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And The Band Played On
How one local band provides nostalgic entertainment to seniors


BY MARK CONCANNON

June 2017

Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Letter Carriers’ Band

For many local music lovers, the hottest concert this summer won’t be Tom Petty at Summerfest or John Mellencamp playing State Fair. The Milwaukee Letter Carriers’ Band (MLCB), which performs at area senior living centers every Tuesday night from April until the week before Christmas, is booked solid for 2017.

“We have to say ‘no’ sometimes to concert requests because we are in demand,” says Dean Pearson, the band’s manager, who also plays trombone. “If it’s a Tuesday, we’re playing somewhere.”

The band was formed around the turn of the 20th century through the National Association of Letter Carriers. At one point, there were around 30 letter carriers’ bands in cities across America performing at parades and conventions.

Since the last postal employee retired from the Milwaukee group in 2015, there are no more letter carriers in the band, but its spirit remains the same. It is a concert band with a big sound, featuring 20 pieces: flutes, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, French horns, baritone horns, trombones, tuba and drums. Many of the players perform in several other bands, but all are committed to this group. Weekly rehearsals are held in February, March and early April, before the concert schedule begins. And their biggest fans in southeastern Wisconsin senior living centers can’t wait for the shows.

“Everybody understands that our mission is to bring this music to people that maybe aren’t coming out to hear music like they used to,” Pearson says.

The band will put three programs together, providing about an hour’s worth of entertainment for each concert, and perform before audiences ranging from 20 to 130 people.

MLCB typically plays themed medley arrangements. “The theme could be Glenn Miller,” Pearson explains. “We’ll play four or five snippets of Glenn Miller arrangements in the medley, and then we’ll segue into another Glenn Miller piece so people get the feel of the music.”

The group’s repertoire includes medleys of the music of Ray Charles; a “Symphony of Sitcoms,” TV themes from the ’50s and ’60s; a “Rhapsody of Reruns,” themes from TV shows like “McHale’s Navy,” “Green Acres” and “M*A*S*H”; and “Themes Like Old Times,” a series of arrangements of the classics and standards of yesteryear.

“People hear our music and think of a better time in life, remembering the good times. Especially for people who have lost a spouse,” Pearson says. “A lady came up to me last November and said, ‘The last time I heard that song I was dancing with my husband.’”

More frequently, though, the band plays for audiences who grew up with The Beatles, The Temptations and The Rolling Stones. “In the last few years, we’ve thrown in some rock ’n’ roll pieces,” Pearson adds. “We’ve found some great arrangements. We’ve had to expand our repertoire.”

The band members range in age from their early 30s to early 80s — 81-year-old trombone player Andy Anderson has been with the group for 50 years — but they’re always looking for new musicians to join. “We’ve added musicians in the last few months but lost some too,” Pearson says.

MLCB does not charge a set rate for concerts, but it asks for a donation to cover the nominal costs of securing rights to perform each arrangement. The band was also recently organized into a formal corporation, providing structure with an eye to the future and carrying on this venerable musical tradition.

“It’s great being able to connect with that audience,” Pearson says. “This is truly a labor of love.”






 


This story ran in the June 2017 issue of: