On Thursday evenings, when most people are winding down at home, watching TV or enjoying quiet family time, a small group of devoted volunteers are gathering to share a common passion – making music.
The roughly 40 members of the McKinney Community Band (MCB) come together from all over North Texas to rehearse and prepare for performances scheduled throughout the year. The dedicated musicians range in age from mid-20s to early-80s, and while they hail from a wide variety of professions – education, marketing, accounting, IT, sales, engineering and more – their common background as “band geeks” in their formative years provides them all with a great sense of fellowship, fun and family.
French hornist Tanya Barrios, a McKinney special education teacher and mom of two elementary school-aged boys, looks forward to band each week as a way to relax.
“Being in the band is a great stress reliever for me,” said Barrios, who hadn’t played her horn for 10 years before joining MCB five years ago. “Some people enjoy doing yoga and breathing deeply to relax. I choose to spend two hours a week breathing deeply into my horn while listening to beautiful music!”
Idea is Born
MCB, which is not quite a decade old, can date its origins to 1972. That’s When percussionists Bill Sleeper and Ed Schwarz first became friends as members of a Dallas-area community band. Schwarz, a retired aerospace engineer, moved to McKinney in 1990 and met Lisa Miller, a McKinney resident active in the local arts scene, who suggested that McKinney really needed a band. He mentioned this to Sleeper, a retired insurance specialist, and the two took the idea to then-McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield for his stamp of approval. Before the two men could pull together any musicians or even choose music to play, they were “hired” for a gig – to perform at the city’s annual Ice Cream Crank-off. Thanks to some free publicity aimed at recruiting players and pure faith, the MCB was born.
Some of the band’s members also lend their time and talents to one of the group’s satellite ensembles – the McKinney Dance Band or the Flute Choir, both of which are available for hire for parties, weddings and other events.
The band’s concerts are always free to the public, made possible by a generous grant from the City of McKinney Arts Commission, donations from supporters and the $50 annual dues from each member. Sleeper often notes, “It’s the most fun you can have for less than a dollar a week!”
Eight and a half years spent planning the concert programs and directing the band, Sleeper stepped down as music director in January, but is still actively involved as its “director emeritus,” conducting portions of rehearsals and concerts, while joining the percussion section when not on the podium.
Little did he know that running into an old friend from his insurance days would ultimately lead to finding his replacement.
“I knew David [Allred] when we were both in insurance, and I ran into him in Dallas a couple of holidays ago,” Sleeper said.
The two friends started talking music and after the holidays, Sleeper invited Allred to come to a rehearsal. Prior to getting into the insurance business, Allred had spent several years as a high school band director in Richardson, a position he left in 1982. Allred rode up to McKinney with Sleeper one Thursday night and the rest, despite slight hesitation on Allred’s part, is history.
The McKinney Community Band plays to large crowds at area events.
“I was reluctant to get involved with a community band, because all of the ones that I had seen were more social organizations than musical ones,” Allred said. “When Bill invited me to a rehearsal, I was skeptical, but he assured me that the emphasis was on the music and the members had a real desire to improve their individual playing as well as the quality of the ensemble.”
Allred admits he was pleasantly surprised.
“I give great credit to Bill for establishing a solid base in the band and for the ongoing work of the board members to continue to push for musical growth,” he said.
Sharing the Podium
The two old friends proved to be a natural team sharing the podium. By summer of 2014, the board announced Allred’s new position as assistant conductor. Then in December, the board made a big step in its search for a new music director to enable Sleeper to “retire” from full-time duties. A board member approached Allred about his possible interest in the music director position, pointing out he’d already developed a solid working relationship with the band and he had the qualifications they were seeking in their next leader. The board met with Allred and offered him the position. He accepted.
“I felt, after much reflection and encouragement from various band members and my bride, I could help and perhaps accelerate that growth curve,” Allred said.
After a holiday break, the band returned in January to the announcement of a new music conductor and Sleeper’s new duties.
Allred sees great things in the band’s future. “I would like to think we, collectively, will grow to become a premier wind ensemble in the DFW area,” he said.
The band doesn’t require formal auditions and is working to find new members and build a list of strong substitute players who cannot commit full time or would play for sections that are currently full. Any musician interested can fill out an inquiry form on the band’s website.
The band’s upcoming 2015 performances include:
- May 25: Memorial Day Ceremony, Pecan Grove Cemetery
- June 25, Jammin’ in June Annual Summer Concert Series, Bonnie Wenk Park
- June 27, Summer/Patriotic Concert, McKinney Performing Arts Center
- Sept. 19, Fall Concert, McKinney Performing Arts Center
- Date TBD, Holiday Concert, Christ Fellowship Church
About the author: Beth Shumate is communications manager for the McKinney Convention & Visitors Bureau, as well as concert manager for the McKinney Community Band.