Robert Musser had an idea 37 years ago. It was an idea that evolved into the Tacoma Concert Band and continues to this day.
It began as a conversation in the summer of 1981 between musician friends: Could they start a concert band like no other? Unlike some other community bands, this would be professional musicians playing at a high level. Musser knew the local music scene, so he began making phone calls. He started with a list of the best wind players in Western Washington.
“Everybody I asked said ‘Yes, we’d love to do this,'” Musser told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “We met the first night, the first rehearsal, with a full instrumentation, including some not-so-common instruments like an E-flat alto clarinet, and an E-flat soprano clarinet, things like that. And it sounded great.”
“We did a very difficult program on the very first concert,” he said. “We did Lincolnshire Posy by Granger. And we did the Hindemith Symphony in B-flat, the Rienzi Overture. This was a tough program and we played it.”
That sound has continued ever since and Musser has led the band each year. This year, he decided it’s time to step down.
“I guess eventually you get to where you think, ‘Well, it’s time. Let’s do something else and not be tied down by the regular schedule of rehearsals and concerts,'” he said.
Tacoma Concert Band
A farewell concert for Musser will be April 28, 2018, at Tacoma’s Pantages Theater.
The Tacoma Concert Band is a community band at its core. But Musser stresses that it is unlike many community bands people are familiar with.
“Everybody is a volunteer,” Musser said. “But it’s not a typical community band. By that, I mean that everybody plays at an exceptionally high level. A lot of them have played professionally, and some of them still play professionally at various venues. And when I started the band I started it with that idea. I didn’t want to just put a notice in the newspaper, ‘Get your clarinet out of the attic and show up Wednesday night and we’ll have a band.’ There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a lot of community bands like that and they serve a purpose.”
As a conductor with a finger on the pulse of the music scene, Musser noticed a significant decline in the type of musicians that play in his band. He attributes this to school districts consistently cutting arts programs — particularly music.
“The level of high school bands, which I’m most familiar with, is not where it was years ago,” he said. “I can only think that is the result of losing so many elementary music programs, and sometimes intermediate junior high school programs, so the students are starting later.”
“Too many school districts are cutting music, or cutting it way back,” Musser said. “The arts are not funded nearly to the degree they should be … education has never been funded to the degree it should be.”
That has consequences, beyond the arts, Musser notes. It’s becoming more apparent that students involved in music starting at a young age do better in school than those who aren’t. Musicians brains even become more highly developed than their non-musically trained counterparts.
“We’ve heard many times ‘Mozart makes you smart.’ And I think there’s a whole lot to that,” Musser said.