Even after more than four decades at the helm of the Corvallis Community Band, director Steve Matthes isn't quite ready to relinquish the baton.
But, as the 68-year-old Matthes prepares to start his 41st season with the band next Tuesday night in Corvallis' Central Park, he knows the time has come for him to prepare to step aside — "for a successful continuation of the Community Band," he said.
So this season will be one of transition for the band. The band's board of directors has selected a new artistic director, Lia Poole, band director at Corvallis High School. The idea is that Poole will slowly transition into her new role and will take over the reins entirely by 2022.
Poole will conduct the band at three of its summer concerts this season and Matthes will be on hand for another three. The band's assistant artistic director, Robyn Chapman, will handle duties at another two concerts and the season includes additional guest conductors.
Matthes recalled that this particular incarnation of the Corvallis Community Band dates back to 1976, when Sue Borden, at the suggestion of Dan Eden at Corvallis Parks and Recreation, put together a band for the U.S. bicentennial.
Matthes wasn't part of that 1976 band. But a few years later, Borden mentioned to Matthes (both played clarinet in the Corvallis-OSU Symphony Orchestra) that the Community Band was looking for a director.
Matthes was intrigued: "I just like the concept of an adult, volunteer concert band," he said.
And, over the years, he's managed to build the band to a core group of about 50 players — although, since it is a volunteer effort that performs mostly in the summer, you never can be entirely sure who will show up for each week's concert until rehearsals begin, an hour before showtime.
After about 10 years at the helm, Matthes noted an encouraging trend: "I started getting really well-known guest musicians asking if they could be involved in the concerts," he said, a trend that continues this season, with performers such as Ken Saul and the Chintimini Brass on the schedule.
Matthes also has expanded the band's performances into other venues: The band schedules other shows outside the summer months, and Matthes often programs music designed to stretch the players' musical muscles.
"For the first 10 years of the band, I wouldn't have tried to attempt some of the selections we've done in the winter concerts," he said.
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As for Poole, her first contact with the band came a few seasons ago, when she was asked to serve as a guest conductor for one song, "Frozen." It was an experience she enjoyed, but thought it might be a one-off — until she was approached about possibly taking on a larger role with the band.
"It wasn't actually anything I thought was possible," she said, but the more she thought about it, the more she liked the possibility: For one thing, conducting a band of adult volunteers would offer a nice counterpoint to her day job working with high school musicians.
Another aspect appealed to her as well: The Community Band gives her the chance to program music that she wouldn't necessarily get to conduct with her high schools (and she's excited about the three concerts she's programming for this summer's season).
Like Matthes, she intends to program music for the Community Band that will offer a bit of a challenge for the musicians: "I would love to have that bumped-up literature that gets people excited to play and practice," she said, while still "taking into consideration that it's a community band and we all have lives."
Poole, 33, also loves the idea that the Community Band gives adults a chance to brush off their old instruments and play again in an ensemble. In fact, her husband, Alex, recently picked up his trombone and played at a recent rehearsal. "He got to play for the fist time in a while," she said. "He had a blast." (Poole, like Matthes, primarily plays the clarinet.)
Poole has big long-range plans for the band as well: For starters, she said, other concert bands tackle tours, and she'd love to take the Corvallis Community Band on the road.
That takes money, though. All the band's concerts are free, and the band supports itself through grants and donations. The band's budget covers items such as the purchase of music, rentals of rehearsal and performance space and sound equipment. Matthes draws no salary, collecting only a small stipend that doesn't cover his expenses.
The band's board is working to build up its new endowment fund, managed by the Benton Community Foundation; the idea is to get the fund to the point where it can pay a bit more to its directors and possibly fund other initiatives. An anonymous donor has promised to match, dollar-for-dollar, every donation made by Oct. 1 up to $10,000. Donations can be made to the Corvallis Community Band Endowment Fund by sending a check to the Benton Community Foundation, noting that it's for the band.
As for Matthes, it doesn't sound as if he's planning to just hand over the baton and walk away when the transition to Poole is finally complete. In fact, chances are good that Poole will be able to count on seeing a familiar face anchoring the band's clarinet section on summer Tuesday nights in Central Park.
Promised Matthes: "I can always come out and play or listen."