The Waterloo Municipal Band is celebrating 80 years of providing the summer soundtrack to Tuesday nights in downtown Waterloo, as well as local festivals and holiday celebrations.
Although the Waterloo Municipal Band was officially chartered in April 1931, Waterloo has had a town band since the 1880s, when the Enterprise Band marched and performed at local picnics, schools and other events.
“They performed in this area until most of those boys went off to World War I,” said Sharon Ebersohl, the current band director.
Within a couple of years, the pastor at the former Evangelical and Reformed church in Waterloo had started a Sunday school band, which performed until the late 1920s.
“Once that fell apart, there started to be some interest drummed up by local citizens to have another town band,” Ebersohl said.
Hoping to take advantage of an Illinois tax that allowed for the public funding of such endeavors, the Waterloo Band was formed in late 1930 to play demonstrations and stimulate enough public interest to pass the tax. They succeeded by a slim margin in 1931, the heart of the Great Depression, and formally established the Waterloo Municipal Band, a full concert band.
“The fact that they could get any tax passed at that time is a testament to the fact that even 80 years ago the arts and music were important in this community, as they still are today,” Ebersohl said.
Looking into the histories of many longtime Waterloo families will reveal ties to the historic band.
Timpani player Rich Gleiber remembers as a boy watching Henry Gentsch, HTC President H.R. Gentsch’s dad, learn to play bass drum from then-conductor Brian Voris, father of longtime Republic-Times publisher Bob Voris. Gleiber himself was recruited into the band in 1953 by longtime director Milton Probasco.
“If he thought you were good then he would invite you to a Municipal Band concert and let you play, and see if you could handle it,” Gleiber recalled.
In its early days, the band practiced during the winter at the Monroe County Courthouse, in what is now the old courtroom, and set lists were given out as the concerts were being played.
“You didn’t know what you were going to play until you got up there (on the bandstand),” Gleiber said.
Once the new Waterloo school building — currently the junior high — was built in the late 1950s, the band practiced in its music room. When they lost their spot there to the high school band, the municipal band was once again on the move.
“Glen Lutz arranged for us to be able to practice in the basement of the First National Bank, next to Rural King,” Gleiber said.
They played there for several years until they found their forever home in the newly-built Waterloo City Hall.
“We were promised by Mayor Krump that there would be a designated place for us to practice in City Hall,” Ebersohl said.
A look at any summer’s concert schedule reveals a group of talented musicians able to play a wide range of music — from big band, patriotic and Broadway music, to hymns, jazz numbers and selections with vocal accompanists.
The musicians come from all walks of life and include teachers, lawyers, retirees and students from Illinois and Missouri.
“We consider ourselves to be a true community band,” Ebersohl said. “We’re not auditioned, we don’t want to be auditioned. We’ve never turned someone away.”
The only official request is that students wait until they are at least in eighth grade, because much of the music is difficult to read — even for some high school students. Ebersohl would know, herself joining the Waterloo Municipal Band when she was in eighth grade.
Ebersohl, who retired as band director for the Red Bud school system after more than 30 years, shared municipal band conductor duties with longtime band director Probasco for a few years. She took over full time about 15 years ago.
Each season, the band welcomes several guest conductors. Sometimes they are former members, others are local musicians and directors for area schools and organizations.
“I guess our reputation is preceding us,” Ebersohl said. “I no longer have trouble getting guest conductors to come.”
And those nights Ebersohl particularly enjoys, as she gets back to her musical roots and plays as a member of her band, the clarinet primarily, but sometimes the saxophone or flute.
“Wherever they need me I play,” she said. “I have fun with it.”
The community that has supported the Waterloo Municipal Band for 80 years is having fun too, enjoying its concerts every Tuesday night from June through August at 8 p.m., at the courthouse square
This summer, the band has planned special events and performances to commemorate their historic season.
Past conductors, past members and their families will be recognized throughout the summer. The band has planned goodies for the kids, and earlier this month they helped Oak Hill celebrate its own anniversary. Through the support of local individuals and businesses, they even offer treats like free frozen custard on designated nights.
So while the Waterloo Municipal Band is thanking the people of Waterloo for their support through the years, it is the people of Waterloo and all of Monroe County who are thanking the band, for 80 years of dedication, service and, most of all, entertainment.