Making Music

Madison Concert Band
includes all ages, instruments

Conductor Johnson makes music
fun for players, audience

By Laura Hodges
Contributing Writer

(January 2011) – Mark Johnson is not good with names, but in some ways his memory is perfect. After years of directing high school bands in Madison, Ind., and Trimble County, Ky., Johnson has conducted hundreds of musicians. When he sees his former students now, he often can’t associate their faces with names.
But in his mind every face goes with an instrument – brass, woodwind, percussion.
In the past few months, Johnson has seen many of those familiar faces and instruments in front of his baton as he recruits new members for the Madison Concert Band.
Despite its name and its origin as the Madison Bicentennial Band, today’s Madison Concert Band is made up almost equally of members from both sides of the Ohio River. Up to 35 musicians show up for Tuesday night practices at Trinity United Methodist Church.
Now that he’s their volunteer conductor, not their teacher, he makes sure every practice and every performance is enjoyable for all. “It’s all about having fun,” said Johnson. His good humor shines through in concerts, too, where audiences are just as likely to hear a medley of themes from 1950s TV shows as they are serious concert compositions.
Of course, not all the band members are Johnson’s former students. Johnson is especially pleased about the addition of Paul Fitch, a former public school teacher and 15-year director of the North Newton County High School band in northern Indiana.
Before Fitch joined the Madison Concert Band, he hadn’t had much to do with music in 25 years. He and his wife, the late Sally Fitch, moved to Madison 10 years ago when he retired from the electronics industry.
“Early this summer, my wife passed away and I needed a few other things to do to occupy my time, so I joined the band,” he explained.
At first he approached Johnson with an offer to be his assistant, perhaps to work with smaller groups. However the band needed a percussionist and Johnson fit the bill. He’s enjoying the change of pace.
“There are musicians in the group who are very good,” said Fitch. “Then there are side players who fill it. It’s a very diverse group in age and experience.” Fathers and sons participate side by side, professional musicians alongside those who are picking up their instruments for the first time since high school.
Johnson’s own son is one who has answered the call. Brandon Johnson, 30, is a 1999 graduate of Madison Consolidated High School who followed his father’s footsteps as a trumpet player. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps with the intention of playing in the Marine Band. His wish came true. He also performed with a smaller Marine jazz band called “Five Plus One” – five brass players and one percussionist, that is. When Five Plus One played Madison’s Opal Sherman Auditorium a few years back, the proud father said it was the first time he had ever seen the place packed.
Band members run the gamut on age. The concert band’s youngest player is eighth-grader Tyler Stephenson. “He’s a fine little musician,” said Johnson. Stephenson’s father and sister are also in the band.
Another father has two sons in the band – and may soon be joined by his wife. “Experienced players” – Johnson hates to call attention to their age – include an 83-year-old trumpet player and an 85-year-old percussionist.
Tuba player Don Bradley, whose “day job” is serving as pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, is a former four-year member of the Marching 100 band at Indiana University.
“Most people don’t know that I played in the Rose Bowl,” joked Bradley. “When they ask what I played, I tell them ‘sousaphone.’” He returns to IU annually at homecoming to march with the “senior band” made up of Hoosier alumni.
Bradley has played with community bands in other places he’s lived. “I’m glad to see Madison with a community band here now. We do have a lot of talent to draw on.”
Musicians from all walks of life and all ages seem to respond to Johnson’s relaxed, fun-loving leadership style.
“Mark is really a very good director. He works hard,” said Fitch. “So far people have been very complimentary. We realize it’s not perfect. We’re not professional, it’s recreational – and I think that’s the way Mark wants to keep it.”
It helps that Johnson knows so many musicians, but more are needed. So far, the band has no French horn players, for example. Any interested musicians are encouraged to come to a practice and try it out. For information, contact Johnson at (812) 265-3768 or trumpetplayer_53@yahoo.com. The band has a Facebook group, “Friends of the Madison Concert Band” and a website, www.madisonconcertband.webstarts.com.
Now starting its third year, the Madison Concert Band is “going on tour,” said Johnson with a chuckle. At 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 13, the band will perform at Trimble County Middle School. In February, the group may perform at the former Canaan Elementary School, now used as a community center.
The group will also be part of a concert band festival planned for Madison on May 14. It will finish the season with a patriotic concert sometime close to Independence Day.

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