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USU Alumni Band celebrates 50th anniversary

Published July 25, 2013 5:50 pm

Music • Players reminisce about founder's legacy as milestone approaches.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan • Each summer, the region's band teachers would gather for an annual summer music clinic at Utah State University — a tradition that started before World War II.

Professor Max F. Dalby, a revered teacher with a gruff exterior and a soft heart, would have this Director's Band sight-read new music and perform a concert for music clinic students.

In 1963, the group became known as the Alumni Band, and Dalby opened those summer concerts to the public.

Alumni Band members will gather next Sunday to celebrate the group's 50th year with a free public concert featuring internationally renowned conductor Col. Arnald D. Gabriel, conductor emeritus of the United States Air Force Band.

"Music, unlike any other medium, connects people and builds relationships," said Paul Watson, Dalby's son-in-law, who teaches instrumental music at Wasatch Junior High School in Salt Lake City. Watson feels that for Dalby, who died in 2005, music was a means to an end — a catalyst for developing strong relationships with others.

That's especially true for Watson, who met his wife, Cindy, a registered nurse with the Intermountain Medical Center, during an Alumni Band event. They talked between a rehearsal and the performance and a relationship blossomed. They were married before the next summer's concerts.

Dalby always chose an appealing mix of music for these concerts, consisting of marches, overtures, show tunes and standard band warhorses. The program always began with a fanfare from Wagner's opera "Das Rheingold" and ended with Noël Coward's nostalgic "I'll See You Again."

Rehearsals continue to take place on Sunday afternoons in a USU rehearsal hall named for Dalby, with concerts under the shade of trees on the university's Quad or in the Kent Concert Hall.

Education icon • During rehearsals, the band played through selections once or just practiced difficult passages. Often, Dalby would say, "Turn it over," putting his faith in the musicianship of his former students to play the piece correctly without a run-through.

"I love to sit in the band, even though I'm not playing to the level of some of the really great players," said Janeile Tams, who started learning from Dalby as a music clinic student in 1958. Tams, now a retired band teacher living in Paradise, says she survives by employing one of Dalby's often-used axioms, "When in doubt, leave it out."

Byron Montgomery of Ogden said the "Chief" meant everything to him as one of his trumpet players during a 10-year period at Ogden High School, Weber State University and USU. When his wife asked, "Doesn't [Dalby] ever compliment you?" Montgomery replied, "The last thing I want in this world is for the Chief to say anything to me." He knew as long as he didn't, all was well. Dalby was known to come down unmercifully on those who crossed him, but he would go out of his way to make amends and bend over backward to help students who tried.

"There was something about him that made you want to do your best," said Ogden resident Anita Ford. Dalby started Ford on the flute when she was 12. She was teaching her own students by 16 and has continued teaching uninterrupted for 56 years. Ford has played in all but one of the band's 200-plus concerts.

Craig Jessop, dean of USU's Caine College of the Arts and former Mormon Tabernacle Choir director, acknowledged Dalby as a major figure in the development of his career as a professional musician and music educator. "He had a tremendous influence on everyone who came under his influence — including choral majors like me," Jessop wrote in an online interview while traveling in Europe.

Dalby would occasionally attend Tabernacle Choir broadcasts and would tell Jessop what he liked and didn't. "He was always the teacher and one whose opinion and advice I valued highly," Jessop said.

New era • In 1994 when Dalby's health started to fail, he handed the baton to Nicholas Morrison, professor of music and senior assistant dean of the Caine College of the Arts. Morrison was honored but concerned about how he would be accepted.

"The really wonderful thing that Dr. Dalby did for me is he continued to play in the band — fifth chair, second section," Morrison said. That's exactly where he sat as a beginning player in his father's band. This gesture not only appealed to Dalby's sense of symmetry but also signaled that the Alumni Band would continue.

"If he suddenly appeared, I would turn [the band] over to him," Morrison said. This is Morrison's 20th season with the band, and he is quick to point out that everyone has equal ownership in the group. It is a labor of love. No one, including the conductor, is paid. The band functions on the donations it receives each year, with excess funds going to the music department's scholarship fund.

Morrison's selfless attitude and capable musicianship have endeared him to band members, many of whom plan their summer vacations around the band's schedule, traveling each year from as far away as the east or west coasts.

Many vocal and instrumental soloists and guest conductors have been featured with the group — most of them band members or alumni like Jessop, who was also director of the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants in Washington, D.C., and James M. Bankhead, former conductor of the United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C., and now chairman of the USU music department. They were instrumental in securing Gabriel to conduct the anniversary concert.

The band will gather on Saturday for extra rehearsals with Gabriel and social activities, giving band members more time with the celebrated maestro. The next day's concert will include marches, show tunes and band standards, including songs from "The Sound of Music," featuring vocalist Lyn Bankhead, who sang under Gabriel's baton as a member of the Air Force Singing Sergeants.

"I want to truly honor [Dalby's] legacy," Morrison said. The newest members of the Alumni Band never knew the group's founder, but thanks to Morrison and the other veterans, they will continue to have a reason to practice.

Robert Coleman, a graduate of Utah State University, was a student of Max Dalby's and member of the Alumni Band. —

Golden anniversary for USU Alumni Band

Col. Arnald Gabriel (ret.) will conduct the USU Alumni Band in a 50th-anniversary concert including favorites such as Leroy Anderson's "Bugler's Holiday," a symphonic tribute to Irving Berlin and selections from "The Sound of Music" with vocalist Lyn Bankhead.

When • Sunday, Aug. 4, 7 p.m.

Where • Kent Concert Hall, 4030 Old Main Hill, Utah State University, Logan

Admission • Free, no tickets necessary.