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Utah State University Greats

They Come to Play

Nick Morrison      

They're engineers, music educators and accountants. They are proud members of the Utah State University Alumni Band.

Some are recent graduates starting careers, while others are easing gratefully into retirement. The band is the common bond that unites them each summer to continue one of the popular traditions on the Utah State University campus.

The band's tradition goes back to 1963, when the group was founded by USU Music Department faculty member Max Dalby. The creation of the band came as a request. University administrators approached Dalby at that time because they were concerned there wasn't anything for summer school students to do on campus on Sunday evenings. The idea for the band was born, and Dalby created a popular and ongoing tradition as a service to campus.

But, the tradition has become much more. It is a program that was quickly embraced by the community and is a popular feature on the USU campus today. It is a sure signal that summer has arrived in Cache Valley, whether the band performs indoors or out.

The concerts are extremely popular among the Summer Citizen population, many of whom say they attend every concert. One audience member said she had not missed attending a concert in nine years. A quick survey of comments from that community brings phrases like "excellent," "we love the music" and "we hope it keeps going."

Jenny and Bill, summer residents in Logan from Green Valley, Ariz., said they enjoyed the quality of the band and the conductor, especially when he explains the background of the pieces.

Other favorites with the Summer Citizen audience are the soloists and guest artists.

"The guest artists bring added dimension, and we really enjoy seeing the students and alumni perform. All are very talented," one Summer Citizen said.

There have only been two directors in the band's history, founder Max Dalby and current conductor and Music Department faculty member Nicholas Morrison. Dalby led the band for 30 years, and Morrison took over in 1993. Members of the band are either graduates or attendees of USU and performed with the music department's top band. Between 60-70 musicians perform at each concert throughout the summer. Some perform in one concert, some two and a full one-third of the members commit to all five concert dates. And while many members are from Utah, others plan family vacations and trips to coincide with the concert dates. During the summer of 2007, band members traveled from California, Colorado, Illinois and Ohio to perform.

"A significant number of people in the band are Max's students," Morrison said. "That's a real tribute to Dr. Dalby."

One such Alumni Band member is Anita Ford, a flutist in the band. Not only was Ford a charter member of the band when it was established, she said her musical career began when she met Max Dalby much earlier when she was a seventh grade student in Ogden.

"He put a flute in my hands and I've been at it ever since," Ford said.

Ford joined the USU Alumni Band its first year when she graduated in 1963 with a degree in music education. She went to work immediately, not in music, but as the school librarian at Preston High School in Preston, Idaho. She commuted daily to Preston, while her husband, Bill, completed his degree at USU.

He graduated in 1965 with a bachelor's of science degree in public health and bacteriology. He also played in USU's band, but he didn't immediately become a member of the Alumni Band. First, it was off to Georgia and an officer's commission that he earned through USU's ROTC program.

"There was only one year that I didn't perform with the Alumni Band," Anita said. "That was when my husband was in the Army and we lived in Georgia. After one year we came back to Ogden and I've been playing ever since."

A native of Ogden, Anita Ford soon began teaching flute lessons, continuing the tradition instilled by her teacher and mentor Dalby. She's been teaching flute students for nearly 50 years and plans to continue.

"I believe in keeping up on my instrument and using it," Anita said. "I love to entertain and to play for people. I'm still teaching, I'm still performing. I can't imagine NOT doing it."

Bill Ford joined the percussion section of the Alumni Band after his military duty ended and after he began a 33-year teaching career at Ogden High School.

"Early on, I was a spectator," he said. "I would go to the concerts and watch Anita perform and I enjoyed that. Then, I was invited to join and I've really enjoyed the environment and the camaraderie - there is a real esprit de corps in the band."

Compared to Anita Ford, band member Jo Hays is a newcomer. Also a flute player, Hays joined the band in 2005 after she earned a second bachelor's degree in music performance at USU. Earlier, she earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Memphis.

Professionally, Hays is an engineer and develops implants and instruments for orthopedic surgery and sports medicine. Music, however, is an important part of her life.

"Band has been a very important part of my musical life and I try to take every opportunity to play," she said.

Beyond the Alumni Band, Hays performs extensively, but she usually makes all five of the band's concerts each summer. Her flute choir, HiFalutin', performs six to 12 times a year, and her flute duo, lolite, performs two or three times a year. Hays also tries to schedule several solo flute recitals a year, in addition to an unpredictable number of freelance performances.

Band member Rhonda Rhodes graduated in 1987 with a degree in music education. She lives in Hurricane, Utah, and travels the length of the state to perform with the Alumni Band. She is among the loyal band members who attempt to perform in all five of the summer's concerts, but busy schedules sometimes limits that to three.

"After I graduated I wanted to stay connected to the people and professors I knew at USU," Rhodes said. "The Alumni Band is a quality musical group and a great way to keep in touch with USU colleagues. And, I love Logan in the summertime."

Rhodes is a music educator in the Washington County School District and currently teaches 6th and 7th grade band students at Lava Ridge Intermediate School in Santa Clara, Utah.

"Music education is what I do for a living," Rhodes said. "When choosing a college for that career, there was no question at the time as to where I would get the best experience. Many of the educators who influenced my life were USU graduates. Even as I have, and am currently pursuing graduate degrees at other institutions, USU will always be where my heart lies, because there is where it was molded."

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