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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette The Old Crown Brass Band holds a rehearsal at the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Center last month.

  • John Smith taps the triangle during a recent rehearsal. The Old Crown Brass Band is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a gala Sunday.

  • Dave Jones, president of the band, says British brass bands originated to deter labor protests.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette A member of the band performs during the Old Crown Brass Band rehearsal at the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Center on Monday January 29, 2018. VIDEO

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Members of the band perform during the Old Crown Brass Band rehearsal at the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Center on Monday January 29, 2018. VIDEO

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Anthony Alessandrini conducts the group during the Old Crown Brass Band rehearsal at the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Center on Monday January 29, 2018. VIDEO

Thursday, February 15, 2018 1:00 am

Old Crown Brass Band marks 10 years

Ali Brand | For The Journal Gazette

If you go

What: Old Crown Brass Band 10th Anniversary Gala

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Rhinehart Recital Hall, IPFW, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E.

Admission: Free

Old Crown Brass Band is celebrating its 10th anniversary Sunday with a gala where the group will perform highlights of its decade together.

The nonprofit, volunteer band is a 32-piece ensemble of brass and percussion instruments with members ranging from amateurs to professionals, and from college students to musicians in their 80s.

The band was intended as a “great opportunity to bring together people who should be playing,” says co-founder Erik Schwiekert, the band's first president.

In 2007, Schwiekert and a group of other musicians knew several people who played brass instruments in Fort Wayne, but none of them participated in a band. They didn't feel there was an outlet for musicians in the area to play together as an ensemble after they graduated from college. So, Sam Gnagey, who currently serves as a board member and plays the tuba, suggested they begin a British brass band.

British brass bands gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution. According to Dave Jones, the current president of OCBB, “Factory workers were sponsored by companies like coal mines and wagon makers to form bands.” The idea of the bands was to deter any protests about labor conditions.

Like British brass bands, OCBB does not have any reed instruments, instead including instruments that are rarely featured in ensembles, such as the flugelhorn.

Schwiekert says the group's name was inspired by locally brewed Old Crown Ale, which was served at Acme Bar where the founders would meet about the band. Though the brewing company is now out of business, Old Crown felt like a tip of the hat to the brass brand's roots here and in Britain.

Once they had a name, it was time to perform. The group intended for their debut to be a Christmas concert in 2007, but on the day of the inaugural performance, there was a snow emergency that shut down most of the city. It was January 2008 that OCBB had their first concert, Schwiekert says.

Despite the initial setback, the band has had more than 100 performances in the past decade.

When discussing those years, Schwiekert says the North American Brass Band Association Championships were a major milestone. It was the first time OCBB competed with other British brass bands from across America and Canada. The first two years they participated, OCBB were champions in the open section, which is available for all novice bands. In 2016 and 2017, the band moved up to the third section and received third-place honors.

Not only has OCBB participated in the championships, they also won three bids to host the competition in Fort Wayne. When Schwiekert attended the NABBA championships in 2013, he realized that Fort Wayne not only met the criteria to host, but he believed the city would be an ideal location because of its developing downtown. The championships first took place in Fort Wayne in 2015 and will be hosted here through 2021. This year's championships are April 6-7 at Embassy Theatre.

Jones, who also serves on the NABBA board, says no other city has hosted the championships for seven consecutive years. The first year they took place in Fort Wayne, the championships tied attendance records for participating bands. The record was broken in 2016 when 35 bands came to the city.

“NABBA was the pivot point for the band,” Schwiekert says. “We became more established and attracted some very talented musicians. It absolutely gave us focus and direction.”

The band hopes to one day move from the third section to the second section at the championships. Sections are determined by the difficulty level of the music being performed.

OCBB is also interested in having a youth band. In the past, they have done side-by-side concerts with high school musicians and plan to continue to do so. They will perform with the Snider High School Band at the school on May 10.

Over the past 10 years, OCBB has filled a niche for many people who otherwise might not have an opportunity to play in a group and has provided support for their musical aspirations.

“This is like a family,” Jones says. “We take care of one another.”