Arts & Entertainment

Rockford Wind Ensemble: No Strings Attached

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For a decade, this lively group of musicians has lit up Rockford-area stages. Meet the energetic leaders and find out where they’re playing this summer.

The Rockford Wind Ensemble

The Rockford Wind Ensemble celebrated its 10th season in 2011-2012, playing five concerts at various venues from October to April. For the past five years, the group has also managed the Rockford Concert Band.

“Combined, there are about 140 members, but not everyone plays all of the time,” says Paul Saltzgiver, a founding member of the wind ensemble and its Board of Directors’ executive director. “The ensemble has 45 musicians who play for each performance, and the concert band 70.”

The Wind Ensemble plays classical selections written for woodwinds, brass and percussion. Concerts are family-friendly and last about an hour and a half. “We do a lot of explaining about what we’re playing,” says Saltzgiver, who’s played the trumpet for 40 years. “We make the music very accessible.”

The Rockford Concert Band plays a variety of music, from marches and classical pieces to pop and Broadway. As part of the Rockford Park District’s summer Music in the Park series, the group performs each Tuesday evening at the Sinnissippi Band Shell, and features vocalists and instrumental soloists.

“Everybody plays in other groups, as well,” Saltzgiver explains. “Both groups are made up of paid professional players, but we’re not-for-profit. Summer concerts are subsidized by the Park District, and we do fundraising throughout the year.”
The musicians use schools, churches and other such venues for practice spaces. The groups also do outreach and hold educational concerts and programs.

“We put together a concert band made up of about 100 high school students from the region, from Stockton to Sycamore,” Saltzgiver says. “They’re nominated by their band directors. They spend a one-day workshop with band members and are directed by a university conductor. Then, they open for the Wind Ensemble’s February concert.”

The organization recently launched a new group. “We’ve put together the Rockford Jazz Ensemble, a 19-piece orchestra that plays traditional Big Band,” says Saltzgiver. “We’re going to try to play a couple of times a year to start.”

With the 2012-2013 season, the Wind Ensemble will have a permanent venue at the Tebala Shrine Center, 7910 Newburg Road, Rockford. “We’re very happy to be moving here,” says Saltzgiver. “We’ll have plenty of room for our audiences, which usually number around 400.”

The Wind Ensemble and Concert Band used to be separate groups, but when the local musicians union disbanded five years ago, the two were combined. The concert band is 60 years old, and some members have played with the group for 50 years.

“The group is made of a variety of people, even though they’re all excellent musicians,” says Saltzgiver. “Some make their living playing music. Others are community or high school band directors. But we also have doctors, lawyers, administrators, laborers who play – people with all kinds of jobs.”

The Wind Ensemble and Concert Band positions are filled through auditions, but not many seats open up. “Generally, musicians contact us about wanting to join, and then when there’s an opportunity to hear someone, we do,” says Saltzgiver. “This summer, the Concert Band had a little bit larger horn section, so we were able to give folks a week off here and there and let everyone play.”

Both groups offer another performance opportunity for Rockford’s crop of local talent.

“We have many fine community groups,” says Saltzgiver. “Our organizations give musicians with a high proficiency a chance to play with others of similar talent and skill.”

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