As the Fairborn Civic Band has become more established and ingrained in the community the past 25 years, one man has been leading the way.
Fairborn resident Gary Johnson has been the band’s director since its establishment in 1996 when the band got together for their first performance, the Fairborn Independence Day Parade.
Johnson’s family moved to Fairborn in 1975 when his father was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as the Commander of the 661st Air Force Band of Flight. Following in his father’s footsteps, Johnson went to work as a freelance musician after high school, and years later, decided to pursue a career in teaching music. He later earned a Master of Music degree from Wright State University.
“Meanwhile, in 1995, Jim Leatherman, a Fairborn resident and trumpeter, had approached Robert D’Epiro, my former high school band director, to discuss the possibility of forming an adult band with the emphasis on getting musicians whose talent had grown rusty back into the swing of things,” Johnson said. “Mr. D’Epiro agreed to the task and in 1996 he recruited me to direct the band.”
In addition to his band leadership, Johnson has taught in public school classrooms in the Dayton area for 25 years, including part of that time at Fairborn City Schools as choir director, band director, music appreciation, guitar and piano.
“Directing a band fills so many needs of mine, and if it fosters goodwill, then what is better than that?” Johnson said.
Johnson is passionate about keeping the music alive in Fairborn and he’s even looking for more members to join the Civic Band. He is our Daytonian of the Week:
🎶Q: What’s kept you so invested in the Fairborn Civic Band all these years?
A: “I love interacting with people and I really enjoy the process of teaching music. There is nothing like bringing to fruition a performance of music with like- minded people. It’s a special thing. I also look at this from a perspective of service and it seems so natural to contribute to the community in this way.”
🎶Q: How many members at one time are there typically in the Fairborn Civic Band?
A: “Over these years with the Fairborn Civic Band, I have had the honor of working with hundreds of musicians of all ages. Being a military town, we have seen folks come and go. Typically, the band is around 25 players.”
🎶Q: What do you think having a community-centric band adds to the community?
A: “Folks love to hear music performed by live musicians. Audiences have told me they appreciate the contribution of the band and they feel the positive emotion of unity and friendship as they experience joy together. Our repertoire is very diverse. We cover popular music, musicals, holiday music, classical as well as patriotic and Americana. Whether it’s a small concert at a nursing home or a large civic celebration, the Fairborn Civic Band always brings a smile and a sense of satisfaction to all present. Specifically, at Independence Day Parades, music creates a feeling of pride and patriotism which is a very important part of the experience.”
🎶Q: What are a couple of your best memories with the band over the past 25 years?
A: “That’s not a fair question! When I remember these years, a flood of memories absolutely fill my mind. I loved the audience’s response to the musician’s performances. I feel a deep sense of pride and a profound emotional bond with the players in the band. Over the years, I have encountered so many great individuals who gave of their time so generously and they are the ones who should be lifted up here, not me. But, there have been some really cool moments. At one of the Independence Day Parades in Fairborn, my little brother, who piloted the space shuttle Endeavour, was riding on a float in the parade. It was raining like nobody’s business and we were all soaked! After his float passed, Greg came down in his astronaut flight suit along with my nephews, Matt and Joe, who were all trumpet players, and performed with the band for a while (until he blew his lip!). It was the greatest feeling having them wait for my cues and make music together. He may have soared in space but making music for everyone is rather a special and intangible thing. There is nothing like it.
Again, there are innumerable moments in time that cannot be related with words. But… about seven years ago, I was talking to my daughter’s violin teacher, Kathy Johnston, who teaches dozens of string students along with another fine string teacher, Dr. Philipa Burgess, about music. I had this crazy idea to combine the FCB with their violin studios to create a full (philharmonic) orchestra. We took the idea and ran with it, performing for the first time in full orchestra at the Fairborn Sweet Corn Festival, a few selections, and voila! The Fairborn Regional Orchestra was formed. We have continued that collaboration bi-annually with community concerts at Christmas and during the summer.”
🎶Q: What would you say to a person who is interested in joining?
A: “I would say, “Give me a call!” My number is, (937) 672-9470 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will encourage you to come to our rehearsals on Thursday nights in Fairborn. You can also communicate with me through our Fairborn Civic Band FB page. We play a wide variety of music at varying difficulty levels. There is something for everyone to enjoy.”
🎶Q: Do they need a lot of experience?
A: “Folks who played in high school band qualify. They may be rusty, but that’s ok. Dedication to playing is required of everyone. That’s all!”
🎶Q: Are there any instruments in particular you are looking for to join?
A: “We welcome any player as long as they are woodwinds, brass, strings, or percussionists! I will even allow professionals to play with the band! The band will thrive when dedicated players give of their precious time to create something wonderful.”
🎶Q: What is your favorite thing about being a pillar in the Fairborn community?
A: “I do not consider myself a ‘pillar’ of the community. I am just a guy who loves to wave his arms and make music!”
🎶Q: Is there anything that non-Fairborn residents might be surprised to know about the community?
A: “The Fairborn/WPAFB community is and has been filled with rich and interesting people who dream and long to make a difference in the world. We have entrepreneurs and aviators, soldiers and salespeople, and good Americans who live large and love life. Fairborn is really a cross-section of America that should be embraced. To quote the Robert Palmer song, ‘It takes every kind of people, to make what life’s about.’”
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