Rich Copley: Longtime conductors of 2 Central Kentucky community bands hang up those batons

Herald-Leader culture columnistMay 3, 2014 


    Central Kentucky Concert Band

    What: Season finale concert featuring euphonium soloists Earle Louder and Gail Robertson

    When: 3 p.m. May 4

    Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.

    Tickets: Free


Sometimes, it's bingo night at the Central Kentucky Concert Band rehearsals.

The musicians and conductor Peter LaRue are there, of course, to rehearse music. LaRue admits he is a master of serving up quirky phrases during practice.

"Peter Pickett, who plays our solo trumpet ... who's a great friend of mine," LaRue says, "a couple different times he's made bingo cards for the band, so that when I say any of these things that I just say over and over again, they check them off, and when they get their little row of them, they yell, 'Bingo!'

"It probably sounds silly. But it is so indicative of so much of what we're about."

There is a family bond that develops among musicians who work together week after week in ensembles that goes much deeper than simply playing the right notes with passion.

This spring, two Lexington-area brass and wind families are losing their patriarchs.

LaRue will wave the baton for the Central Kentucky Concert Band for the last time at its concert Sunday afternoon at the Lexington Opera House.

"I want it to be a joyful afternoon, I want it to be exactly what we do well, and I want everybody to be in a celebratory mood," he says. "How am I going to feel emotionally? I don't know."

He might get a clue from Ronald Holz, the founder and conductor of the Lexington Brass Band who led his final concert last Sunday.

"It was good," he said of the concert featuring a longtime collaborator, trumpeter Vince DiMartino. "It felt like a real nice closure."

The Brass Band was the result of collaborations between brass choirs at the University of Kentucky, led by Skip Gray; at Asbury College, led by Holz; and the trumpet studio DiMartino led at Centre College.

"Skip and I got together and said, 'Man, why don't we just get together and form a group?'" Holz recalled. "We just got a bunch of us together at my house in Wilmore — Skip, Vince, some of the other local guys — and by the fall of 1992 we started our first rehearsals and gave our first programs."

Holz and Gray co-conducted the group until additional responsibilities prompted Gray to step aside, leaving Holz in charge.

"There's just such a fine group of brass musicians in the Lexington area; its a hotbed of great players," Holz says.

That's what LaRue found out shortly after he moved to Central Kentucky in 1993 to become the band director at Georgetown College.

"That was the same year they were looking for a new music director and conductor for the Central Kentucky Concert Band," LaRue says. "They sent out a flier, checking to see who might be interested. Well, because I had just been through a job search, I happened to have all that stuff assembled. So I sent it in."

He became one of three finalists for the position and got the job in 1994.

Conducting an adult ensemble was new to LaRue, but he says it has been rewarding to lead a group that allows many musicians to continue playing in an ensemble even as their careers lead them in different directions. He says that connecting with the concert band allowed him to become familiar with the Lexington music community much faster than he would have if he were working solely as the band director in Georgetown.

Sunday's concert will feature one of his long- standing collaborators, retired Morehead State University euphonium professor Earle Louder, along with guest artist Gail Robertson.

"I've observed the Central Kentucky band ever since Pete took it over in the '90s and I have seen continually a growth in the output of the band in terms of musicianship, persons themselves and their growth as a family," Louder says. "He's made it a real community treasure."

LaRue says the decision to retire from the concert band has been a few years coming, arising from a need to cut back his schedule. He will continue in his post at Georgetown.

Transylvania University music professor Ben Hawkins will take over the concert band.

The Brass Band will conduct a search for a successor for Holz like the one that brought LaRue to the concert band, with several finalists conducting concerts before a successor is chosen. Holz is retiring from both the Lexington Brass Band and Asbury to be closer to family in the Atlanta area, although he expects that music endeavors such as the Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, where the brass and concert bands have performed, will bring him back. And he won't be idle in Georgia.

"I'll be playing and conducting, and already I'm being asked to take on one or two things," Holz says.

After all, music, like family, is in your blood.

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog:

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