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It's 'Amazing': City band set to begin its 125th season next Wednesday

The "Amazing" Worthington City Band performs Monday morning in Chautauqua Park along Lake Okabena. The band will perform the first of its weekly Wednesday evening concerts on June 6. (Ryan McGaughey/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Baseball, hot dogs, water play and a free, open-air band concert — four elements contributing to an ideal summer.

The “Amazing” Worthington City Band will continue doing its part to make those summer dreams come true when it kicks off its 125th season at 7:30 p.m. next Wednesday in historic Chautauqua Park.

“It’s truly amazing,” said Jan Wass, secretary of the band’s board and a clarinetist in the ensemble.

“To think this band has existed since 1893 and is still a part of Worthington — in fact, that it might be the longest running community tradition Worthington has — is a little mind-boggling.”

Under the baton of Mike Peterson, retired director of the Fulda High School band, for a fifth year, the city band is poised to serve up its regular menu of seven consecutive Wednesday night concerts (plus a bonus July 4 concert). Peterson promises attendees will not be disappointed.

“Depending on the week, the band fluctuates between 55 and 70 players,” noted Peterson. “There are no original members, though.

“Last season, we peaked at 74 musicians for one concert — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for someone else who has an old instrument in a closet they haven’t played for a while.”

In late July 2017, Peterson led a contingent of “Amazing” Worthington City Band members to Crailsheim, Germany, to help celebrate the 70-year partnership between the two cities. It was the third time in 25 years that city band members have traveled en masse to Crailsheim.

“My wife [Lisa] and I have lived in the Fulda area for almost 40 years, and we always knew about the connection between Worthington and Crailsheim, but we had no idea of the full depth of it or of its specific origin,” said Peterson.

“Listening to that story being told and realizing the people of Crailsheim, even generations later, still feel so much in debt to Worthington for the help they gave after World War II is just incredible,” he added.

“And everybody on that tour would say, ‘My host was the best one,’ because we were all treated so wonderfully in the homes of the Crailsheim residents.”

Whether experiencing international travel together, rehearsing backstage at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday nights, or sweating under the setting sun on steamy summer evenings at the Chautauqua band shell, city band members discover the common bonds of music that bind together representatives of various ages and instrumentation.

“The adults in the band are its foundation, and that’s what has kept it going for 125 years, even though we love having the youth and vitality the high school participants bring,” said Peterson.

Mentioned Wass, who will be one of six members in her extended family participating in the group this summer, “I told my kids, ‘You get to sit and play with other people who love to play, and you can learn so much from them.’

“They’ve all had fantastic music teachers, and it’s a really cool thing because there aren’t a lot of opportunities for young, middle-aged and older people to all do the same thing and enjoy each other’s company.”

Like many longtime band members, Wass can recall when she first joined the ensemble: 1975, the year director Glenn Evensen recruited her.

“He asked if I’d come and play, so I did,” said Wass. “I’d already been attending the Wednesday night concerts anyway because my friends and I were hanging out at the park.”

That element of free, open-air entertainment is another key aspect of the “Amazing” Worthington City Band’s longtime appeal. With park equipment and abundant benches at the ready, people of all ages can stroll, roll, drive or bike to the site and take in the weekly spectacle at whatever level of engagement they prefer.

“People of all ages can come and enjoy an evening in the park,” observed Wass. “You can sit up close and focus on the concert, emcee and entertainment, or you can sit back among the trees, or be on the playground, and still hear and see everything.”

It’s that casual atmosphere, coupled with singular features such as the mid-concert “kiddy march,” which invites children to parade among the attendees in exchange for a candy treat at the song’s end, that keep people coming back for more, year after year.

“If you like band music, the American tradition of a concert in a park, sitting by a lake among others enjoying quiet camaraderie, then this is Americana at its finest,” observed Peterson.

“The crowds always seem to come, whether it’s warm or cool.”

During his tenure leading the band, Peterson has incorporated a few fresh numbers each season, and this year will be no exception.

“We’ll introduce five to seven new pieces to our repertoire, including a couple new marches, and we’ll feature Jeanette Jenson on an alto sax solo in ‘Moon River’ at the June 13 concert,” said Peterson.

Besides, Peterson virtually guarantees good weather for each Wednesday evening from June 4 through July 25.

“There hasn’t been a concert yet that I’ve conducted that’s been rained out,” he boldly stated.

“And that’s one tradition I’m not planning to break this year.”

The first concert of the “Amazing” Worthington City Band’s 125th season is scheduled for Wednesday, June 6, at 7:30 p.m. at Chautauqua Park. Pat O’Neill will be the concert’s emcee, and Bill Keitel will provide the intermission entertainment.

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