Wanted: 76 trombones for Music Under the Stars

This undated photo from the 76-year-old Music Under the Stars concert series shows the Des Moines Metro Concert Band performing outside the state Capitol, with a view of Locust Street in the background.

Writer: Michael Morain

Calling all trombonists: The Des Moines Metro Concert Band wants your help to celebrate its 76th season. That’s right, they’re recruiting 76 trombones for their Music Under the Stars concert on June 25 outside the state Capitol.

That’s a nod to Meredith Willson’s “Music Man,” of course, but also to the fact that the trombone is “Iowa’s premier musical instrument.” The Iowa Legislature 
made it official back in 2007, in what may have been a quiet week at the Statehouse. (Was there pressure from the Big Brass lobby? We may never know.)

The band opened its season earlier this month and will continue at 7 p.m. every Sunday through July 2 at their usual spot on the west side of the Capitol. For the final two concerts, on July 9 and 16, they’ll perform for the first time at the Lauridsen Amphitheater at Water Works Park.

Each program offers a different theme:

  • June 18: Drake Night and Juneteenth.
  • June 25: 76 Trombones.
  • July 2: Stars and Stripes and Sousa.
  • July 9: Musical Madness, featuring show tunes.
  • July 16: Down on Bourbon Street, featuring the NOLA Jazz Band

Most programs start with the whole concert band before a smaller ensemble and a singer or two cap off the night with some big-band tunes.

“That’s been part of our success: We keep the format pretty much the same,” said executive director Dan Stevenson, a clarinetist and saxophonist who joined the band as a Roosevelt student in 1969.

Musical director Vince Kenney, who also leads the band programs at Drake, usually programs a mix of newer tunes and old standards, just as his predecessors have done since 1947. Back then, some of those “old standards” were brand new.

“When you look at the art we’ve created as Americans and as Iowans, this is one of our biggest exports that we can be proud of,” he said. “It’s really a living tradition. The 75-year-old clarinet player who sits next to the 25-year-old is transferring that tradition in a living way. We want to honor that and take it forward to the next generation.”

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