includes all ages, instruments
Johnson makes music
fun for players, audience
(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 cant associate their faces with names.
But in his mind every face goes with an instrument brass, woodwind,
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, todays
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 hes their volunteer conductor, not their teacher, he
makes sure every practice and every performance is enjoyable for all.
Its 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
Of course, not all the band members are Johnsons 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 hadnt 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. Hes 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. Its 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.
Johnsons own son is one who has answered the call. Brandon Johnson,
30, is a 1999 graduate of Madison Consolidated High School who followed
his fathers 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 Madisons
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 bands youngest
player is eighth-grader Tyler Stephenson. Hes a fine little
musician, said Johnson. Stephensons 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 dont 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 hes lived.
Im 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 Johnsons
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
its not perfect. Were not professional, its recreational
and I think thats 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 email@example.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.
Back to January 2011