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Manistee Community Band and Festival Chorus will present gala anniversary concert

Courtesy Photo
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Ryan Biller

Some teenagers may dream of starting a rock band, but in 2019, then 17-year-old Ryan Biller started, or rather, re-started a community band in his home town of Manistee. Judy Wagley caught up with the busy young musician, who will conduct the Manistee Community Band in a concert celebrating a big anniversary on July 12.

Ryan Biller: And we are very excited about that. It is the 55th anniversary of the first community band in Manistee, Michigan, and we have quite the event planned.

Ryan Biller is the conductor of the Manistee Community Band.
Courtesy Photo
/
Ryan Biller
Ryan Biller is the conductor of the Manistee Community Band.

Judy Wagley: You mentioned the 55th anniversary, but you've been there since 2019. Tell me about that.

RB: Absolutely. So when I restarted it in 2019, there had been, about a 5 to 10 year hiatus of the band, and I wanted something to do in the summer, so I created that opportunity for me and the people that I kind of knew at the time and it kind of it grew and to be what it is today.

JW: You were 17 and now you are ready to think about graduating from the CMU School of Music, but you were17!

RB: Absolutely. I definitely did not do it without the help of a lot of wonderful mentors. My band director at the time, Andrea Mack, and some other retired band directors like Kay Danforth --if they are wonderful people and I definitely could not have done it without them.

JW: And you had a positive response obviously, because you have the band now.

RB: At the time, it was more just people that I had met doing other community music or playing in pit orchestras for musicals, and I was like, hey, I'm doing this thing let's. Let's start this thing. And it was, you know, like 20 people. And it was my first time really on the podium and conducting in front of a group. And luckily they were very forgiving at the time! And the next year was 2020. So we still did, we had rehearsal during COVID outside, you know, the whole space--distance thing, but it was bigger than the year before, and then every year it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger! And we have added a choir, a Festival Chorus two years ago now. This is the third year of that, and that is a wonderful group too, and there's wonderful people that sing in that. And it's just kind of bloomed into this Manistee community music thing that it is today.

JW: And you're the conductor!

RB: Absolutely. I get to work with a lot of different people and our board of directors is fantastic. And we have a choir conductor and we have help with the band now and I just kind of have a wonderful time working with them in the summer.

JW: Who plays in the band and sings in the choir? Who are these folks?

RB: Absolutely, it's kind of an interesting mix. We have a lot of people from the city of Manistee, Manistee County, and people drive from far as like an hour away, sometimes to perform and rehearse with us. As far as ages we have, I kind of pride myself with this and we are open to anyone. We don't have necessarily an age limit or an ability level. Our kind of slogan is “Music for everyone by anyone.” And I truly try and lead that--lead by example with that. And I think this year we have our youngest member who is a seventh-grader at one of the one of the area schools, and he is so excited to be there and he's doing a fantastic job. We have a lot of retired people, retired band directors, current teachers, current members of the community, high school students, people have graduated who come back and for the summer to come back home. And it's just a wonderful mix of really great people.

Courtesy Photo
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Ryan Biller
Manistee Festival Chorus

JW: Ryan, why do you think an organization like this is so important to a community?

RB: It really is, it's so important. I really believe in lifelong musicianship and lifelong learning. On top of that, of course. But you know, when you're in a band program or a choir or an orchestra program in a in a school, when you're in school. It's important to realize that there's opportunities beyond that as well, and that doesn't necessarily mean coming to music school and being a, a musician or a music teacher or any anything like that. But just knowing that you've put you know, eight years of experience playing the saxophone, eight years of experience singing and choir or playing the violin, and that doesn't have to stop. And providing those opportunities for people is very important and we provide that in the summertime. But there's a lot of opportunities for people. There just wasn't one in Manistee at the time. So now we do— and I think people really appreciate it.

JW: And you know-- those of us who get to participate in organizations like this know that it's just a lot of fun!

RB: It really is a lot of fun. I don't know who has more fun--me on the podium or, you know, people playing in the group— and I think that's a good thing. We don't know who has more fun! I try and balance the music being like more classical pieces and some more fun, more recent compositions as well, and we play fun music. We have a good time. It's a really great environment and yeah, it's all around a great time!

JW: And a big concert coming up on July12th.

RB: Yeah, on July 12th we have, like I had mentioned, the 55th anniversary concert and both the Community Band and Festival Chorus will be performing at the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts. We also are-- prior to the concert, we have a reception in the ballroom at 6:00 PM and the concert is at 7:30 in the in the auditorium at the Ramsdell. And it's going to be a lot of recognition. We created a Community Music Award in memory of the first ever community band conductor and we'll name that the first-ever recipient of that. We have some honorary memberships that we're looking forward to granting to people and just a celebration of music for the past 55 years and hopefully for 55 more. And then the concert will feature like I had mentioned, a wide range of compositions, both performed by the band and the choir. As well as the first ever youth concerto competition winner from Grayling. He will be coming down to perform with us on that concert as well.

JW: And you've also commissioned a work for the concert.

RB: Oh my goodness, I forgot about that! Yes, we have commissioned a brand-new piece by Michigan composer and CMU alum Chris Evan Haas. It's called Teal Fusion. I don't wanna give too much information about it, but you definitely do not want to miss it. It's a really, really good piece, and I'm really happy to collaborate with Chris on that. I really hope everyone takes the opportunity to come out and see what our Festival Chorus and Community Band is about! Catch us on July 12th at the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts.

Click hereto learn more about Manistee Community Music.

Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.