Members quit Mt. Prospect Community Band after director is fired
Drama within the Mount Prospect Community Band has led to the cancellation of the upcoming fall concert, the firing of the group's longtime director and the creation of factions that threaten its future.
Ralph Wilder, the founder and director of the band for more than 30 years, was fired by the Mount Prospect Park District last week after what was described as a "personality conflict," causing more than half the band to quit in protest.
The Mount Prospect Community Band is a park district program, but it is mostly a self-governed group, except for Wilder who was a part-time park district employee.
Park district Executive Director Greg Kuhs said in a statement the district "recognizes, appreciates and thanks Mr. Wilder for his many years of service" and that it will support the band through its transition to new leadership. "We look forward to the band providing many more years of musical entertainment to the Mount Prospect Community."
It costs about $15,000 annually to support the band through administrative time, insurance, transport of instruments, marketing and the director's salary, said Ruth Yueill, superintendent of community relations and marketing.
Wilder started the band 39 years ago when he was the band director at Prospect High School. He said the relationship with the park district has always been strong until this year when he had to work with new members of the staff.
"This has been unbelievably devastating to me. The community band has been an enormous part of my life," Wilder said.
Wilder said there were a number of small issues ranging from use of the copy machines to disagreement over meeting times with park district staff members that piled up until he complained and was fired.
"He was a longtime director and emotions are running high," said Yueill, who said she couldn't comment further on why Wilder was terminated.
The band, which had about 70 members, was scheduled to play a fall concert Nov. 15 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Mount Prospect, which has been canceled.
"This has been extremely upsetting," said John Alfini, who has played the French horn in the band since 1985 and was the band board's president until he resigned when Wilder was fired. "I'm extremely disappointed; I'm disappointed for our audience."
The band traditionally has performed Monday night concerts in June and July at the Veterans Memorial Bandshell at Lions Recreation Center, typically drawing a crowd of 300 to 500 people.
Wilder, who had been looking forward to the group's 40th anniversary next year, said he hopes to find a new home for his band and the members who want to follow him.
"The Mount Prospect Community Band will survive without the park district," he said.
But Yueill said the park district is planning to work with about 15 members who are willing to go on without Wilder. Those members will likely decide on a new interim director and rebuild before next summer's concerts, she said.
"The band absolutely still exists and we support them 100 percent," she said.