The Band Belongs to You

Posted on February 11th, 2018 by

By James Patrick Miller
Douglas Nimmo Professor of the Gustavus Wind Orchestra

After each tour performance for decades the Gustavus Wind Orchestra has filed off stage, crowded into a tiny backstage room, tears flowing, joined hands with arms crossed and swaying while they sing the “Remember Song.” That song concludes with the text, “and the band belongs to you.” Staring out of my hotel window over the snowy, quiet evening streets of Bergen following our final day together my thoughts wandered to this: who is the “you?” To whom does the band belong?

I consider myself the luckiest person in the world to lead the Gustavus Wind Orchestra, but the band does not belong to me. I am merely a shepherd protecting its storied legacy and unparalleled heritage while trying my best each and every day to lead by example. I try hard to encourage growth, change, and an unrelenting pursuit of new horizons in student artistry, ownership, reflection, and emotional depth. But someday, hopefully a day long in the future, there will be another director.

But if the band does not belong to me …

The GWO Band Staff at Sognefjord.

Our band staff cared for the members and the music, tending to each and every need at any time of day or night, working together to ensure the ensemble performed at its best in every imaginable way. The pride I have in the excellence of our tour staff and their leadership humbles me completely. Mara Klein, Heidi Johanna Miller, Karrin Meffert-Nelson, Glenn Kranking, and Jennifer Vickerman led this tour with professionalism and the experience of a staff that had dozens of tours together under their belts. In actuality this was their first. To the staff: the band belongs to you.

Our student staff rose to every challenge, leading with kindness, compassion, and experience far beyond their years. Emily Komperud, president, Emily Sasik, vice president, John Halvorson, secretary, and Jessica Backes, treasurer, grew together as a team and demonstrated to everyone what collaborative work and leadership can accomplish. I also raise an e-toast (to the third button of my shirt with plenty of eye contact of course) to our seniors, social media staff, section leaders, and GWO council for their preparation, flexibility, and leadership by example. To the GWO council and our student leaders: the band belongs to you.

The 2017-2018 GWO Officers before boarding the cruise on Sognefjord.

The tour program highlights senior soloists: Kelly Neubauer, clarinet, McKenzie Perry, flute, and Ryan O’Neil, conductor. These students performed with elegance, grace, poise, and a dynamic flare that stole the show each and every night. Watching these three super stars, who began their Gustavus music journey along with me in 2014, handle the pressures of soloing on a 2 1/2 week Scandinavian tour filled my heart with pride and joy. To our senior soloists: the band belongs to you.

All throughout the tour we received encouragement and messages from GWO alumni. In fact, several attended our concerts in Scandinavia! GWO alums reminiscing with current members about their tours and times together is, perhaps, the best way to see in action how the Gustavus Wind Orchestra is life-long. To all of our GWO alums: the band belongs to you.

Each of the 84 members of the ensemble performed a critical role in making this a truly successful, life-changing tour. Every performer contributing their own unique, beautiful sound to the music and personality to the ensemble helped this tour reach far beyond the notes on the page. Together the students discovered that through the music they could touch lives, including their own, in ways they had never imagined. To every member of the Gustavus Wind Orchestra: the band belongs to you.

But the band belongs to another group of people that I became deeply aware of on this tour, more than I ever have before. The audience. After our emotional concert in Oslo, a short elderly woman, probably late into her 80s, approached me. She wore a long green coat and a thick Norwegian wool scarf and took my hand firmly in both of hers. She had a wrinkled face with glasses and her hands were cold and boney. But her grip was strong and it felt important, like she wanted to say something meaningful but was having trouble finding the words. She shook my hand for what felt like minutes with surprising strength. She looked into my eyes and was crying. “Thank you,” she said, “thank you for sharing that last music [“A Child’s Garden of Dreams” by David Maslanka]. It reached me.” And then she repeated, “It reached me. It reached me. I’ll never forget it.” The look of total sincerity on her face imprinted on me and will live with me forever. To our audiences, the band belongs to you.

And at that same concert in Oslo there was a little girl, Petra. She ran around the cathedral while we played, leaning over the pews to see the unusual instruments like the contrabassoon and the contra-clarinets. At one point she almost climbed onto the podium while I was conducting! And while we performed I was reminded of the theme for our tour program, “Children: Our Hope for the Future.” Following the concert my 7-year-old daughter, Linnea, ran over to Petra and introduced herself. It took about 3 minutes for the two girls to realize that they couldn’t communicate verbally. So Linnea jumped twice into the air and motioned to Petra. And Petra smiled and jumped twice herself. From that moment forward they ran and chased each other around the cathedral playing hide-and-seek in the pews, laughing joyfully with no cares in the world. And that is what this program is all about. How different would our world be if we could play together, trust one another, and assume the best in every person regardless of language, appearance, faith, ideas, or background. Many wind orchies watched the two girls playing, understanding exactly what a powerful message it sent. To Petra, wherever she is, the band belongs to you.

And of course there is you. Yes … you … the person reading this blog post. To be honest, if you are reading this blog you are, in some way, connected to the band. Perhaps you are a proud parent, a grandparent, family member, friend, or supporter of a GWO member. You could be a Gustavus alum, a St. Peter community member, or a member of our Friends of Music. Maybe you’re one of the awesome music students we met at the Falun Music Conservatory or the Royal College of Music in Stockholm or one of the thousands of students with whom we have worked on tours over the past 4 years. But no matter who you are or why you’re here one thing is for certain: the Gustavus Wind Orchestra has touched your life. And therefore, the band belongs to you.

From the winding streets of the Gamla stan in Stockholm to the breathtaking Floibanen in Bergen, the Gustavus Wind Orchestra’s 16-day 140th Anniversary Tour to Sweden and Norway has been life-changing and will be life-long. And in the words of a Bus 1 GWO legend, “that’s just the way it is.”



  1. Donna Prahl says:

    So beautifully written. Thank you.

  2. Glenda Erickson says:

    What an experience, what a joy!