The Brown County Community Band

by Barney Quick
photo by Mark Thompson

Music creates bonds on many levels. Perhaps this can be best seen when one looks at a performing organization that belongs to a closely knit community. The Brown County Community Band is such a group. It gives members and audience alike an ever-deeper sense of their roles as music-lovers, learners, citizens and friends.

The band was founded in 1999. Ray Laffin became its director in 2000. From the outset, it has been an all-volunteer group. In 2005, Brown County Music, Inc. was founded. It is the entity that accepts tax-deductible contributions that allow the band to buy equipment and expand its library of scores. Proceeds from the band’s concerts are generally given to area community-service organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, Mother’s Cupboard, and the Humane Society. The fall concert each year raises funds for the band.

In its six-year existence, it has played some notable out-of-town dates. In April 2002, the band performed for an audience of 400 at the final banquet of the Lions Club state convention in Bloomington. In October 2004, it presented a commemorative concert for Dr. Charles Hinzie, the past director of the Butler University Marching Band, at the Warren Performing Arts Center in Indianapolis. The audience consisted of the Butler ensemble’s alumni.

The core of its activity, however, is Brown County, where it maintains a year-round season. Its next concert will be April 1 in the Brown County High School Auditorium. Each year, it performs at Nashville’s Fourth of July celebration at the school’s athletic field. In August, it will appear at the county fair. October’s date will be the band’s annual fundraiser, and in December it will present its annual Christmas concert.

Laffin is excited about the repertoire for April. “I always do a march, something by Souza or Karl King or Henry Fillmore,” he says. “”I try to do a sacred number. This time it will be a four-movement Shaker piece called ‘Simple Gifts.’ Our audiences like to tap their toes, so people will probably like the fourth movement the best. There will be a piece called ‘Balladaire,’ which, as the name implies, is a light ballad. We’ll sandwich in a classical work or a modern number.”

He is also preparing a medley for the concert called “Themes Like Old Times.” The tunes within it were composed in a span from 1912 to 1921. The medley will include “Ma (He’s Making Eyes at Me),” “My Melancholy Baby,” “Ain’t We Got Fun,” “Moonlight Bay,” and “After You’re Gone.”

Laffin has had a long career as a music educator, including such accomplishments as choir and band director at New Palestine High School, chair of the music department at Creston Junior High School in Indianapolis, and organizer of the state’s first marching contest. He sees the imparting of musical knowledge as a key part of his role as Community Band director.

“I do a lot of teaching at rehearsals,” he says. “I have to walk a fine line, though. We have a range of experience and dedication that’s pretty big. We have three high school students and three retired horn players from Chicago with opera and chamber music experience. I try to select material that keeps the ones with lots of ability stimulated but doesn’t discourage the less-experienced players.”

Within that range is a great deal of demographic diversity. Members have active careers as chef, building contractor, clinical psychologist, and attorney. Many are retired from such fields as telephone repair, computer repair, and mechanical engineering.

Some have more time to practice than others, but they meet for their weekly rehearsals in an atmosphere of friendship and compassion. “We keep pretty close tabs on each other and know who has, say, had a coronary, which does happen,” says Laffin. “We care for each other.”

Within the band, there is a Dixieland band that occasionally performs as a distinct unit at Community Band concerts. It consists of clarinet, tenor saxophone, trumpet, trombone, tuba, piano and drums.

The band has some goals for the next few years. Laffin would like to add a few more clarinets and trumpets. He wants to keep stretching the group’s skills. The group would like to collaborate in some way with visual artists.

One big goal is to get an amphitheater erected in Deer Run Park. “Hopefully, it would be big enough for drama as well, such as Shakespeare, and even the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra,” Laffin explains. “The Parks and Recreation Department has bought into it, so plans are underway. Estimated cost is $250,000. We have an architect working on drawings.”

This is an organization with a vision of growth. Along with swelling the ranks of players, the band would like to keep increasing attendance at concerts. If you would like to get involved in either type of the Community Band’s development, contact Ray Laffin at 812-988-8786 or visit its website at