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Concert band scaling up

Musicians take up residence at Historic Dixon Theatre

The Sauk Valley Community College Band has nearly doubled in size and now practices and performs at the Historic Dixon Theatre, 114 S. Galena Ave.
The Sauk Valley Community College Band has nearly doubled in size and now practices and performs at the Historic Dixon Theatre, 114 S. Galena Ave.

DIXON – The Sauk Valley Community College concert band has grown by leaps and bounds – er, flutes and trombones – and taken up residence in a larger, more magnificent space.

The band over the last few years has had about 25 members, mostly college students earning credit for their participation, but this year boasts nearly 50 musicians. Many of the new participants are high school students and community members looking for more opportunities to hone their skills and perform in an ensemble.

Band director Mark Bressler plugs the band with his peers in the Dixon and Sterling municipal bands, with local high school band directors and with students at Illinois Music Educators Association events in the area. Bressler, who also directs the cash-strapped Dixon Municipal Band, this year threw himself completely into the college band.

“I guess you could call me an arts economy promoter,” he said. “I’m always trying to promote the arts as an economic driving force in our community ... I needed to find a positive release. It’s been very stressful dealing with the economic hardship (of the municipal band) ... so I just decided I didn’t care who was listening, I would just keep talking about it (the college band).”

Heather Elfline, a senior flutist at Morrison High School, joined the band to challenge herself.

“It has something the high school level doesn’t, and that is that every player in this band cares and everyone wants to be here,” she said. “It makes a difference.”

Alyssa Carlson, a senior clarinet player at Rock Falls High School, joined to sharpen her skills.

“It’s an honor that I get to do it (play alongside experienced musicians),” she said. “It really helps me. I’ve learned so much about music and a lot about my instrument. ... It’s a big learning opportunity.”

The band now has a more robust sound with musicians filling in every part, said Carolyn Aiken of Morrison, a former music teacher who has played in the band for many years.

“It’s all about being a part of a group and making something happen and being an important part of it,” she said. “If your part is missing, then the band is missing something and doesn’t sound the same.”

The band – with its nearly doubled membership – outgrew its space in the basement (the former kitchen, an L-shaped room with 8-foot ceilings and thick, concrete walls) at Sauk Valley Community College.

College officials searched for a month for a temporary space and settled on the Historic Dixon Theatre. The band will rehearse and perform at the theater at least through the end of the year, Bressler said.

“I love the theater,” he said. “The space is just very rich and very warm. There are things you can do in that room that you can’t do in any other space in the Sauk Valley region. There are things you can hear there that you can’t hear anywhere else.

Bressler, who has directed the band for more than 3 years, already has seen exponential growth in the band.

“(In our former space), it was starting to get loud. ... The room distorted our sound a lot,” he said. “In the theater, you can listen and you can hear the people across the stage from you. The theater just amplifies our blend and balance and richness of tone; it’s all so much more pleasant.”

The theater has played host to many performers but never had a resident musical group, theater board chairman Tom Elmendorf said.

“It’s nice to have someone here and always active,” he said. “This venue fulfills exactly what they’re doing. It gives the students and others in the band an opportunity to rehearse and perform in a venue that is built just for what they do.

“You hear them and you know they were meant to be here.”

Bressler hopes the band can remain at the theater come the turn of the year, but he and college officials will evaluate their options.

Strike up the band

DIXON – Sauk Valley Community College’s annual free fall band concert will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 2 at the Historic Dixon Theatre, 114 S. Galena Ave.

The concert band will perform a variety of numbers, including “Liberty Bell March” by Sousa, “The Barber of Seville Overture” by Rossini, “Fate of the Gods” by Steven Reinecke, “Beguine for Band” by Osser, “Renaissance Festival Dances” by Pearson, and “Swashbuckler” by Julie Giroux.

Email Mark Bressler at for more information.

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