As Kirk Lundbeck stepped out of his car preparing to conduct his first DeKalb Municipal Band performance of the season, he had one person on his mind: Dee Palmer.
This summer is Lundbeck’s first full season replacing Palmer as the band’s director since Palmer’s death in 2011. Before each concert, Lundbeck said he recalls everything Palmer taught him over the years as a friend and mentor.
“He’s a very important part of me,” Lundbeck said. “It’s an honor to stand on that stage as his replacement, but he’s there with me every week.”
The DeKalb Municipal Band kicked off its 159th summer concert season at the band shell in Hopkins Park this week with hundreds of guests in attendance. The band, comprised of about 55 musicians, has become an annual tradition in the community since its formation in 1854. It is known as one of the oldest bands in the country that has performed continuously every year, even through wars and the Great Depression.
For many band members, including trombonist Dave Balika, the DeKalb Municipal Band has played a significant role in their lives. Balika has been in the band for more than 20 years.
“I love playing in the band,” he said. “If you ask anybody in there, they love playing.”
The band has become a family affair for Balika who has two sons, Brian and Brett, who perform with him in the band every week. He said he enjoys being able to bring quality music and entertainment to audiences.
“To perform at a high level is very fun,” Balika said. “It’s an honor to do that for the community.”
Band member Sue Huhta, who plays the French horn, said being in the band for 45 years has become a lifestyle for her.
“I wouldn’t know what to do with my summers without playing in the band,” she said.
This summer, Lundbeck said he is working to incorporate newer music that audiences will be more familiar with. Some of the performances also will have themes to them.
For the June 25 concert, Lundbeck said he plans to have a “star-gazing” theme, during which the band will play numbers from movies such as “Star Trek,” “The Rocketeer” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” After the performance, telescopes will be available for guests to look at the stars more closely.
Lundbeck said the audience plays a critical role in the success of the band, which is why he constantly solicits feedback about music they want to hear.
“That’s what I’m shooting for,” he said. “I want to please every audience member at least once during the show.”
Although Lundbeck has been modernizing some of the music and working to expand the band’s presence in the area, he said he plans to maintain the integrity and traditional performances of the band that Palmer established many years ago. He said Palmer is the reason why the band is so special to the community today.
“They came to see Dee and I hope they keep coming back to see me and the rest of the band,” he said. “It’s such a great organization and such an icon in the community.”
If you go
What: DeKalb Municipal Band
Where: Hopkins Park band shell, 1403 Sycamore Road in DeKalb
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Aug. 20