city has been very supportive, especially as we’ve been able to document to them the kind of attendance we’ve had over the last several years,” Vroman said.
By the end of the season, Sunday night concerts generally bring an audience of between 1,000 and 1,200, while the Wednesday night concerts at the smaller venue bring about 400 people downtown, he added.
“We did a survey a couple of years ago, and while we know a lot of Peoria residents come to our concerts, there are others who drive in from out of town and spend the evening in that area. They buy gas and maybe eat out, so I do think there is an economic impact that happens when the band plays,” Vroman said.
The bulk of band expenses go to paying the musicians of the all-union band. Members aren’t paid for a weekly three-hour rehearsal, but earn $60 per concert. Other expenses include payment for guest performers, sound technicians, equipment movers, instrument care, insurance and operational costs, Vroman said.
Auditions are held in the spring, and the band keeps about 65 people on a sub list to fill in when regular band members are absent.
“There’s a pacing to the season,” Vroman said. “One of the ways we keep the musicians interested is by playing traditional pieces we know people enjoy, while still rolling in new music each year, too. One of the amazing things about this ensemble, which has been a tradition for longer than I’ve conducted, is they present different music at each concert within a week, so Wednesday’s concert is different than Sunday’s.”
Members of the band range from 18-year-old recent high school graduates to septuagenarians.
In addition to the regular twice-weekly concerts, the band plays a few Friday evening shows at smaller venues with about half the regular band members. The last of these this year will be at 7 p.m. July 31 at St. Philomena’s Church, 3300 N. 12 Oaks Drive. The last full band concert will be Aug. 16 in Glen Oak Park, when the Peoria Fire Department Honor Guard will be on hand to help the band pay tribute.
Other area towns that have active city bands include Metamora, Peoria Heights, Elmwood and Pekin, Vroman said.
“I think it’s great that we have a number of community bands in the area,” he said. “We’re providing ways for people to get out of their houses and do something together instead of sitting behind computers and iPhones. An active musical life is a sign of the health of the community.”
For more information about the Peoria Municipal Band and its schedule, visit the band’s website at www. peoriamunicipalband.com.
— Popular Peoria city band maintains deep community roots —