When the 70 musicians in the Ahwatukee Foothills Concert Band close out their 2018-19 season with a free concert tomorrow, June 27, they also will be bidding farewell to the man who has directed them for five years.
Conductor Marty Province is retiring from the group of talented musicians after the 7:30 p.m. concert at the Ahwatukee Rec Center, 5001 E. Cheyenne Drive, Ahwatukee.
Province and the musicians have prepared a 75-minute early celebration of Independence Day, with patriotic music, classic marches and a medley of World War II standards.
The Ahwatukee Foothills Concert Band is a nonprofit, community-based and adult band that has entertained Arizona for more than 20 years. Musicians rehearse weekly, August through May, at Kyrene Middle School.
It was founded in 1990 by Crawford McClue, a long-time Ahwatukee resident who died in 2011 at age 100. Province said the Ahwatukee Foothills portion of the name is kept in his honor even though the group membership has expanded beyond the Village.
Province, who holds a Ph.D. in music and a Master of Music degree in instrumental conducting, also retired last month as director of music at Gilbert Methodist Church, but is retaining his role as conductor/music director with the Gilbert Symphony Orchestra.
Even as he steps away from the conductor’s podium, he said he hopes to be a part of the Ahwatukee Foothills Concert Band’s annual Veteran’s Day Concert in November.
Music has been a part of his life for decades.
“I’ve been conducting for over 45 years. Most of my career was spent in colleges and universities with a much different repertoire than the Ahwatukee group,” he said.
“I hadn’t conducted a community band since the mid-90s, and it was fun for me to get back to working with marches and other popular patriotic music like that of the upcoming concert,” he added.
Province, who plays guitar, banjo and autoharp, is also a member of the tribute group Peter, Paul and Mary Remembered — a trio that with fellow musicians Dave Dumas and Sharron Owen, entertain throughout the Valley and U.S.
He also recently began singing with country band Desert Dust.
“I’ve played and/or sung in a number of groups from classical to rock and roll, country and folk. As a listener or a performer, I can’t imagine a life that did not include all of these genres,” said Province.
Next weekend, he is slated to perform at the June 29 Flagstaff Folk Festival, then play the banjo at his church in Gilbert the following day.
Current band president Scott Plummer, a veterinary neurosurgeon and 27-year Ahwatukee resident, is a clarinetist with the band and joined it 22 years ago after seeing a notice in the Ahwatukee Foothill News.
He said he enjoys the camaraderie of playing with a group of like-minded musicians.
“I joined because it’s a great hobby and a good way to relax and unwind after a day of work, although many band members are retired. And it’s a great group of people to interact with,” said Plummer. “In fact, our band is having a potluck party after our last concert. “
Trombonist Craig Erwin of Chandler is another 22-year member.
“At Christmas time in 1996 I heard a small group playing holiday music at the Target Store in Ahwatukee,” Erwin recalled, adding:
“I asked the leader about the group and learned they were from the Ahwatukee Foothills Concert Band. My first practice with the group was in January 1997. What I found was a wonderful director, Mr. Dan Neville, and a warm and friendly group of musicians,” he said, referencing the band’s former conductor.
Like others, Erwin said he retired his trombone after college after playing “in every imaginable type of group from string orchestra to jazz combos” because he wanted to focus on career and family.
“Then two things happened,” Erwin said. “My daughter reached the age where learning to play an instrument was a practical option, and the company I worked for decided to form an in-house dance band. So, my daughter learned to play the cello and I got my trombone out of storage and started to play again.”
As a member of other music groups like the Sonoran Swing Big Band, Erwin said since his retirement as a manufacturing engineer, the community band means even more.
“Playing in the band is something I look forward to every week. I like the mental and physical challenge, the feeling of being part of something greater than just your individual contribution. The friendship and interpersonal relations are also very special,” said Erwin who is the band’s music librarian.
And he will miss his retiring conductor.
“It’s been a great honor to play under his baton,” he said. “He’s made every rehearsal and performance something to look forward to. His rapport with the audience and music preparation is outstanding. Marty always gave back more than we were able to give him. The band is better for his contributions and I will miss him.”
Donna Normington, immediate past president of the band, is a 16-year band member who plays clarinet.
“I started clarinet in sixth grade and played all through high school and college. After college, I did alumni band once a year, but since moving away from my college, I’d stopped even doing that,” said Normington, who moved to Mesa from northern Virginia in 2003.
“Almost immediately I began looking for an adult community band. I found AFCB through the Association of Concert Bands website and contacted them,” said Normington, a laboratory administrator.
“I don’t consider it a sacrifice in terms of my time. I consider it a privilege to be able to come together with my friends and play music. I tell everyone they let me hang around,” she laughed. “It’s very personally fulfilling to be a part of something bigger than myself. I have a lifelong love of music and concert bands and I am thrilled these outlets exist.”
Normington also plays with the John Philip Sousa Foundation-sponsored National Community Band, and assists in managing the Chandler-Gilbert Community College summer band program.
There are several family groups in the Ahwatukee Foothills Concert Band as well.
Among them are Ahwatukee residents Sherry and Lauren Crider, mother and daughter respectively, who both play flute.
Father and son duo Keith and Daniel Schmitke both play trombone, and flautist Patty Witucky will be joined this fall by her her son T.J., who plays French horn.
Trumpet player Hilda Rose, who joined the band during its second season, is joined by her son Bob Hartrick on alto saxophone.
The band is also supporting of future musicians.
It provided five scholarships this year to Kyrene Middle School students — ranging from $250 to $500 each. In prior years, scholarships have been awarded to Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista High School students.
In May, the AFCB presented the Crawford McClue Memorial Scholarship to Eli Shapiro, an oboist at Kyrene Middle School.
Band members say they are especially proud of providing the annual scholarships that are used to help pay for better instruments, band camps, outside school music activities and, occasionally, private lessons
“For me, this is a special thing we’re able to do,” Erwin said. “Schools now aren’t able to provide the same music opportunities that I enjoyed. Resources are too thin and other demands too great.
“Many families may not be able to afford good instruments, lessons and (offer) the support aspiring young people need to become proficient and really enjoy making music.”
Erwin added, “These are the things so important for developing the student’s interest and talent. When I read their applications and then see the joy on the faces of the awardees, I know that the future of a groups like the Ahwatukee Foothills Concert Band is secure. Society as a whole will benefit from this investment in the arts.”