The band was founded in 1976 by band President, Harry Swanger, who formed the band to provide music for Compton Heights neighborhood events. The band started in his livingroom with just a handful of musicians. The original conductor was Kaid Friedel who was a French Hornist in the St. Louis Symphony for many years. Today, the band numbers over 60 volunteer, student and professional musicians who annually present 12-14 concerts each year.
The driving force is a preservationist philosophy to promote the American Concert Band, the unique American art form created by Patrick Gilmore in the 1860s and perfected by John Philip Sousa at the turn of the last century. Sousa's concerts were dubbed the world’s greatest pops concerts. In this tradition, a Compton Heights Concert Band concert features programming appealing to all ages and musical tastes. Featuring a wide variety of guest artists, the Band presents diverse music encapsulated in a 2-hr old-fashioned concert format. Some of the wonderful guest artists -- Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, The Legend Singers, The ReBirth Brass Band, PROJECT Trio, Canadian Brass, Sukay, Music of the Andes, Buckwheat Zydeco, and the Canadian Brass.
The band began an eight week summer concert series in 1980 in Tower Grove Park and added a sister series in Francis Park in 1986. These concerts, dubbed Sunday Serenades & Musical Mondays, attract 20,000 listeners annually. The Band played in a new indoor series in 2013 at the Purser Auditorium, Logan Chiropractic College, Chesterfield, Missouri, Sousa Sundays. Under the auspices of the Missouri Arts Council Touring Program the band has toured in outstate Missouri and has been acclaimed by audiences in Hermann, Joplin, Farmington, St. Peters, Cape Girardeau, and Ste. Genevieve. In 1998, the Band added annual Powell Symphony Hall December pops concerts. The Band started its SousaU competitive college scholarship program in 2007 which to-date has benefitted over 100 outstanding student musicians. In 2012 the Holiday concert was at the Peabody Opera House. In 2017 and 2018, the Band held the Holiday Pops concert at the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade and then returned to Powell Hall in December 2019. In mid-March 2020, the Band had to close its major charity bingo fundraising bingo hall due to the restrictions from COVID-19. The Band had operated the Hall and subleased to 4 other charities. The closure of the hall, negotiations with the landlord, and subsequent move-out took over 4 months this summer. Due to Covid-19, the Band was also forced to cancel its annual Memorial Day concert and Sunday Serenades & Musical Mondays series. With a 60-piece community concert band, the ability to practice and present concerts on the confined bandstand(s) was not possible. The plan is to seek funding for general operating from grants and individuals until things get back to normal and we can rehearse and perform.
Featuring John Philip Sousa-style programs, each concert includes outstanding soloists. Some of the nation's most talented musicians have appeared, including Peter Nero; The Rebirth Brass Brass Band, Stoneback Sisters, David Morris, Project Trio; Doc Severensen; Red Lehr & the St. Louis Rivermen; Geoffrey Gallante; Arturo Sandoval; Nicole Cabell, Soprano (2005 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World); Keith Brion, world-renowned Sousa portrayer, Sigrun Hjalmtysdottir, Icelandic soprano; Sukay-music of the Andes, Pachamama, Bolivian; Doc Severensen; Ricardo Morales; Alex Klein; Cameron Carpenter; Robert Ellison; the late William Warfield; Debbye Turner; Buckwheat Zydeco; the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra; The BNFL British Brass Band; Beverly Stewart Anderson; Gail Lennon & the Lennon Brothers; Cameron Carpenter; Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano; and tenor, Hugh Kash Smith.
The Band appeared on its own TV show "Sunrise Serenades" which aired for a year on KMOV-TV, CBS Affiliate with Harry Swanger and the band mascot, Moosic! "Sunrise Serenades" on is being re-released on the Band's Youtube Channel in 2020. Sunrise Serenades-YouTube For an extraordinary segment from that show featuring the late Johnnie Johnson, see "Johnny Johnson".
Edward Dolbashian, conductor, was the orchestra and opera conductor at the University of Missouri, Columbia. He also conducts the St. Louis Civic Orchestra. He was appointed conductor of the Compton Heights Concert Band in September, 1998. He is an oboist.
Volunteers in the band contributed over 15,000 hours annually to make the concerts possible. In addition to weekly rehearsals and the busy concert schedule, members devoted thousands of volunteer hours at the Band's charity bingos which were at Bandwagon Hall, 2151 Lemay Ferry Road. The Band ran the hall and subleased to several other charities. The Band had to close the bingo hall in 2020, due to Covid-19. The Band is supported by individual donors who join the Bandwagon and sponsored by grants and others. Special Thanks to: The Orthopedic Center of St. Louis for sponsorship.
For a wonderful encapsulation of what the Compton Heights Concert Band means for the community, see John Karel.
The Compton Heights Concert Band is on Facebook, too. Kitty Swanger administrates the Band's Facebook page.