One of the county’s most enduring artistic traditions had its start with 27 people answering a newspaper ad.
They came to join the Greater Greenwood Community Band with a wide array of musical backgrounds — some were professionals who had studied for years, others were recreational players who gave up playing as children.
But they were all driven by a love for music.
That passion is still the uniting force that drives the band. For 20 years, the Greater Greenwood Community Band has entertained local audiences and been part of beloved community events, all for free.
The group has played inspirational marches on the Fourth of July and Christmas favorites around the holidays. These men and women have helped keep the tradition of community music alive in Johnson County.
“Music keeps you going. It keeps you energized, the joy of music,” said Tom Dirks, the band’s director. “The role of community bands is to give people that are interested in music and have had a background in performing an opportunity to come together.”
The community band started with an idea by a former musician who had long since given up playing.
Duane O’Neal was cleaning out and rearranging his attic when he came across his old saxophone. He had played tenor saxophone years ago but no longer had an ensemble to perform with. The prospect of forming a band intrigued him, and he contacted two other local residents who he knew were plugged into the music scene.
Jon Sutton was directing the Greenwood Community High School band. Joe Naumcheff had retired from the music department at Ball State University.
The three men placed an ad in the newspaper, looking for people with some musical experience interested in playing together.
About 20 people showed up for an informational meeting; and by the time of its first concert, 40 musicians were signed on.
Shanan Bradley was one of the first to join. A horn player and music major in college, she enjoyed playing but didn’t have many opportunities to do so.
“I hadn’t played much since college, maybe a little bit in church here and there,” she said. “This seemed like a good chance to play more.”
Bradley is one of six original members who have seen the band grow to its current size of about 80 people.
Jim Cox has been playing in the band for about 15 years. At 81, he has been playing music since he was a small boy.
Throughout his life, Cox played woodwinds in bands such as the Murat Shrine Band and the Indianapolis News Newsboys Band. The Greater Greenwood Community Band was another opportunity to do something he loves.
“Music brings the community together. It’s the most common language that everyone knows,” he said. “You can always run into people you used to play with in a band with and start right up and play.”
At the same time, the band’s repertoire has become larger.
For much of its history, show tunes and other popular fare have been staples of their shows, but members have been more willing to sprinkle in unique pieces.
“Popular music is still good, but I try to challenge them. I try to introduce more classical pieces, more contemporary pieces, and I think that’s been well-received,” said Dirks, band director for the past six years.
The former head of the Center Grove High School band, he thought he had put band direction behind him when he retired in 2001. But a close friend and colleague, Ora Pemberton, contacted him with a proposition.
The Greater Greenwood Community Band had just lost its own director, Pemberton said. He suggested that Dirks fill the void.
After considering it, he decided to go in for an interview and was given the job.
“It’s been a great experience. They have made wonderful progress as an ensemble, as far as who they are and what they want to play,” he said. “When I challenge them, they don’t back off.”
While older members maintain the tradition in which the band was founded, new performers have helped it evolve.
Veronica Eddy moved to Indiana in 2005 and was recommended to the band after a co-worker learned she played music.
She found many people in a similar position — music lovers who had lost an outlet for their talent.
“I spent so much time in high school playing, then to walk away from it was hard,” she said. “Most of us are good players, but we were never good enough to make a living at it. It’s the joy of playing and being part of the group where everyone is the same ability.”
What has helped the band adapt is the influx of new members and fresh ideas into the group. Performers who are in their mid-80s sit side-by-side with new players as young as 27.
The Greater Greenwood Community Band is in a unique position to take advantage of new players in their own towns, Dirks said.
“This is Center Grove and Greenwood, two of the strongest high school band programs in the country. Down the road, there’s going to be opportunities for those people to join,” Dirks said.
On Saturday, the band will perform its annual fall concert. This year’s show will commemorate 20 years as a band, with special recognition for those members who have been playing with the ensemble since the beginning.
Naumcheff will return to share in the directing duties. It will be a way to honor the heritage of the group.
“If we can get art stronger and more noticed in the community, the community will be stronger for it. We’re going to get more people move in, and the economic situation will grow. The arts stimulate that,” Dirks said.