Wheaton Municipal Band celebrates 90th season, 40th year with conductor

  • The Wheaton Municipal Band is celebrating its 90th season and 40 years with Bruce Moss at the podium. The band opens its 10-week concert schedule Thursday night.

    The Wheaton Municipal Band is celebrating its 90th season and 40 years with Bruce Moss at the podium. The band opens its 10-week concert schedule Thursday night. Courtesy of Bruce Moss

  • Bruce Moss has been conducting the Wheaton Municipal Band since 1980.

    Bruce Moss has been conducting the Wheaton Municipal Band since 1980. Daily Herald file photo

  • Founded in 1930, the Wheaton Municipal Band is celebrating its 90th season this summer.

    Founded in 1930, the Wheaton Municipal Band is celebrating its 90th season this summer. Courtesy of Bruce Moss

  • The Wheaton Municipal Band attracts a crowd of several thousand to Memorial Park for Thursday night concerts during its summer season.

    The Wheaton Municipal Band attracts a crowd of several thousand to Memorial Park for Thursday night concerts during its summer season. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 6/5/2019 10:31 AM

To understand why the Wheaton Municipal Band has reached two major milestones, you first have to understand the eccentricities of the conductor.

The ensemble is opening its 90th season Thursday night, and it's also celebrating 40 years with Bruce Moss at the podium. One of his quirks?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I am prone to changing things at the very last minute," he says.

Define "last minute," maestro, because we're imagining some backstage drama and the whims of a narcissist with a baton. But Moss is the antithesis of everything you know about conductors from "Mozart in the Jungle."

"Every year, I just try to create something new and something that will be even better, but I'm quick to tell you there's a lot of support, so that makes it a lot easier," he says.

When Moss explains his spur-of-the-moment decisions, you begin to see how he's elevated the musicianship of the band. You also realize a Memorial Park concert conducted by Moss is a timely, communal gathering through which the audience and the musicians celebrate and grieve together.

"I think people enjoy the spontaneity of it," he said. "It drives us all crazy that it's at the last minute, but nonetheless it's one of the things that makes the band unique."

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Moss gives an example: On a July day in 1998, he was getting off his plane -- the conductor manages to commute from Ohio during the 10-week season -- when he learned Jerome Robbins had died. Moss quickly adjusted the concert to pay tribute to the choreographer with a selection from the "West Side Story" score.

"We've had to stop and remember Wheaton natives and residents who have lost their lives in service to our country," longtime band announcer Pete Friedmann said. "There have been shootings. There have been tragedies that have occurred in our country during the summer, and rather than simply ignore them, music can be incredibly healing."

On July 11, the band will recognize the "healing power of music" by sharing the stage with Alex Kaminsky, the director of bands at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a survivor of the 2018 shooting that killed 17 students and staffers.

Kaminsky is one of the dozen or so special guests making appearances during the season, a reflection of both the caliber of the band and Moss' national reputation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The May issue of the Instrumentalist magazine called the Wheaton ensemble "one of the nation's premier community bands." In 2017, the Ohio Music Education Association named Moss -- also the director of bands at Bowling Green State University -- that state's educator of the year.

As career highlights, Moss himself singles out the band's appearances in the highly selective Midwest Clinic in Chicago and a documentary on patriotic march composer John Philip Sousa for the PBS series "The American Experience."

Even outside of a college campus, Moss is the "consummate teacher" known for his efficient rehearsal techniques, said Don Cavalli, the Wheaton Municipal Band president and a clarinet player.

"Bruce has brought continuity, professionalism and outstanding quality to the ensemble, and I think that should be celebrated," Friedmann said.

Moss will credit Friedmann and the city's support as reasons for the band's stature as a cultural icon. The announcer has a natural rapport with Moss and a golden voice. Even on the phone, he sounds like a cross between the narrating style of Tom Hanks and Peter Coyote.

Moss recruited him in 1981 in Friedmann's first year announcing for Northwestern's marching band. About a year earlier, a 26-year-old Moss had been teaching music to York High School students when he first stepped on the podium to conduct the Wheaton band.

"He was the right person at the right time, very talented, just the right temperament and skill set to deal with the circumstances of an ensemble that rehearses an entire concert in one night and then gives the full concert the next night," Friedmann said. "Not everyone is able to do that, and I think Wheaton was very fortunate to have someone who was capable of doing that and who had a vision, who could see the big picture, who knew where he wanted to go with this band, and he's made it his own. He's put so much of himself into it."

A modest Moss remembers it a little differently.

"I was very young when I took over the band, and they took a chance on me when it all started, and I just vowed that I would be worth their while, I guess," he said. "I had no idea that I would be with it this long."

So the million-dollar question: Will Moss, 66, celebrate a 50th year conducting? He's open to the possibility. "It would be unique if that could happen," Moss, 66, said.

He also concedes it's an intense schedule making the roughly five-hour drive from Ohio on Wednesdays to rehearse with the band, conduct the concert on Thursdays, return home on Friday mornings and then repeat it all for the next week.

But that kind of dedication demonstrates his love for the job.

"They're just great people all the way around," Moss said. "The players, the city, the way they support it, the administration of the band, they're wonderful people."

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