When Lorna Livingston picked up a mallet to audition for a Richfield community band in 1999, she hadn’t played music for over 50 years. Her husband had wanted her to focus on their family and forbade her from playing the instruments she’d loved since she was 9: Piano, violin, accordion, tympani.
“I raised my family and when he went to the nursing home, that was my chance to be my own boss,” Livingston explained.
Twenty years later, she’s a member of six bands across the Twin Cities metro area, including the Eden Prairie Community Band (EPCB). At 93, Livingston is the oldest member of a band whose members range from 24 to nonagenarians, from former professional musicians to hobbyists who love to perform.
“Music and sports have been my greatest loves, and I’m too old for sports,” said Tom Muehlbauer, 74. He joined the EPBC 30 years ago and became its conductor in 2016 after a career as a house musician at Diamond Jim’s Steakhouse in St. Paul.
He and Livingston were connected even before she joined the EPCB three years ago. Livingston’s daughter, Melanie, runs a salon and barber shop where Muehlbauer got his hair cut, and at the first performance Melanie attended, Livingston surprised her with the identity of her conductor. The sense of community is what sets the EPCB apart from Livingston’s other bands.
“That’s what makes that band special to me,” Livingston said.
The mix of ages adds musical variety to the band, too. Band members suggest songs for the band to play, and the younger musicians know tunes that others might not be aware of. The band recently added songs from the TV show “Game of Thrones” and the movie “The Greatest Showman” to their set list, alongside staples of classical, swing and jazz.
“I had never heard of the music from ‘Game of Thrones’ and someone suggested it a few months ago, a young lady in her 20s,” Muehlbauer said. “It adds to the overall breadth and cohesion.”
As for the younger members, the band connects them to the wider community and teaches them about songs they might not hear, too. Elizabeth Meyer, 24, joined the band in June and is glad to have an opportunity to play with other musicians and entertain the public.
“It’s really fun to work with different members of the community,” Meyer said. The flutist’s favorite moment so far was playing the salutes for branches of the armed forces to honor veterans for a Fourth of July performance. “It was really cool to be playing the Navy song and look out over the audience and see people standing up,” she added.
For saxophonist Jonah Thune, 26, the band recreates the familiarity he missed after growing up in a small town and moving to a larger city.
“The Eden Prairie Community Band welcomed me with open arms,” Thune said. “It’s fun to bump into them around town and recognize people.”
Even the littlest members of the community participate. The band usually plays at least one song that children can help create by borrowing maracas and walking in a parade to add to the percussion. Jon Weyers, 46, plays the french horn in the EPCB and frequently brings his two children, ages 6 1/2 and 3, to performances.
“The kids of course want to find out what daddy’s been doing, so they come to concerts,” Weyers said. “They’re very regular members.”
Community bands abound in the southwest metro (and many of the EPCB’s musicians are in at least one other band), but the Eden Prairie band’s culture sets it apart from others, its members say.
“The Eden Prairie band has definitely felt like home compared to other groups I’ve been in,” Weyers said. “It was a more natural way of finding your community and friends.”
Fred Koppelman, 80, has been in the band since 1982 and views sharing his music with others as a form of community service.
“We pay taxes to the community, but we also do things that we’re good at,” he explained. “It feels like you’re contributing something.”
“The most wonderful thing you can do for someone is make them happy, and that’s what our band does for people,” Muehlbauer agreed.