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Amazing’ Worthington City Band kicks off 126th season Wednesday

Members of the "Amazing" Worthington Cty Band and conductor Mike Peterson are shown on the Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center stage during Monday's Memorial Day program. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — When the “Amazing” Worthington City Band opens its 126th season in the historic Chautauqua Park band shell at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, at least one of its 60-plus musicians will see the concert as a mere continuation of a treasured, ongoing local tradition.

“We’re starting our next 125 years,” said Shirley Rempel, a trombonist in the group for close to 30 years.

And Rempel, who also serves on the band’s board and is the group’s 2019 president, notes that another cherished tradition will be in place.

“Pat O’Neill is the emcee for the night,” said Rempel. “It just doesn’t seem like the beginning of the season if Pat isn’t our opening emcee.

“We look forward to having him each year.”

O’Neill’s wry and dry sense of humor typically amuse both the appreciative audience and the band members at the open-air performance, which is free to all comers.

“I’ve done it, oh, I don’t know, maybe 20 years?” speculated O’Neill of his emceeing gig.

“I think Galen Benton roped me into it at first, and now it’s not really an invitation — more like a command performance.”

But O’Neill — who fills in the spaces between musical numbers with pun-heavy jokes and deadpan observations and claims not to particularly relish public speaking — keeps the date for all the right reasons.

“I was a percussionist — more of a drummer, really — in high school and college,” revealed O’Neill. “I like band music, and music in general.

“This band is terrific, and it’s a great thing that our town still has one.”

Mike Peterson is entering his sixth season as conductor of the “Amazing” Worthington City Band. Although the hoopla surrounding the band’s quasquicentennial is now past, Peterson says there are plenty of reasons music lovers should keep attending concerts this summer.

“We have a few fun things going on,” Peterson assured.

For instance, at the June 19 concert, Dr. John Ginocchio, director of bands at Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, will serve as guest conductor on three Spanish marches.

Ginocchio, a trombone specialist, will also perform a trombone solo on “The Old Home Down on the Farm.”

“John took a sabbatical last spring in Spain,” explained Peterson. “He studied Spanish music and culture and brought home a few traditional Spanish marches that he wanted to share.

“And as a band, we’ve had a good time learning the history of this music.”

On a more somber note, the band is dedicating its July 3 concert to Jeff Johnson, who passed away last Aug. 31.

Johnson, a baritone saxophonist, was a member of the “Amazing” Worthington City Band for decades. His longtime friend and running pal, Bob Jirele, will serve as that concert’s emcee.

“We’re planning to play the ‘Hogan’s Heroes March’ for Jeff because it was one of his favorite songs, with a great bari sax part,” said Rempel.

Additionally, over the course of the summer, Peterson is incorporating three pieces that Matt Saxman, who succeeded Peterson as director of the Fulda band program, has arranged.

“He [Matt] offered those to us, and I’m scattering them throughout the season’s lineup,” said Peterson.

Both Peterson and Rempel find meaning in different pieces that usher in the new band season.

“For me, hearing the opening strains of ‘Say it with Music’ [the band’s theme song] means the band season is underway,” said Rempel.

Added Peterson, “I’ve started each season with Sousa’s ‘The Minnesota March.’

“Once we play that, we’re off and rolling for the summer.”

And nearly every resident of southwest Minnesota can appreciate another “tradition” Peterson hopes will hold true once again.

“When I’ve been conducting, there have been no rainouts,” said Peterson.

“We’ll just keep going with that until I’m not superstitious anymore.”

The “Amazing” Worthington City Band opens its 126th season with a 7:30 p.m. Wednesday concert at Chautauqua Park, Worthington. The concert is free and open to the public, as are all subsequent concerts at 7:30 p.m. on June 12, 19, 26; and July 3, 4, 10, 17 and 24.  

Musicians interested in joining the band may contact Mike Peterson at (507) 360-2909 or attend rehearsal, which takes place at 7 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center.

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