River Cities Concert Band
Local Music Group Celebrates More Than 40 Years of Performance
When you hear the phrase “music city,” you might think of Nashville, Tennessee. Yet, our southern neighbor isn’t the only city where scores of talented folks reside. In our Derby City you’ll find excellent performers who are quite musically inclined. Some belong to the big guns such as the Louisville Orchestra, and then there are others who play with smaller organizations such as the River Cities Concert Band (RCCB).
If you aren’t familiar with the River Cities Concert Band, then it’s time you knew more about it. The band is comprised of players from both southern Indiana and Louisville. According to band president and tuba player Steve Ellis, the RCCB began in 1980 with its first rehearsal in the Jeffersonville High School band room.
“Gene Davis, the band director at the high school, was the first RCCB director, with Jeff Staten serving as the assistant director,” Ellis explains. “When Gene started the band, most of the members were his former students. We think the first concert took place in May 1980. We even have one member in the band who was a part of that first concert.”
In the mid-1980s the rehearsals were moved from the high school to River Valley Middle School in Jeffersonville due to Davis transferring there. As the band grew in size, more people from the Louisville side were joining, so it made sense to move the rehearsals over to Kentucky. They set up residency at St. Matthews Baptist Church.
“One of our members attended that church and through him we made a connection,” Ellis says. “They were excited about us coming and playing, and we’ve been there ever since.”
The River Cities Concert Band is actually a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization, and relies on fundraising and donations to keep it afloat. The money is used to purchase music and to provide a small stipend for their band director. As a community concert band, their instrumental makeup consists of brass, woodwind and percussion instruments only. They do not incorporate stringed instruments such as guitars or pianos.
The music the band performs is quite varied.
“We play marches, popular music, show tunes, and some repertory that was written for concert bands,” Ellis says. “Some of the music we play is fairly new and has been written for concert bands within the last few years. Then there are a lot of classics that are close to 100 years old. A lot of the marches that everyone loves are from the golden age from the late 19th century to the early- to mid-20th century. A lot of the things that people like to hear are the John Philip Sousa and Henry Fillmore marches, both of whom are long gone.”
The RCCB keeps busy with a number of concerts throughout the Kentuckiana region.
“We play one or two concerts a year in Bardstown, and we play in Jeffersonville frequently,” Ellis says. “The furthest we’ve gone, but have not gone since before COVID, is in Orleans, Indiana. We also play in Corydon, Indiana, on a regular basis. We have played a couple of times at the Parklands, which is a new venue for us. We would enjoy playing there again.”
You can also find them performing at nursing homes, and they will play one concert per year at St. Matthews Baptist Church as a thank-you to church leaders for letting them rehearse there.
“Occasionally we will play at other churches and concerts” Ellis says. “The band finds their locations in a variety of ways. Some we’ve done for years and years, and others are word of mouth. Somebody will call us saying they heard us play somewhere, and are interested in knowing how they can have us play for them.”
The band has had a number of great directors since Davis began the group more than 40 years ago. He served as director until 1995, and then John Hoover took over and served from 1995 until 2004. The next conductors were Rick Duggar from 2004 to 2005; Shaun Popp from 2005 to 2010; Jonathan Rohner from 2010 to 2012; Duggar from 2012 to 2018; and Brad Jopek from 2018 to 2021. The band chose a new music director this year, saxophonist and educator Desmond Anderson.
Anderson is a native of Louisville, having grown up in the west end on 39th Street. He attended Butler Traditional High School, and after graduation he attended Morehead State University to study music education. He says it was his dream and passion to become a band director. After graduation he returned to Louisville where he spent time teaching sectionals and private lessons.
“I was in Shelby County, I went to Spencer Middle School, and I was all over Louisville,” he explains. “I subbed and I was lucky enough to get a variety of music sub positions for JCPS and New Albany/Floyd County.”
After his year of subbing, Anderson says he was fortunate to land a job as the band director at New Albany High School in Indiana. He was there for four years.
The opportunity to join the RCCB presented itself this year while Anderson was working on his master’s degree in wind band pedagogy at the University of Louisville.
“The River Cities position opened up because Brad [Jopek] had the opportunity to go to the University of Maryland,” Anderson says. “I actually knew Brad. We had taken a couple of classes together.”
Anderson applied and went through the interview process.
“It was really cool in my view just because it was something completely different,” he says. “It was a community, and I think that’s one of the most honestly precious things in music, when non-music majors, people who are not doing this for their livelihood, want to come and participate in music. It’s one of the biggest things I actually advocate for.”
Anderson is ecstatic about being chosen for this position and says he would like to bring the band out into the community on a wider scale.
“The direction really I want to take them is reaching out past some of the venues where they’ve performed in the past – reaching more diverse audiences and performing in more diverse venues,” he says. “I think it’s really important to include everyone within the community. I especially feel that way as a black man. You don’t see a lot of people like me in music. I really want to reach out to those people in the community to say, ‘I’m here, this is something we can do.’ I also think it would be fun for the band, and more encouraging to continue on the tradition of participating in music.”
The band rehearses on Tuesday evenings at 6:45 p.m. at St. Matthews Baptist Church, located at 3515 Grandview Avenue in Louisville. Anyone can join and there is no audition process. Members must be able to read music and must have their own instrument. For additional info on the band, visit rivercitiesconcertband.org.