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They've got music

No auditions required at the Greater Kishwaukee Area Concert Band, just an instrument and a passion to play

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 1:20 p.m. CDT

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DeKALB – Adam Orton was looking for music.

What he found was love.

The Geneseo native and city of Sycamore treasurer has been playing the euphonium since he was in sixth grade in 1997.

Why the euphonium?

“My mother still asks me the same question,” he laughed. “The men in my family play sax; the women, clarinet. I did my own thing. It was big and shiny, and it probably didn’t hurt that my best friend played it.”

After playing in the marching band at the University of Illinois, Orton earned his master’s degree from Northern Illinois University. As he settled into this area, he wanted to get involved in the local community so he Googled local bands and discovered the Greater Kishwaukee Area Concert Band.

According to its website, Ronnie Wooten and Sue Huhta formed the all-volunteer band in 2002 to perform traditional concert band music “for the cultural benefit of residents of the DeKalb County area.”

Orton called director John Hansen, who invited him to join. No one has to audition for the band, Hansen said. Everyone can play, regardless of their musical ability.

It was through the band Orton met Lauren Helmuth, one of the group’s flute players.

“I’m so shy, so I was kind of nervous,” Helmuth, of DeKalb, said. “I had a couple of my friends from work with me who said, ‘Ooh, he’s cute. You should go talk to him.’”

The couple became engaged Nov. 3.

“It was fate, I guess,” Helmuth said.

“We not only make music, we make love,” Hansen joked.

Helmuth also believes it was fate that reunited her with Hansen, who taught her to play flute many years ago. He taught music for 29 years in the Malta School District and five years at St. Mary’s Catholic School in DeKalb.

“Her dad talked to me one time and said she might be interested in joining the  band, but she was afraid she might be rusty,” Hansen said. “She’s not as rusty as she thought she was,”

Which is fairly common within the band.

“I won’t mention a name or a position, but there was someone who hadn’t played for a very long time,” Hansen said. “But he practiced his head off and now he’s as good as anyone. You think you forget a lot, but you don’t.”

Libby Witty is typical of many of the band members. Witty said she played drums from fourth grade through high school, then “kind of gave it up for awhile” until she saw an ad in the paper eight years ago about the band.

“Anyone who wants to can come out and play again,” she said. “We probably have more fun than we’re supposed to.”

The Cortland woman noted that the band has a diverse background, including retired music teachers, farmers, doctors, engineers, academic advisers and members of just about every other profession. Although most members are from the local area, some come from Naperville, St. Charles, Geneva and Oswego.

Some members, like assistant conductor Dave Lehman, a retired band director, play in both the concert band and the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Hansen, who has played clarinet with the DeKalb Municipal Band for 38 years, said there are “different levels of ability” among the 55 concert band members, but if “you heard the band, you would say ‘Wow!’”

Publicity chairman Elli McLaughlin, who has been with the group since its first rehearsal, said the band started out with about 15 members, of which seven or eight still remain. Members range in age from 18 to 81.

“It’s a very polished group,” Hansen said, adding that many of them are his former music students. “They take a lot of pride in what they do. They are hard workers.”

The band gives four concerts a year in the Northern Illinois University Music Building. Its Christmas concert is Dec. 9.

“Millie Sulaver is sponsoring this concert in memory of  her sister, Joan Sulaver,” McLaughlin said.

Hannah Wood, who studied in Europe and now teaches at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Rochelle, will be guest vocal soloist.

Hansen said the show is about 75 minutes long.

“We don’t want to bore anyone, but we want to make it long enough to make it interesting,” he said. “There are so many selections to choose from that we alternate (every year), But we try to repeat some traditional songs that people like to hear. There’s also a Hanukkah selection in there.”

Greater Kishwaukee Area Concert Band ‘Christmas Joy’ Concert

3 p.m. Dec. 9 Boutell Memorial Concert Hall, Northern Illinois University

Free concert. Building is handicapped-accessible. For information about joining the band, call John Hansen at 815-825-2350 or Sue Huhta at 815-899-4867 or visit www.kishconcertband.org.

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