At weekly Crosstown Community Band rehearsals, a father and daughter play side by side on the alto sax. A pianist covers a tuba part. A woman on clarinet plays across from her grandkids’ kindergarten teacher on trombone. Preston Weber leads as conductor, continuing a gig he landed while a senior Music Education major at the University of Minnesota.
Several members live in the Kenny neighborhood, where the roots of the band formed. To keep his son playing music during a summer off from Anthony Middle School, Kenny resident Bruce Wright organized a backyard band for his son and his buddies.
“It seemed that if I didn’t do something they would put down their instruments in summer and wouldn’t pick them up again until fall,” he said.
The band held a picnic for participating families and carried on for a second summer.
“One of the mothers said, ‘Why don’t we do something like that?’” Wright said.
A planning meeting at Kenny Park yielded a community band with about six members of all ages in 2011.
The band picks up a handful of new recruits each year, and the group now stands at about 25 regular members.
“It’s small enough that everyone knows everybody,” said saxophonist Chris Bork.
They were encouraged to fold into other community bands over the years, but trumpet player and co-founder David Yussen said there was always enough momentum to keep Crosstown intact.
“There were some skeptics along the way,” he said.
He said the band is the perfect size for neighborhood festivals and one of his favorite gigs: Bachman’s annual winter holiday event.
“We can fit in the garden center,” he said. “A large concert band can’t do that.”
“The Kenny Neighborhood Association was the first to really give us a break to give us a chance to perform at their ice cream social,” Wright said.
The group will play at the Minnesota Orchestra lobby as part of FinnFest in September.
“We jokingly say we’re opening for the Minnesota Orchestra,” Wright said.
Previous concert pieces have ranged from “Happy” by Pharrell Willams and “Pirates of the Caribbean” to a Sousa march and “Peter and the Wolf.” Weber is arranging a piece for the band, which recently started rehearsing Finnish pieces in preparation for FinnFest.
“That’s not an easy piece to sight read, but you’re doing a very good job. … I can’t believe how good that sounds after 10 minutes,” Weber told the band at a recent rehearsal. Weber teaches band and orchestra at Hill-Murray School in Maplewood.
Members said the band is a good place to return to an instrument after a long hiatus.
“I hadn’t played in 30 years,” Wright said. “It’s like riding a bike. After you practice a little, it comes right back.”
“It’s something I always wanted to come back to,” said trombonist Chris Hahn, a band member since the beginning.
Alison Morris said she previously dug out the flute only to play with her mother and sister at family gatherings and on Christmas. Then she heard the Crosstown Community Band perform at a neighborhood festival, and noticed a Nextdoor post seeking more musicians.
“I thought, ‘You know, it’s time to get the flute out again,’” she said.
She said her embouchure gets a little tired, and she occasionally forgets the fingerings of lesser-used high notes, but she’s playing with confidence.
“I play a lot better now,” she said. “…It’s a very forgiving atmosphere. There is not much pressure. But we like to play well.”
“It’s a fun way to unwind after a busy day,” said co-founder Shari Wiggins, a Kenny resident who’s recruited several band members over the years. (Yussen joked that she meets new people first by asking their name, and second if they play an instrument.)
The group is currently looking for lower brass — particularly a tuba — and percussion.
“We won’t say no to anybody. They’re all welcome,” Wright said.
The band rehearses most Monday nights at 7 p.m. in the choir room at Richfield Lutheran Church at 8 W. 60th St.
For more information, visit crosstowncommunityband.org.