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Municipal band brings sound of summer to Twin Falls

Musicians in the municipal band practice and follow the director.
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
Elizabeth Thomsen directs the Twin Falls Municipal Band.

In Twin Falls, Thursdays are concert days for the municipal band, which plays in the city park for ten, free, unique concerts each summer.

When Elizabeth Miller was a kid, her parents brought her to a tree-lined Twin Falls park to watch the city band play. It didn’t take long for it to spark a promise she made to herself.

“I’m going to be in that band one day,” she said. “And it happened.”

Miller, 18, plays the flute in the Twin Falls Municipal Band. In 2020, the pandemic shut down most extracurricular activities for students, but the city band was still practicing.

Miller plans on studying music in college and then teaching one day. Being in the ‘big leagues,’ she says, is good practice.

“The music is a lot more difficult. It’s challenging, but I feel like it’s a good challenge for me,” Miller said.

And though she had been in the audience at the city park as a kid, actually being in the band opened up a musical world in her hometown she hadn’t before appreciated.

Elizabeth Miller practices flute in the Twin Falls Municipal Band
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
Elizabeth Miller plays the flute in the Twin Falls Municipal Band.

“This is a tradition in Twin Falls,” said Elizabeth Thomsen, the director of the municipal band. “This is our oldest-running city band.”

Thomsen was also Miller’s high school band instructor and was about Miller’s age when she joined as a trombone player. Now, she leads the band’s ten, free summer concerts on Thursdays, each one a unique compilation.

Sandy Hacking, the band president, described the setting of community members gathered in front of the bandshell in the evening as resembling a painting of an old-time community. She said over the years, there have been many family connections among band members, with some grandparents and grandchildren sharing the stage.

Tuesdays are rehearsal nights when the approximately 55 members meet at a local high school to go over the upcoming week’s performance.

A French horn player follows a musical composition on a music stand.
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
The Twin Falls Municipal Band performs on ten Thursday nights over the summer.

The band was founded in 1905, just a year after the city itself.

“It’s 117 this year,” Thomsen said. “Consecutive years, which is just amazing. I think it’s the oldest-running city band West of the Mississippi. At least that’s our claim to fame.”

It turns out it’s not all that easy to verify that claim. Many cities take a lot of pride in their municipal bands. One from Allentown, Pennsylvania, is said to have played continuously, every year, since 1828. And the Oskaloosa Municipal Band from Iowa says it’s been around since 1864, which could make it the oldest west of the Mississippi.

Either way, the Twin Falls band, members agree, is the oldest in Idaho.

“There were no radios, so for musical entertainment, you had to have live music,” said Ted Hadley, a french horn player.

“Across the nation, community bands were a thing– brass bands, bands that had all the woodwinds, brass and percussion,” he said.

Hadley is a fixture of the Twin Falls music scene. He’s the longtime maestro of the Magic Valley Symphony and directed the municipal band for 40 years before passing the baton to Thomsen, his former student.

“We are the culmination of a long history of music people, and directors and a community that loves us and encourages us,” Hadley said.

That long history has included two world wars, through which the band kept playing. The musicians would escort servicemen to the train depot, playing tunes for them as they boarded, with fewer members part of the send-off crew each time, as the bandmates, too, would depart for overseas.

In 1917, the band, originally all men, traveled to Wells, Nevada, to perform at the rodeo. It reportedly took all day for the Model T Fords to trek across the dusty desert, instruments in toe.

Then in 1934, the new bandshell outlined in lava rock debuted in the city park and became the musicians’ new home. During a rare Twin Falls summer rainstorm, members of the audience would crowd on stage under the shell.

Elizabeth Thomsen is the director of the Twin Falls Municipal Band.
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
Elizabeth Thomsen is the director of the Twin Falls Municipal Band.

Thomsen said she recognizes the performances on Thursday nights may be where some people hear classical music for the first time.

“Right now, it seems like especially in the schools, the bands and orchestras seem to keep getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and there isn’t a piano in every person’s house like there used to be 30, 40 years ago,” Thomsen said.

She said one of her biggest goals in directing is keeping the music alive for the next generation.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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