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Eden Prairie Community Band

Celebrating 50 Years of Music in Our Fair City

Kids these days have it easy. When one wants to listen to music, all they have to do is balance the tonearm on their phonograph, make sure its needle is clean, and then sit back and enjoy 23 uninterrupted minutes of Pat Boone or The Andrews Sisters or whichever other pop glop today’s youths go gaga for.

I’m 170 years old, so I remember when music was exclusively available from musicians. Even the ittiest-bittiest hamlet had at least a couple of musically inclined denizens who’d take simple pleasure from entertaining their neighbors. They showed that a healthy community doesn’t merely tend to its members’ physical needs. It also enriches them spiritually by providing delightful proof that we weren’t cast on this earth merely to survive, but to thrive. Musicians are the incarnations of mankind’s indefatigable desire to pluck beauty out of thin air and share it.

Not all communities create themselves equally. The Eden Prairie Community Band exemplifies that rule. The city of Eden Prairie Parks and Recreation program is composed of over five dozen local musicians, each driven by their pure desire to brighten their neighbors’ days. In addition to the Concert Band itself, the Eden Prairie Community Band includes the Jazz on the Prairie Big Band, woodwind ensembles, and the Prairie Brass quintet. It also features the Prairie Ramblers, which plays the traditional New Orleans style jazz that Minnesota is world-famous for.

None of it would have come to be without Emmett Stark.

“I began my music teaching career in Eden Prairie right out of college,” said Emmett. “It is the only place I have ever taught. During the ‘60s I developed a school band program that had done especially well. Unfortunately, that all changed with the ‘Minnesota Miracle of 1971’ – essentially a piece of state legislation which dramatically altered the way public funds were distributed to schools. To put it succinctly, the effects of the reform were anything but miraculous for larger schools. They ended Eden Prairie Schools’ summer music programs altogether.” 

But all wasn’t lost. Emmett soon discovered that the Minnesota Miracle also allowed access to local government funding for musical programs that benefited all citizens – not just students. He presented his plan to the city council. Their vote established the Eden Prairie Community Band in 1973.

“It was a small amount of money, but it was workable,” said Emmett. “At first our band primarily attracted students who could no longer look forward to summer programs. Over time we welcomed increasing numbers of adult members, all eager to share their love of music and live performance. By 1980 enough adults had joined to start their own band, which I had the great pleasure of directing until 1999.”

During Emmett’s tenure as its director, the Eden Prairie Community Band gained the distinction of playing internationally. Germans, Italians and Austrians all marveled at Americans’ mastery of instruments. But acclaim was never Emmett’s goal. “I only wanted to create something people would enjoy,” he said. “I am blessed to have watched our band become just that.”

The Eden Prairie Community Band presently sits in the capable hands of Tom Muehlbauer. Before becoming its director, Tom played for the Swinging Ambassadors. They were the house band for Diamond Jim's, a private club in Mendota Heights which once featured legends like Lawrence Welk, Ray Anthony and Cab Calloway.

“As far as rehearsals went, Anthony was the toughest son of a gun we ever had to work with,” Tom reminisced. “But Cab? Cab was all smiles. After just 45 minutes of warm-up, he was all set to hee-de-hee-de-hee-de-hee the audience’s socks off.”

The Swinging Ambassadors continued swinging years after Diamond Jim’s final encore in 1980. Tom eventually began working as a music teacher, and started playing clarinet and alto sax for the Eden Prairie Community Band in 1990. He was elected the band’s director in full in 2016.

“What I love most about our band is the wide range of music we perform,” said Tom. “We play classics like ‘Nessun Dorma’ by Puccini and ‘Habanera’ by Bizet. We play lots of cool jazz standards, including a mean cover of Dizzy Gillespe’s ‘A Night In Tunisia.’ We also pull out songs you might not expect from a community band. One of our members recently composed a medley of ‘60s TV theme songs that includes Hawaii Five-O, Green Acres, Mission Impossible and The Dick Van Dyke Show. We even made our foray into video game soundtracks with our cover of ‘Baba Yetu,’ the Grammy Award-winning theme song for Civilization IV.”

“Our versatility is my favorite aspect of our band, too,” added Lyndon Moquist, managing broker for Edina Realty, band council chair elect, and former professional trumpet player. “From Bach to generational pop songs, movie themes, and contemporary rock such as Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk,’ we do it all. We’re looking forward to performing ‘West of Eden Prairie,’ which was composed by one of our own members, during our upcoming 50th anniversary concert. It depicts the foundation of Eden Prairie, beginning with the departures of the wagon trains and ending with the settlement of this beautiful little patch of land. A fitting celebration for everything we’ve achieved here!”

The Eden Prairie Community Band’s 50th anniversary concert will be held on Sunday, July 23rd 6–7:30pm at Staring Lake Amphitheatre. Please visit epcommunityband.com to learn more about all of the band’s other upcoming performances.

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