It was a rocky road when Bruce Moss started conducting the Wheaton Municipal Band.
The 26-year-old only had a few years of teaching music to high school students under his belt when he first stepped on the podium with his baton in Memorial Park.
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Not surprisingly, there were more than a few skeptics.
"There were definitely some growing pains on both ends because I was younger than many people in the band," Moss says now. "My thought process always was, 'You stick with me, I'll make this happen. Let's get through this, we'll put this thing on the map like it's never been put on before.'"
In the past three and a half decades, Moss has done just that.
From being one of four bands featured in a PBS special about John Philip Sousa to bringing in guest conductors from the nation's most respected bands, Moss has transformed the ensemble from "a really good band to a really great band," says Wheaton Municipal Band President and longtime clarinet player Don Cavalli.
Now people come from as far away as Gurnee and Tinley Park to play in the band -- after, of course, being selected through an increasingly competitive audition process -- and hundreds of audience members have made the concerts part of their Thursday night routine in the summer.
"(Bruce's) selling of the concept of the band to his peers I think has generated interest around the country," says Al Vander Klay of Wheaton, who has been attending concerts with his wife, Rudy, for the past 30 years. "He has grown the stature of this band. There's probably no better way to say it."
On Thursday, the band's regular 8 p.m. concert will be dedicated to Moss, recognizing his 35th season with the ensemble. It will feature music that has impacted his life, dating to his elementary school years in Tennessee, and some audience favorites.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra trumpeter John Hagstrom will join the band for the anniversary celebration. Moss says Hagstrom is a former member of not only the Wheaton Municipal Band, but also the York High School Band, where Moss started his teaching career in 1976.
Moss left York in 1987 to pursue his doctoral degree and it was clear that eventually he might have to move to take a job at a university. In 1989 he took a one-year position in St. Cloud, Minnesota, but he still commuted to concerts and Wednesday night rehearsals in the summer.
From 1990 to 1994 he did the same from Eastern Illinois University.
His dedication to the band grew so much that the city had faith he could continue leading the ensemble when he decided to move to Ohio in 1994 to work at Bowling Green University, where he still works as a professor and director of bands.
"It demonstrates how serious he is about the Wheaton Municipal Band," says the band's announcer, Pete Friedmann, who Moss describes as his sidekick. "It's such a big part of his life. He's not the only factor but he's probably the biggest reason we have achieved the level of success and reputation that we have."
Moss certainly doesn't attribute the band's success solely to himself.
"All the stars lined up to make it something really unique," he says.
That includes the city for allotting money for it, the Wheaton Municipal Band Commission, Friends of the Wheaton Municipal Band, the board of directors, Friedmann's light and humorous announcing, the competitive musicians and, of course, the audience that keeps growing and coming back for more, he says.
But those who have worked with him and followed him through the years know Moss is still one of the primary reasons the band is where it is today.
Dottie Mackie, chairwoman for the Wheaton Municipal Band Commission, also notes how impressive it is for Moss and the band to prepare the music for each week's concert in just one rehearsal.
"He's a taskmaster," she says. "Some of their songs are very, very challenging."
Mackie says Moss is regularly coming up with ideas for the band and offering suggestions in person and over the phone throughout the year.
"He is such a big promoter of the Wheaton Municipal Band, but he's not a big promoter of Bruce Moss," Friedmann says. "He's really quite humble for all he's done for all of us."
Performing at the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago and at the prestigious Midwest Clinic are a few other highlights Moss has of his career thus far with the band.
"It's an enjoyable thing," he says. "I've grown with them all these years. If they want me to keep coming, we'll keep talking about it."
"I'm glad to come back next summer if they'll have me. I know that," he says with a laugh. "Beyond that, we haven't really gone that far."