Suburban band director injured in 'freak accident,' but his musicians will carry on
Members of the Northwest Concert Band in Rolling Meadows plan to forge ahead as the group's founder and conductor remains hospitalized from injuries he suffered after projection screen equipment fell on him from a ceiling at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.
Ralph Wilder has been hospitalized since the metal frame housing the screen about 20 feet above him came down while he rehearsed on a stage at the college with the Chicago Clarinet Ensemble on Sunday, family attorney Kevin Durkin said. He said Wilder was seriously injured and is in a Chicago hospital.
In a social media posting, Wilder's family said he was struck in the head and back in a "freak accident," suffering a spinal cord injury and broken bones. Northeastern Illinois spokesman Mike Hines read a statement regarding Wilder on behalf of the school Friday.
"Our hearts go out to the family," Hines said. "We have begun an investigation into the accident in the Recital Hall. The space remains closed during an ongoing investigation."
Northwest Concert Band member Randy Steinberg of Rolling Meadows said he and his fellow musicians were "surprised and shocked" to hear about what happened to Wilder. The band canceled its usual weekly rehearsal at St. Colette Parish in Rolling Meadows, which would have been a day after Wilder was injured.
Steinberg said there has been an outpouring of concern from Chicago-area community bands. He said the Northwest Concert Band will return to practice with a temporary conductor Monday and plans to carry on with its summer schedule.
Wilder founded the Mount Prospect Community Band in 1975 and led it for 40 years, but was fired as conductor in 2015 after friction with the village's sponsoring park district. Mayor Arlene Juracek was among those in the village expressing concern for Wilder, who she noted received the Mount Prospect Shining Star Award one year for enhancing community life.
"This is such a tragic accident to befall him," Juracek said, "and we wish him well."
About a year after the Mount Prospect split, many musicians followed him when he founded the Northwest Concert Band in Rolling Meadows in 2016. The start to the band's Monday evening summer concert series is set for June 11 at St. Colette.
Durkin said the accident scene in Northeastern's Recital Hall has been secured, with the college's cooperation, for an investigation that will include engineering experts. He complimented college officials for how they have reacted since the accident.
"I can tell you this: Northeastern has been nothing but cooperative with the Wilder family," Durkin said.
Recital Hall has roughly 170 seats and offers excellent sightlines, state-of-the-art acoustics and projection equipment for productions, according to the college.
Wilder -- who plays clarinet, saxophone and flute -- is a longtime Chicago-area musician with experience in several genres including jazz, gospel, rock, pop, big band and Dixieland. He also has directed college and high school bands.