Reminiscences on the Cedar Falls Band

by Paul Rider

The baton is raised, instruments are brought to their proper positions, a hush falls over hundreds of people scattered about the lush green carpet of Overman Park. The strains of a brisk Karl King march fill the warm breezes of a fading summer twilight as the Cedar Falls Municipal Band begins yet another of its concerts for an appreciative audience of listeners gathered for a tradition that reaches back into the last century.

Viewing this rich spectacle can invoke images from The Music Man, especially since that epic musical production has its roots only 80 miles up the road. The spirit that con artist Harold Hill tapped into for his illicit schemes is alive and well in the hearts and minds of Iowans. That spirit, in combination with the love of a good woman, ultimately transformed Hill and brought out the wholesome part of his character.

One cannot help but experience a kind of transformation and sense of wholesomeness while being a part of a unique Cedar Falls tradition now completing its first century. The sense of history that pervades the entire operation of the band runs deep and inspires a feeling of respect in those who have the privilege of listening to and playing in the band.

Nothing exemplifies the tradition of the band more than the rehearsal hall which is filled with pictures and artifacts that span the entire history or the organization. There is a quiet dignity that resides in the inner sanctum of this domain that appears to have been captured in time. Walking into the main hall with its antique music stands is like entering a three-dimensional Norman Rockwell painting.

Band uniforms hang on racks in a room to the east of the main hall. Ancient brass instruments occupy nooks and crannies in the practice room area and long-spend bass drum heads carrying the logo of the band hang on the walls. None of these artifacts serve a practical purpose for the modern band but their presence is a constant reminder of the tradition that must be upheld by those who continue to inhabit these hallowed spaces.

The walls of the main hall are ringed with pictures of past bands. They celebrate past victories of the band in prestigious competitions through the early years of this century. The countless hundreds of faces in those pictures reflect individuals who gave something of themselves to keep the tradition going. Many are no longer alive, but their spirit is captured in this special place and it keeps watch over what goes on. Those who meet to rehearse the intricate passages of The Crown Imperial March or Holst's Military Suite in F can feel all those sets of eyes in those pictures, staring over the shoulders of the trombone section, casting a critical glance that urges each player to find a little more of himself or herself to put into the music. After all, this isn't just any summer band, it is the Cedar Falls band!

Perhaps the most vivid reaction to the band that I have heard came from the leader of the Garden Avenue Seven Dixieland Band from Largo, Florida. Bob Draga and his wife, Paulette Pepper, are featured performers with this extraordinary musical group who were in town for the annual Sturgis Falls Dixieland Festival. He and Paulette had just enjoyed a meal in the Victorian setting of the Cedar Falls Woman's Club and wandered out into Overman park to experience the ambience of a simpler time from the past that was reborn during the first Stugis Falls Days in 1976.

He said he found himself stepping through a time warp into the past. the people were all of today's world but they were part of another Norman Rockwell painting that could only emerge from a midwestern setting. His rapture of the moment was complete when he heard the strains of the Cedar Falls Municipal Band floating through the throngs in the park. His immense musical talents and interests make him a true artisan of American music.

Pulling Paulette along with him, he made his way to the band shell and stood immersed in the marches and overtures that brought tears to his eyes. He dreaded that the moment had to end. the chills he felt up his spine were genuine and served as a testament to the fact that after one hundred years, the Cedar Falls Municipal Band can still work its own unique magic in ways that call forth something from the very best part of the human soul.

For me, the privilege of being a part of the organization has been special. Long after I am unable to coax a respectable note from the shining tubes of brass hanging about my head, I will have the vivid memory of sitting on the bandstand, looking out into a sea of faces, watching people capture the very best a summer night has to offer, and knowing that I played some small part in a tradition that should never end.

Paul Rider