The Ypsilanti community has a rich tradition of organized concert band music - in addition to its public school and university programs. In The Story of Ypsilanti (1923), Harvey Colburn mentions a city band in the mid-1800's. This band was later dissolved and replaced by the Light Guard Band in 1872. This band was presumably attached to Ypsilanti's Company G of the Michigan National Guard, and performed at many military and civic functions into the late 1890's. A second Ypsilanti City Band was organized in 1876.
In Ypsilanti: A History in Pictures (2002), James Thomas Mann refers to and provides a photograph of the Ypsilanti Cornet Band, a group of approximately 10 players. The caption reads: "The Ypsilanti Cornet Band was founded in the 1870's and led by Fred Cutler. The band often performed while riding in a glorious chariot of blue and gold, or marching at the head of a parade. It was said there could be no finer or more inspiring music than that of the Ypsilanti Cornet Band. Eventually the band separated, the chariot was lost, and now even the memories are gone."
Perhaps the best remembered former Ypsilanti band was the "Barnhill Band", founded by John F. Barnhill, a professor of mathematics at Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University). In 1924, Professor Barnhill reorganized the Normal College Band and then, in 1927, turned his musical and organizational talents to the task of establishing the Ypsilanti High School Band and the Ypsilanti Community Band. The band was well known for its summer park concerts and was conducted by Barnhill himself until his death in 1941. The band was then renamed the John F. Barnhill Memorial Band in his honor. The Memorial Band was led by a number of area musicians most of whom had been band members under Barnhill. Unfortunately, the bands numbers began to dwindle and it dissolved in the 1960's.
History of the Current Community Band
The present Ypsilanti Community Band began on a January evening in 1979 when Lynn Cooper, then in his 10th year as director of bands at Ypsilanti High School, called together a group of his friends, former students, and EMU students. For several years, Mr. Cooper had felt a need within the community for an ensemble for adult musicians-a natural extension of his own successful public high school program. The Ypsilanti Community Band filled that need.
After seven years as conductor of the band, Mr. Cooper left to accept a new position outside the area. He was replaced by Paul Stanifer, a recognized public band program organizer. When Mr. Stanifer resigned, Charles Lee, a former band director at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, took up the baton. He was replaced by Ken Bowman in 1988. Mr. Bowman, a charter member of the band and retired high school band director, conducted the band through the next ten years of its history. Mr. Bowman retired at the end of the 1998 season. He was replaced by the current conductor, Jerry Robbins.
From its inception until 1998, the Ypsilanti Community Band rehearsed and performed its indoor concerts at Ypsilanti High School. However, in 1998 the Band formed an alliance with the Department of Music at Eastern Michigan University. For the next several years, the Band was known during the indoor concert season as the "Barnhill Band" (named in honor of Prof. John F. Barnhill and an earlier community band) and the Band rehearsed at EMU and performed in Pease Auditorium. During the summers, the group performed as the "Ypsilanti Community Band" in various outdoor venues. Under the "Barnhill Band" arrangement, a number of EMU students joined townspeople in the ensemble, bringing the membership up to about 70. The "Barnhill Band" arrangement dissolved after four years, at which time the approximately 50 members of the Ypsilanti Community Band moved rehearsals and indoor performances to Washtenaw Community College. Later, the Band moved its rehearsal space to West Middle School in Ypsilanti.
There were only 23 musicians present at the first rehearsal of the Ypsilanti Community Band in 1979. Today, membership has grown to about 70 and is increasing. Many of the Band's members commute to rehearsals and performances from a considerable distance. The players in the Band range in age from late teens to "in their 80's." Only a few are or have been professional musicians of any sort; most are people from a wide variety of walks of life who played in high school and/or college and who enjoy "making music" with other adults.
In recent years, the Band has performed concerts in October, December (a holiday program shared with the Ypsilanti Community Choir), February or March, and May--all in the Towsley Auditorium of the Morris Lawrence Building at Washtenaw Community College. In the summer, the Band's schedule includes performances on Memorial Day at the Yankee Air Force Museum in Willow Run, a patriotic concert in an Ypsilanti park just before July 4, a concert in another Ypsilanti park later in the summer, and a performance at the Heritage Festival in August. The Band also performs regularly for the UA (plumbers and pipefitters) commencement ceremony in the EMU Convocation Center each August.
The Ypsilanti Community Band has also appeared at the Red Cedar Festival of Community Bands, in Depot Town, in Downtown Ypsilanti, and at Selfridge Air National Base in Macomb County, among other venues of recent years.
The Band is deeply committed to several strong traditions, one of which is "no auditions" for players and another of which is "all concerts are free to the public."
For additional information, including information about playing in this group, schedule of concerts, etc., see http://www.ypsicommband.org .
In the news
A 25-year holiday tradition continues on Tuesday night, Dec. 15, when the Ypsilanti Community Band teams up with the Ypsilanti Community Choir for it’s annual holiday concert. The show marks the conclusion of the Ypsilanti Community Band’s 30th anniversary season this year. Jerry Robbins, Eastern Michigan University professor emeritus, conducts the YCB. Ariel Toews-Ricotta leads the choir.
- Ypsi Community Band Practices for Pease: Dec. 11 free holiday concert on EMU campus, Ann Arbor Chronicle, November 2008