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Two decades of harmony

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FINAL YEAR: John Brane begins his final year directing the Mississinewa Valley Band. Brane is embarking on his 20th and final year as director of the band.
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LET'S PRACTICE: Members of the Mississinewa Valley Band rehearse for their upcoming concert on April 30.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

The Mississinewa Valley Band is celebrating its 20th year of providing music to Grant County and surrounding areas.

The band began their first rehearsal of the new year on Tuesday at Marion High School as they prepare for their April 30 concert. This year also marks the final year Director John Brane will lead the band.

Before starting the community band, Brane directed another community-based band in Wabash after retiring from teaching at Eastbrook Community Schools.

Brane recruited around a half dozen players he knew in the Marion and Upland areas, but found it difficult to gain traction in Wabash.

"I was not very successful in Wabash," Brane said. "It just didn't work out, and I didn’t know how to run a community band."

After two and a half years, it was time to call it quits.

"One of the guys who played in the band was a tuba player named Harold Bowmen," he said. "When I quit he said, 'John, you need to start a band in Marion' ... but I didn't know how."

Bowmen first began bugging Brane once a month, then he began bugging him every week.

"I said okay Harold, let's give it a try," Brane said.

Brane gathered five players he knew and turned them into a board. He told the board that if they were willing to help him get the band started, there was a chance the community band could find success in Marion.

As it would turn out, the first concert was a smash hit.

The first concert took place on April 6, 2000, and the Mississinewa Valley Band filled the Phillippe Performing Arts Center at Indiana Wesleyan University. 

To be a member of the band there are no try outs or auditions, just a desire to perform.

“It’s an outlet for people who played way back in high school and now they can play their instrument again,” Brane said. “Players in the band come from 11 different counties.”

There are 64 members in the band, and according to Brane, that number has never dwindled in its 20-year history.

Brane feels the band has been so successful because it has remained enjoyable for the participants, while also providing a fun night out to audience members.

According to Brane, this will be his final year directing the band.

"Twenty is a nice round number," he said. "I'm running out of steam, and I think it's time for them to find somebody else to direct the band."

Brane said a few years ago he decided to retire after the band's 20th year.

"I've done it long it enough," he said. "It's been very very successful, very rewarding and very enjoyable. I really feel the members of the band feel the same way.

“It’s been a very good 20 years,” he said. “I’ve loved it.”

Members of the band are sad to see Brane go.

“He’s done a really good job,” said tuba player Jerry Herrmann. “I’ve really enjoyed being in the band under his direction.”

Another has enjoyed playing in the Mississinewa Valley Band environment.

“It’s relaxing compared to how my high school band was,” said Marissa Holaday, who plays bass clarinet. “I’ll be sad to see (Brane) go.”

For Ronda Jones, the band’s treasurer, Brane’s commitment to the band for the past 20 years has allowed it to become a top-notch community band.

“It’s going to be a challenge (to find a new director) because everybody in the organization are volunteers,” Jones said. “To find the next person (who has) the passion, and is (willing to direct) as a community service, with the right kind of talent and leadership could be challenging.”

According to Jones, the band is also looking for more members to join its ranks.

“To anybody who wants to come and join the band, this would be a great year to get in,” she said. “It should be a lot of fun.”

The Mississinewa Valley Band will be joined by the Swing Band for their next concert on April 30, at 7:30 p.m. at the Phillippe Performing Arts Center.

The following concert will be in Wabash at the Honeywell Center on June 27.

The concert will honor a Wabash County native, and friend of Brane, who has been the marching band director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 50 years.

The band has plans for concerts in July, September and their annual Christmas show which will take place Dec. 10.

The last concert the band held was their “Yuletide Spectacular” on Dec. 11, which drew in 800-900 attendees, according to Brane.

Brane said his band is grateful for the community support.

"Very few community bands have this many followers," he said.