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125th city band season is a wrap tonight

Mike Peterson, current conductor of the "Amazing" Worthington City Band, is seen prior to Monday night's rehearsal at Memorial Auditorium holding the band's 125th anniversary commemorative pin. (Jane Turpin Moore/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — At 7:30 p.m. tonight in Chautauqua Park, the “Amazing” Worthington City Band will mark the end of its 125th season.

A concert filled with familiar, hummable tunes (think “At the Hop” and “Close to You”) is programmed, but it isn’t only music that will fill the night air; a healthy helping of history is also on tap.

“Due to this band’s longevity, it is really woven into the overall character of Worthington,” said John Nordell, a band board member who has been a part of the welcoming ensemble over a 50-year period.

“Our city band enriches the life of this community.”

Mike Peterson, the band’s director since 2014, heartily agrees.

“Not many organizations of any kind, much less many bands, can boast of lasting 125 years,” said Peterson. “This group has persevered through the course of two world wars and beyond because of the many people who cared enough to ensure it continued.”

The band’s tradition, which in recent decades has meant 7:30 p.m. Wednesday evening concerts during June and July centered at Chautauqua Park’s historic band shell, began in 1893 and stretched through the current summer, including tonight’s season finale.

Audiences ranging in number from 50 to 200-plus turn out for the reliable entertainment each week, benefiting from the free treat of hearing a multi-generational ensemble perform on pleasant warm-weather nights.

“What makes it special — though maybe this isn’t unique to our band — is that we have an equal mix of musicians in the various age groups,” said Nordell, noting the band board obtained the following data through a recent member survey.

“We have nearly an equal mix, with 25 percent being 20 or under, 25 percent between the ages of 20 to 40, 25 percent between 40 and 60 and 25 percent over 60,” he observed.

“We deliberately encourage youth involvement, even though our ranks aren’t yet fully reflective of this community’s new demographic; we’re still evolving.”

At tonight’s concert, which will be hosted by guest emcee Ryan McGaughey (on behalf of the United Way of Nobles County) and involve intermission entertainment from Worthington High School vocalist Kalea Appel, the band’s typical highlights are expected: a mid-concert “candy march,” after which the participating youngsters receive a piece of candy, popcorn for sale from a local Boy Scout troop and the customary “Say It With Music” opening number.

But given that it’s the last concert of the band’s 125th season, the Nobles County Dairy Association is providing ice cream novelties for all attendees, and most of the band’s living conductors will be on hand for a special tribute.

Expected at tonight’s concert are Naomi Evensen (representing her late husband, Glenn, director from 1963-87), Galen Benton (1987-01), Donna Larson Dunphy (2002-07) and Jon Loy (2008-13). Unable to attend, but sending warm greetings from his current home in Castle Rock, Colo., is Richard Larson (1962).

Due to the lengthy service records of most early conductors (Wilson Abbott, 1909-26; Vic Moeller, 1927-46; and Gerald Niemeyer, 1947-61), Peterson is only the band’s ninth director since 1909.

“It’s a little humbling, isn’t it?” expressed Peterson, acknowledging his personal contribution, including earlier service as an instrumentalist.

Nordell, an electrician whose own city band attachment dates to the summer of his sophomore year at Worthington High School, says that playing French horn in the band, and also in the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra, is his favorite hobby.

“We have one of the finest outdoor concert facilities in this state — it’s an acoustic gem — and I’m grateful for the city administration and parks department for their support in keeping our band alive over all these years,” said Nordell.

Another longtime city band musician is trumpeter and retired teacher Rich Besel. With his wife, clarinetist and retired teacher Kris Besel, he has also found a second home within the band.

“Kris and I dusted off our instruments for the 1986 season and have loved our involvement with the band and the Worthington community ever since,” said Besel.

“We look forward to many more years of playing, and new friendships ahead.”

Appropriately enough, Peterson will lead the “Amazing” Worthington City Band in “With a Little Help from My Friends” in the course of the concert.

In an email sent this week, Larson (who directed the band at the very start of his career during the summer of 1962 following the tragic November 1961 death of admired Worthington High School and city band director Niemeyer) shared his feelings about his short but pivotal time of city band involvement.

“I feel it filled my soul with great band music for my entire life,” wrote Larson, possibly echoing the thoughts of other band members past or present. “I have a world of memories; I loved Worthington.”

Summarized Peterson, “To think that this group has been here for 125 years is pretty amazing.”

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