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Brass Band of Battle Creek
A vision of American success

Americans are at their best when thinking big — and enjoy it even more in making their vision a worldwide success.


The Kellogg vision conquered the world

Americans are at their very best when their sights are focussed on something big. 

Franklin D Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ and John F Kennedy’s ‘Race to the Moon’ were not only panoramic visions fuelled by inspiration and ambition, but also came with an unlimited determination to succeed.

So when it came to creating a world class brass band in a small industrial city in the heart of Michigan famed for producing breakfast cereals, Jim and Bill Gray were the right type of people to do just that.

The founders of the Brass Band of Battle Creek are two of the most interesting as well as invigorating visionaries you are ever likely to meet in the banding world. Successful podiatrists, neither lay claim to being musical performers of any great note. 


An inspirational team: Bill Gray, Jerry Ross, Jim Gray and Shannon Aikins

Musical vision

However, their musical vision was inspired by a chance meeting on a long drive through the night from a concert given by the Band of the Black Watch in the early 1990s, with a man who revealed that he knew their father. 

It drove them to honour both him and the memory of the legendary performer, conductor and educator Leonard Falcone, who had in turn inspired him - the determination inherent in their individual personalities - contrasting and complementary. 

“We wanted to do that for them both,” Jim Gray said as we enjoyed a hearty American breakfast of over easy eggs and coffee at a nearby diner. 

“We were determined it was also done by getting the very best musicians to come here to perform and inspire our local community – conductors, players and soloists. Hopefully we have done that in a rather unique way.”

“Getting things right and giving back to our community is important to us. If you don’t have the ambition, you get second best. We have never been like that. Our community deserves the best and that is what we hope we have brought them with the band.”


Brass Band of Battle Creek

Giving back

Bill agreed. A former football coach, he has a much more analytical approach to the band, although his drive to succeed is no less forthright than his brother.  

“Getting things right and giving back to our community is important to us. If you don’t have the ambition, you get second best. We have never been like that. Our community deserves the best and that is what we hope we have brought them with the band.”

It's been a hard but memorable journey. The stories (tales of great and late conductors and players – in both senses) and memories of brilliant music making almost stretching breakfast into lunch.


A remarkable team of volunteers 

Much bigger

Backed by a hard-working Board of Directors and employing two indefatigable Executive and Education Directors in Shannon Aikins and Jerry Rose, they have certainly achieved their initial ambition – and more.

The result is quite something.

Now their focus is on something, much, much bigger.

However, it also retained a strong sense of philanthropy too. In 2020/2021 the W.K. Kellogg Foundation committed itself to $483 million of grants worldwide. 

Philanthropy

Battle Creek itself was also built on the vision of two brothers - one that saw the company of the younger sibling sell its cereal products to the world.  

However, it also retained a strong sense of philanthropy too. In 2020/2021 the W.K. Kellogg Foundation committed itself to $483 million of grants worldwide. 


The star studded euphonium and baritone section

Profound

Earlier this year Brass Band of Battle Creek signed an agreement for a two-year grant of $250,000 to support the implementation of a Youth Education Initiative, which it is hoped will in their words - “mentor and inspire young people to become productive adults by sharing the joy of music.”

If successful, its proposal will be backed to the tune of a further $2.7 million.  

The long-term beneficial effect it could have on the next generation of Battle Creek children will be profound.   

The long-term beneficial effect it could have on the next generation of Battle Creek children will be profound.   

A city of just under 53,000 people in 20,700 households (2020 census), the demographics are stark. 

Diversity has increased greatly in the last 20 years; 25% of the population is under the age of 18.  22.7% of the population lives in poverty.  


Future generations will be inspired by the band's plans

Beamed with delight

And if anyone was in any doubt about just how uplifting and inspirational a brass band can be in achieving those stated goals then they should have been at the free Friday morning concert given to over 800 school children at the wonderful W.K. Kellogg Auditorium (built as part of the public works initiative of Roosevelt’s 1930s ‘New Deal’).

Their faces beamed with delight and excitement, the screams to accompany the theme tune to ‘Jaws’ could have been heard by John Williams in LA.

When it came to asking how many now wanted to play a brass band instrument the arms shot up in the air in every seat. 

Their faces beamed with delight and excitement, the screams to accompany the theme tune to ‘Jaws’ could have been heard by John Williams in LA.

Harnessing

Harnessing that initial enthusiasm will become the fulcrum of the band’s future plans.

It’s new administrative offices will be housed at the hall to spearhead far reaching initiatives that hope to increase music tuition in schools, enhance youth camp offerings, public concerts for youngsters, artist visits and music programmes as well as provide support to children wishing to make music a central part of their lives to whatever level they wish.


Jens Lindemann and collegues of the back row corent section

BBBC ethos

The band is ideally placed to do just that; the administration and organisation is first class, the promotion and marketing outstanding, the remarkable small army of volunteers exuding warmth and welcome.

The night before the main concert two small groups set out into the city to help with fund raising; the Brits led by Steven Mead, the Americans fronted by Jens Lindemann and his self-deprecatingly entitled ‘The Ego has Landed’ group.

Be it cooking the meals for the band to helping children to their seats and even being non-paid late night taxi drivers (from the main sponsor to a chap who takes a whole week off work) for the players who enjoy the superb hospitality of the owner and staff at the local Griffin Pub – all are inspired by the BBBC ethos. 

So too the performers.


All that jazz: Rex Richardson, Tony Baker and friends...

The Ego has landed...

The night before the main concert two small groups set out into the city to help with fund raising; the Brits led by Steven Mead, the Americans fronted by Jens Lindemann and his self-deprecatingly entitled ‘The Ego has Landed’ group.

The audience moved between the two venues up the main street for the 30-minute slots and were treated to some amazing playing: the Brits all sight-reading virtuosity, the Americans ‘all that jazz’.  Together they raised well over $12,000.

Lindemann is a musical P.T. Barnum – a force of musical nature. 

The night before the main concert two small groups set out into the city to help with fund raising; the Brits led by Steven Mead, the Americans fronted by Jens Lindemann and his self-deprecatingly entitled ‘The Ego has Landed’ group.

Less than 24 hours later (the players really do enjoy the welcoming, late-night hospitality), they were in serious concert mode.

Graceful elegance

The Musical Director is Michael J Garasi; a charismatic Floridian blessed with a baton of graceful elegance and an iron steeled certainty of musical will. 

His ability to chorale the disparate sensitivities of many of the finest brass and percussion players from both sides of the Atlantic was a consummate display of artistry in its own right – his quiet authority controlling a simmering ensemble pot of feral eagerness and showmanship.


The man in the middle: Michael J. Garasi

Gem of brilliance

Within an hour of the first rehearsal, he crafted a balanced brass band sound; moulding, shaping and chamfering the edges away to produce an energised gem of brilliance and beauty.  

And around the stands shone a firmament of bejewelled stars; Jens Lindemann, Richard Kelly, Michael Baker, Rex Richardson, Owen Farr, Gail Robertson, Steven Mead, Scott Hartman, Mark Frost, Les Neish, John Beck, David Hardman, Julie Boehler to name but a few.


Mutual respect and insight: Les Neish and the great Marty Erickson

Close cousin

Their love of the brass band medium was of insight and respect.

The programme for this concert may have been a mix of the classical (featuring the stunning pianist Wei Luo) and Hollywood, but they fully understood that it needed to be approached with a different warmth of tonality. 

At its close, a packed audience rose as one in acclaim – the pride in their home-city brass band obvious. 

Brass Band of Battle Creek has a very individual sound; thrillingly bright and searingly virtuosic, yet still an identifiable close cousin if you like to its elder British sibling.  

At its close, a packed audience rose as one in acclaim – the pride in their home-city brass band obvious. 

Hopefully it will be one that they and future generations will be able to enjoy for many more years to come.

Iwan Fox  

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