By Jack Hoban
The Milford Community Band (MCB), Delaware’s musical treasure, performed their 25-year anniversary concert at the Milford High School Auditorium in front of a crowd of over 600 loyal fans. The 65-member MCB, with its repertoire of spirited marches, Broadway hits, patriotic songs, seasonal pieces and sing-alongs, has been a staple for Delaware’s music lovers for over 25 years. The concert also honored band founder, Mr. N. Joe Lear, Sr.
“This is wonderful,” said Lear afterwards. “Anyone can start something but it takes a lot of people doing a lot of hard work to keep it going for this long.”
James Swearingen, a renowned composer and conductor amongst music educators and band directors, composed a piece of music specifically for the event titled: Celebration and Tribute, which was also the concert’s theme.
“I am humbled to be here today,” said Swearingen. “Community bands are very important to small towns. These musicians do this for the love of it. And they are very good. The piece of music I composed is difficult to play but they performed it marvelously.”
Phil Steinhoff conducted the concert. He is the music education teacher at Saint Thomas Moore Academy in Magnolia, Delaware, and has taught music to students for over 40 years. In the mid 90’s Steinhoff played clarinet in the MCB. When the director of the MCB left due to health issues, Mr. Lear asked him to direct the band on a 6-month trial basis. That was in 1998. He’s been directing ever since.
“They were terrific today”, said Steinhoff. “They played their hearts out. I am so proud of them. This band is fantastic.”
Added Ed Seibert, long-time fan and the father of MCB member Sam Seibert, “They were at another level tonight. They are really more of an orchestra than a band. Playing with the MCB has given Sam a chance to broaden his musical skills. He’s a much better musician because of Joe Lear and the opportunities that the band has given him. This is best turnout I’ve ever seen. I’m happy that the community has come out to support them. The community appreciates them. Not many communities can say that.”
While helping with the Milford High School Band in 1990, Mr. Lear complained to then band director, Dr. Gerald Thompson, that he didn’t have any place to play his trombone. Dr. Thompson challenged him to start his own band. So he did. Mr. Lear put an ad in a local newspaper and when twelve people responded, the Milford Community Band was born. Three of those twelve, Tony Perrone, Margie (Jones) Newnom, and Bill Mayhew, are still performing along with Mr. Lear.
The MCB’s first gig was April 1990 at the Wesley Jazz Festival. “I never imagined that we would be here when we started,” said Lear, 90, on the band’s longevity. “It’s a credit to all the wonderful and dedicated people who have played with us over the years. I love to play because of the fellowship,” Lear added. “There are very few bad people in community bands. The whole focus of community bands is to make music together.”
The MCB, and its ensembles: The Smooth Sound Dance Band; The Downtown Dixieland Band; The Happy Wanderers Oompah Band; The Mid-Del Saxophone Quartet; The Christmas Carol Band and the Kettle Jammers Band, have performed thousands of concerts throughout the state at festivals, parades, veterans events, holiday celebrations, hospitals and senior centers. Most of these concerts have been performed free of charge.