Strike up the band
WORTHINGTON -- Can't blow a horn, beat a drum or even whistle a tune? A lack of musical ability shouldn't keep anyone from enjoying at least part of this weekend's "Salute to Excellence" Trojan Band Alumni Reunion.
Some events are only open to registered participants, but there will also be several opportunities for the general public to appreciate the talents of Worthington High School alumni and pay honor to two beloved former band directors, Gerald Niemeyer and Glenn Evensen. Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center will be the hub of activity throughout the weekend.
Niemeyer, WHS band director since 1946, and his wife, Iva, were tragically killed in a 1961 car accident. Evensen eventually succeeded Niemeyer as the WHS instrumental instructor, leading the band from 1962 to 1982. He died in 1996. Both men also led the "Amazing" Worthington City band during their tenures.
For the reunion, WHS graduates who played in the band under either man have been invited to participate in a weekend devoted to music, remembering and honoring the musical legacy they left behind.
"A lot of the musicians aren't going to know each other," said organizer Steve Rubis, referring to the age span of the participating alumni, "but they have one thing in common, and that is what they learned about life early on in the WHS band programs. ... We're excited about the group of people who have responded to it."
Tom Nystrom, WHS Class of 1949, chose a career as a physicist over becoming a professional musician, but he continues to play his trumpet in a 45-piece concert band in Baltimore, Md. Niemeyer definitely played a role in developing his love of music, Nystrom reflected in a recent phone interview.
"He was really a good musician -- and certainly a good director and a good teacher, and he challenged the band by playing good music and had the patience to wait for the people to appreciate it with him. And he never compromised on that," recalled Nystrom, who was married and living in the Twin Cities at the time of Niemeyer's death.
"We heard it on the radio as we were approaching Worthington. It was a shock, a real shock." Nystrom said.
Nystrom plans to attend the reunion and has been practicing in advance the music that will be played by the alumni band during a Saturday night concert. In the percussion section on Saturday night will be an alumnus of the Evensen era, 1968 grad Bruce Obermann, now of Minneapolis. Obermann is a former U.S. Air Force Band member who continues to play on a professional level. He will also offer a drum solo on Saturday night.
"Glenn was a real inspiration to me and played a key role in guiding me on into college-level bands and on into the USAF Band in Washington, D.C.," Obermann credited. "Glenn was always available to me to discuss playing various styles, and we spent many hours listening to recordings of top professionals in his office before the school bell rang. ... Glenn knew how to get the best out of musicians whether it was concert band, marching band or jazz ensemble. The thrill of playing is with me even today, as I still play professionally with various jazz bands and big bands in the Minneapolis area."
The band alumni will start registering for the reunion on Thursday afternoon. They will be treated that night to a special variety show, "Sentimental Journey II." The show, set to begin at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium, is also open to the public; a free-will donation will be taken.
"It will feature performers who are local and a few that have come a distance," said Rubis. "One is Chris Clark Sanders, who is a professional who lives in New Mexico. She's bringing her guitar and is going to do a couple of numbers."
Friday's reunion agenda includes alumni band rehearsals and a private reception and social hour, capped off by a special program, "A Salute to Gerald Niemeyer and Glenn Evensen and the Pursuit of Excellence," from 6 to 7 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium. This time of remembrance, which is also open to the public, will feature "tributes in word and song" presented by designated alumni.
On Saturday, the reunion attendees will tour their alma mater and ride on a float in the King Turkey Day parade before preparing for the weekend's climatic event, the WHS Alumni Reunion Band Concert at 7 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium.
The alumni band will be directed by Richard "Dick" Larson, the former junior high band director who served as interim WHS director after Niemeyer's death before Evensen was hired. A graduate of Luther College, he left Worthington to serve as music coordinator and choral conductor in Austin from 1966-1982. He moved to Colorado in 1982 and continued his emphasis in choral and symphonic music at Cherry Creek High School. He founded an elite choral group, Kantorei, which he continues to direct today in retirement.
Master of ceremonies for the Saturday concert will be Scott Rubsam, a 1970 graduate of WHS who forged a career in theater. Rubsam has directed a number of plays in New York, most recently a new play, "Mean," starring Academy Award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn and TV star Rachel Dratch, and written and directed three scripts for the Guthrie Theater, as well as directing stints at numerous regional theaters around the country. He has taught and directed theater at a number of educational institutions and is currently on the staff of Metropolitan State University.
The organizational team that has put months of time and effort into the reunion expects the Saturday concert to be the highlight of the weekend.
"The whole overall arrangement of it has worked out well, the way it's attracted a lot of people who are willing to pitch in, do a lot of work," credited Rubis. "We have a lot of good leaders working on it, both here and away."
For more information on the WHS Alumni Band Reunion, go to www.wgtn.net.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.