Building an Ensemble

Greater Greenwood Community Band promotes the arts for local musicians and audiences

By Rebecca Berfanger // Photography by Tony Vasquez

What started with a tenor saxophone player looking for a community band to join in the early 1990s, 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the Greater Greenwood Community Band, and since they began, they have performed a variety of shows for audiences in Greenwood and around Central Indiana. Many of their musicians have traveled as far as The Netherlands and Ireland to perform as a group, and they have hosted other bands in Greenwood, as well.
That saxophone player, Duane O’Neil, worked with then director of bands for Greenwood Community Schools, John Sutton, to see if there was a possibility of creating a band for the community similar to other bands around the state. Knowing that Dr. Joseph Naumcheff, a former band director and Ball State University music professor, was living in the community, Naumcheff was asked and agreed to be the band’s first director.
In May 1993, thanks to newspaper ads and word of mouth, 27 people gathered to share ideas for a community band. The all-volunteer, city- and donations-funded non-profit band that exists today started with anyone who wanted to join. Musicians could just start attending rehearsals.
Today, there are about 90 regular members ­— with a waiting list to get in, said Steve Roskowski, who has played trombone with the band for about 15 years, and is the president of the board of directors.
As one of the earliest members of the band, Ken Smogor, recalled, “I went to a rehearsal. Maybe 20 or 25 people were there. [Mostly] just people dusting off their horns, wanting to get back to it. That got me interested, and ever since I went to my first rehearsal, I stuck with it and helped it grow.” Smogor plays trombone, bass and drums, and has a degree in music education.
The current group meets for rehearsals every week, under the direction of Randy Greenwell since 2018. Greenwell has been a musician since he was 11, and was a high school band director for 32 years, the majority in Lawrence Township in Indianapolis. Although he retired in 2017, he is currently an educational support manager for Conn-Selmer Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of musical instruments for student, amateur and professional use. His current job is to educate other music educators.
Long-time band members credit Greenwell for choosing more technically challenging yet entertaining pieces for the musicians — and their audiences — which they say has only improved the quality of what these free performances have to offer.
“Ever since he took over, I think there is a lot more demand on us to perform well. It’s far from just coming and bringing your instrument on a Thursday night and playing. He wants to get the best out of the ensemble,” Smogor said.
And word has gotten out.
“He has attracted even more very good quality musicians. Not only from the [Greenwood] area but from around Central Indiana. We have a waiting list of people to get in,” Smogor added.
Another early member of the band is flutist Nancy Barnard, who has also observed many changes from the band’s early days.
“The technical quality of the band has gone way up,” she said. “We didn’t have full instrumentation. Now we have a lot more accomplished musicians.”
“When Randy became new director, he was in touch with current musical [arrangements and] modern concert band composers,” Roskowski added.
Even though the music has become more challenging over the years, the spots are more competitive, and there are close to 90 members, what hasn’t changed is it’s still fun.
Barnard and other musicians credited Sheila Wooten, the band’s stage director, for her efforts in making the concerts more entertaining for the entire family.
“She decorated the stage for Halloween, and this year there were skeletons everywhere. It gets fancier every time. She doesn’t decorate it the same every year. We had dancers with glow in the dark skeleton shirts [dance] to a few songs,” Barnard said.
The musicians also understand that they aren’t just playing for themselves or other musicians with similar tastes, but for the community of Greenwood and other communities, including Garfield Park in Indianapolis.
“[I] program so that there is hopefully a little something for everyone. We try to program an experience, not just a concert,” Greenwell said.
Roskowski added they’ll incorporate a local DJ to help emcee. For this year’s holiday show in early December, Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers was scheduled to narrate, a troupe of dancers from Style Dance Academy were to perform, and, of course, Santa was to make an appearance. They also were collecting donations for the Salvation Army. Band members also often dress for each show’s theme.
And it’s not just the traditional holiday shows — the Christmas concert, the Halloween show, a patriotic performance around Independence Day — that have themes, but all of the band’s year-round events.
“Audiences just love themed concerts,” said Roskowski. “Each one has a theme, so we’ll announce if the next one has a movie theme or a space theme. When we have a theme, it’s something people talk about. Last year we did a concert of ’70s music, and that created a buzz. It’s not just a concert.”
Past concerts with movie soundtracks have included the theme from “Pirates of the Caribbean” at the 2022 Halloween show, which also included performances by Style Dance Academy. At the Children’s Concert in September, they performed music from “Jurassic Park,” “Spiderman: No Way Home” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Thanks to the themes, Roskowski said, the crowds continue to grow. He said about 200 people attended the Halloween concert, and he expected an even bigger crowd for this year’s Christmas show. While the weather is a factor for the
outdoor concerts, especially the blistering heat of Indiana summers, those shows also tend to draw 150 to 200 people, he said.
He also makes an effort to meet new people after the shows.
“I try to get out and talk to people, I make at least one contact with someone who is there to listen,” he said. “I always tell people, ‘If you have friends you think would like it, the best thing you can do is tell them about us.’”
As of press time, the band was still working on the 2023 schedule, but planned to keep the general schedule of several outdoor shows in the spring and summer at the Amphitheater at Surina Park in Greenwood, plus annual shows at Greenwood High School Auditorium in colder months.
Not only do band members connect with audiences of the community, but being in the band helps them connect with each other. That includes international trips, including The Netherlands in 2017, and Ireland earlier this year, where musicians paid their own way.
Percussionist Dan Fyffe, who, along with his wife Sheryl Fyffe, a flutist, joined the band in 2017, just in time for the band’s trip to The Netherlands under
the direction of then conductor Tom Dirks. Dan Fyffe is also Director of Bands at Edgewood Intermediate School in Franklin Township.
“The trips are what brought me to
the GGCB. I have been on both the Netherlands and Ireland trip,” Dan Fyffe said. “I love how we perform with local bands on our trips. The audiences are enthusiastic and our hosts are incredible. There is great camaraderie on these trips which carries on after the band returns
to Greenwood.”
The band worked with tour groups for both trips, said Roskowski. “They do all the bookings, set up the concerts. It’s a fun experience for band people to get to know each other so much more.”
They have also hosted visiting bands, including the annual GGCB “Concerts in the Park” Festival at the Surina Square in Craig Park in August. The 2022 event featured eight concerts by eight different bands from all over the state, ending with a concert by GGCB.
“Playing with a wonderful group of musicians is a special feeling,” Dan Fyffe said. “There is a feeling of oneness. I felt this as a member of the Greenwood Marching Band in the 70s, and I feel it on the GGCB trips and as a member of the GGCB.”
Barnard added, “I played my flute in church, I have private flute students, but it’s not the same as playing in a band. Playing in a band is really special.”
In addition to entertaining their audiences, band members feel that they have been called to a higher purpose.
“We add to the community awareness and the positive culture of our wonderful city,” Dan Fyffe said. “We provide great music throughout the year including our outdoor concert series at the Amphitheater during the summer/fall and our indoor concert series at the GHS auditorium during the winter/spring. The GGCB is a source of pride for our community. The band performs outstanding concerts which are attended and enjoyed by members of the community.”
Greenwell echoed Dan Fyffe’s statement.
“Well, without cultural and fine arts, what do we do to improve our society and our human condition? The arts have always been a way for human beings to experience culture and express themselves,” Greenwell said.
Put succinctly: “We play because we love to play,” Barnard said.