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Annual band festival returns for 14th year

WHEATON – The Wheaton Band Festival will return this summer, drawing five big bands from around the area to the city for two days at Wheaton’s Memorial Park.

The Chicago Brass Band will kick off the free event at 7:15 p.m. July 19 with concessions run by the Friends of the Wheaton Municipal Band. It will be followed by the Joliet American Legion Band at 8:15 p.m. The next day, the Fox Valley Concert Band, Switchtime Jazz Ensemble and the Northshore Concert Band play starting at 6 p.m.

This year will mark the event’s 14th annual appearance at Memorial Park. It is, however, the first year that the festival is not helmed by longtime Wheaton resident Glen Arnold and his wife Margaret Ann, who started the festival and were two of its main fundraisers and organizers.

“I got the idea after attending the three-day Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, Kentucky,” Arnold said in a news release for the festival. “I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have a similar event in Wheaton?”

Gail Sonkin, who is president of the Wheaton Band Festival board and an oboe player in the Fox Valley band, said that the Arnolds both fell ill during the organization of this year’s events.

“[Glen] and his wife were directly responsible for 14 years of festival,” she said. “Many don’t realize it’s just one couple. The community usually just assumes it is the city or park district. But they did everything.”

There was some question whether the festival would even happen this year, she said, but through donations and sponsors Sonkin and others involved were able to raise enough money. Janice Rogers, the treasurer for the Wheaton Band Festival, said that she wasn’t surprised that the show has continued.

“It’s just a lovely band show, and the park is such a beautiful place for concerts,” she said. “It’s just a nice place to go and hear music and enjoy being outside.”

Rogers said that the festival has hosted a wide variety of different bands over the years, including bagpipers and steel drum music. That was something that the Arnolds really stressed the importance of, she said.

“Glen Arnold said he wanted to bring a variety of volunteer bands, concert bands, brass bands and all different types because he wanted to provide that for Wheaton and the surrounding areas and to expose children and young people to the different kinds of music,” she said.

As part of their commitment to educate youth about music, the festival’s organizers are collecting instruments that are no longer being used to donate to disadvantaged children around the Chicago area. Those who receive them will participate in the Salvation Youth Music Program.

Sonkin said that even more than great music, the event shows what can happen when different parts of a community come together to make something happen.

“It’s really a coming together of lots of facets of Wheaton,” she said. “The park district, the Friends of the Wheaton Municipal Band, the police department and all the people in Wheaton. It’s something that’s really nice about a small town.”

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