An original member of the Women’s Air Force Band back in 1951, Corrine Erickson still enjoyed playing her clarinet decades later after she moved to Hillsboro. So one day in 1997 she decided to see if she could start a band.
“I needed a place to play and I knew (then-Southern State Community College President) Larry Dukes from church,” said Erickson, now a week shy of her 86th birthday. “So I went out and asked, and he gave us his full support and gave us Brian Siemers to be our director.”
What came to be known as the Southern State Community Band had its first meeting in January of 1998 and it is still active today. Its next concert is at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 4 at the Edward K. Daniels Auditorium on SSCC’s central campus in Hillsboro. Tickets are free. All women in attendance will receive a special gift and there will be a drawing for door prizes during intermission.
While the band has seen a bit of a resurgence lately, the audiences remain small, and that’s the reason for the gifts and door prizes.
“We’ve had very disappointing numbers show up for our concerts,” Erickson said. “The people that do come, many of them come back, but we need to get more people to come out. And we’re always looking for new musicians.”
Erickson said 16 to 18 people usually show up for practices held at 6:30 p.m. each Thursday at the SSCC Hillsboro campus in the months leading up to a performance.
“We’re very well balanced and we have a nice range of instruments now, where for a number of years we limped along with six to eight members and I thought about giving it up,” Erickson said. “But I’m glad I didn’t. The band is sounding very good and I’m proud of what it has become.”
The band is open to anyone and has current members ranging from high school students to some in their mid 80s. No audition is required. Basically all anyone has to do is show up for practices when they can.
Erickson, meanwhile, said her roots in music go back to her days as a child when her mother played the piano in their Duluth, Minn. home.
“That was in the days before television, so on Sunday afternoons our entertainment was Mom playing the piano,” Erickson said.
A few years later Erickson decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.
“I was walking to and from work and kept walking past the post office and there was this sign that said, ‘Uncle Sam wants you.’ So I went in and inquired,” Erickson said.
The next thing she knew she was in basic training and started seeing notices about an all-female band being formed. She became an original member and played in the Women’s Air Force Band for 30 months until she was married.
The band was in existence until 1961 when female members started being merged into the regular Air Force band.
Erickson’s husband was in the military, too, and in their early married years he was stationed at Wright-Patterson in Dayton. In the 1970s the couple purchased a small cabin in the Rocky For Lake area. Then, when he retired, they purchased a permanent home on Summer Haven Drive near the lake. But they found themselves traveling back and forth between the lake and Hillsboro so much that they decided to move to town.
Erickson said she meets lots of people, most of them at the Hillsboro First United Methodist Church, and the first thing she asks them is if they ever played music and whether or not they still play. One of the people she recently recruited to join the band is Timothy Cross, a hearing aid specialist who works in Hillsboro a couple days a week. Erickson is one of his clients.
“We found out that we had a mutual love of music and I thought that I would like to share with the community my ability to play and be an encouragement to other members of the band, as they were in need of a trombone player,” Cross said.
The June 4 concert will feature music from “Phantom of the Opera,” Disney movies, “Porgy and Bess,” “Star Wars,” “West Side Story,” “Beauty and the Beast” and more.
“Also, songs are connected with times, places, memories and even our imagination in ways that nothing else can connect us to those places and things and moments. We just want to be able to help others experience the joys of their past and also the joys that music can bring to them,” Cross said. “So, we would encourage people to take advantage of a family-friendly, free opportunity on more than one occasion, and if the interest is high enough and great enough, we’ll be happy to expand our offerings to either an additional event or perhaps, if need be, two different concerts so that we can make sure everyone who would like to experience the joys of music has an opportunity to do so.”
Erickson said she does not know how much longer she is going to be able to play. But she would like to see the band continue to grow and perform.
“We would also like to extend the opportunity to those who enjoy playing who have gotten away from it, or have not found an opportunity to be able to share their talents and abilities…” Cross said. “Perhaps they are younger and a high schooler or even graduated from high school, but have a shared love for music and are looking for that opportunity to be able to play in a group that would love for others to participate, and would love to see the group grow, allowing us to do even more and share with more people the joys of music.”
All anyone interested has to do is show up for a rehearsal.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.