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Local Feature

Kingsburg City Band
120 Years of Creating Memories

words By Jolen Polyack
I
mages by Andrew Shinn

When Swedish band director Lars Claus led the Kingsburg City Band consisting of 14 members during their first concert in 1887, he couldn’t possibly have known he was beginning a legacy that continues today, 120 years later.
Kingsburg is rich in heritage and tradition. But much of what you see is stationery and well preserved. With the Kingsburg City Band the tradition and heritage is interactive and alive with people of all ages and nationalities. Quality musicians come together to provide an exceptional under-the-stars experience for the entire region. People come from far and wide, bringing their chairs, blankets, picnic dinners and toys for their children to play with. They tend to come early and socialize with others to maximize the experience.
As you arrive at Memorial Park, you know immediately that you are about to be part of something special. There’s a slight breeze that brushes against your face as you sit under one of the large trees. If you close your eyes you can hear all of the voices chattering excitedly before each concert. You can hear children laughing, neighbors greeting each other and friends exchanging stories. You can smell kettle corn and food cooking. It’s the kind of experience that makes you feel warm and safe. Your heart leaps as the musicians pierce the air with the sounds of their instruments warming up. Once the music starts you can’t help but smile. The music is quality with arrangements ranging from Sousa to Stravinsky and everything in between. There’s really not a chance to be bored, yet it’s one of the most relaxing opportunities around. It’s the kind of atmosphere that many communities would love to create for their residents. That’s why hundreds travel to Kingsburg to enjoy the experience. Each performance averages about 1,000 people.
Forty years ago the concerts were held on Saturday evenings in Coffee Pot Park. Residents would travel from their farms to the park to enjoy the primary social gathering of Kingsburg.
It continues to be a primary social gathering today with its slice of Americana. There is homemade ice cream available at each concert. People will come at 5:30 for the Farmer’s Market that takes place in the park prior to the concert which allows them the opportunity to select the perfect location to set up their area and enjoy the social elements of the evening.
What started with a handful of Swedes by the railroad station 120 years ago has evolved into a high quality preservation yet modern embrace of Americana.
Enough about atmosphere. Let’s talk about talent. These 80 musicians come from as far away as Los Baños just to perform in the Kingsburg band shell. Director Dale Engstrom selects 14 pieces every week. On Tuesdays during the six-week season the musicians gather to practice the selections for the first time together. About 48 hours later the band plays those selections for the public – beautifully executed. According to Engstrom, “They are professional enough to be able to do that. Most community bands need a lot more preparation before performing. But we have so many band directors and professional musicians who have played a lot of the music before, that it’s not brand new to them. It’s just a matter of refreshing their memories and practicing it together.”
And tradition – after 120 years, so many families have this tradition in their past and present. Their kids see it and then want their kids to experience it as well. Dale’s mother – Barbara Engstrom remembers walking through the audience and handing out programs. Her parents paid her a nickel to buy ice cream as payment for her work. Barbara’s father was Julian Jacobson who was a trumpet player in the band. Engstrom himself is a third generation Kingsburg City Band member. “I remember Mom and Dad were in the band, and I would crawl around on the floor tugging on my mother’s hem while she played. Then as I played and conducted, my children did the same to me.” Engstrom’s daughter Katie has been a vocalist during the concerts. His father Wally was the conductor for 15 years prior to Dale’s reign and Dale’s son Corey is currently in the band. It’s notable that all of the Engstrom men have been trumpeters.
According to Engstrom, “Several families have that thread going through it, passed on from one generation to the next. There are families today that have three generations playing in the band. Some members have played for over 50 years.”
But you don’t have to be a fourth generation Band Member to enjoy the traditions epitomized by the Band. There was a gentleman who was visiting Kingsburg from Sweden. He heard the band playing from across the street and walked over to introduce himself to Engstrom at the intermission. His name was Olaf Lindgren and he is a composer in Sweden. Engstrom invited Lindgren to conduct in the second half of the evening and learned that Lindgren is well known in Sweden, owning his own music publishing company. Engstrom will be purchasing a piece from Lindgren for this year’s concert series.
Dr. Gary Gilroy, Director of Bands at California State University Fresno, has written a piece specifically for the Kingsburg City Band entitled “To the Kingsburg Legends.” Gilroy wrote the piece because he heard about the great musicians that have played in Kingsburg throughout the years and wanted to commemorate the Band.
A gentleman from Redwood City, Paul Thekan, has been listening to the concerts for years on radio station KRDU 1130AM. He wants to visit Kingsburg one day because he says he has an image of the city and wants to see if his image is accurate. KRDU broadcasts the concerts the evening of the performance beginning at 10 P.M.
Each year the concert series concludes with the 1812 Overture complete with canons booming and bells from the Lutheran Church across the street chiming. It’s something most look forward to. It’s definitely an amazing, uplifting and inspirational way to celebrate another successful season of tradition in Kingsburg.
Kingsburg City Band Facts
• Founded in 1887 with 14 musicians who played in front
of the train depot.
• It is one of the oldest community bands in the U.S.
• Musicians come from as far as Los Baños and Merced
in order to be a member of the band.
• Musicians represent many nationalities and work in many
different industries including bankers, physicians
and farmers.
• Dale Engstrom has been the conductor for the past
30 years earning him the honor of holding the position
for the longest amount of time.

2007 Season Schedule
Thursday concerts kick off with a Farmer’s Market starting at 5:30 P.M. The concert is from 8 to 9:30 P.M. Memorial Park concerts are free to the public.
June 21 – Thursday in Memorial Park
June 28 – Thursday in Memorial Park
July 3 – Tuesday at the Kingsburg High School
4th of July celebration
July 5 – Thursday in Memorial Park
July 12 - Thursday in Memorial Park
July 19 - Thursday in Memorial Park
July 26 - Thursday in Memorial Park

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