02 February 2010

The 110-Year-Old Band Plays On

Local residents have been hearing this group perform for at least 110-years, according to members of the Letter Carriers Band of St. Louis. The band is looking to continue its tradition of playing throughout the communities in the region for the rest of the 21st Century and beyond.

Although many may not have heard of the Letter Carriers Band (of St. Louis), its origins around the turn of the 20th century were not fully documented, either. But the now-deceased singer of the band, Lee Gilcrease (d. 2008 - he sang into his 94th year of life and would have turned 96 this week), had been told by long-ago members of the group - with whom he performed for more than 40 years - that it had been started long before the 1904 World's Fair by musicians linked to the St. Louis letter carriers [local Branch 343]. The National Association of Letter Carriers has long been a sponsor of this and other bands nationwide, including bands in Pittsburgh, Memphis, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and numerous other locations. In fact, at one time the NALC sponsored more than 100 bands across the United States of America.

The St. Louis band has performed at NALC conventions in Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, Portland (OR), and Honolulu among other cities.

Locally, the Letter Carriers Band (of St. Louis) performs almost year-round in varied venues such as retirement apartments, nursing homes, parks, community events, and at the annual St. Louis Labor Day Parade (part of the NALC Branch #343 gathering).

Its current director, Dolores Ullrich - a longtime local music teacher - has been a member of the band for more than 26 years. Her husband Don, once the director in the mid-1980s, is also a member of the band. Their son and son-in-law are current members, too, along with about twelve to fifteen other musicians and singers, including Letter Carriers Branch 343 member Steve Schwent. Steve has been a member of the band since he was "a young man" --- more than 30 years --- and has seen a lot of personnel changes over that time. He says that any band which has been around more than 100 years has seen change, but one thing remains the same: a commitment to the community.

Perfomances include a wide-range of music, from big bands (think Duke Ellington or Tommy Dorsey style), musicals (Kiss Me Kate, The Sound of Music, Kismet, others), ethnic regional music (Italian, English, Irish, German, Spanish, Mexican, melting pot USA), popular music which featured the great 20th century singers (think Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, etc.), march music (Sousa, King, et al), waltzes, various styles of jazz (standards/combos/some solos and bluesy stuff), and patriotic music.

If it sounds like fun --- the musicians say, emphatically, that it IS fun. The band takes pride in performing, but is looking for new blood to continue the tradition. In 2010, the group is looking for musicians who READ and PLAY music of the genres mentioned. Needed are those who play TRUMPET, PERCUSSION (drum set), SAXOPHONE, TROMBONE, BASS (string or tuba), KEYBOARD/PIANO, GUITAR, and clarinet or flute (parts for big band music may be arranged for some instruments). Other instruments are used more sporadically, but may be needed at any time of the year depending upon the music styles necessary for a performance. Multi-instrumental specialists abound in the band, including Sid Boxer who has performed on saxophone and clarinet for "around 40 years". Other musicians may play baritone saxophone on one gig and tenor sax for a different gig, or the trumpet player gets up to sing, or one member may sing as well as play trombone and trumpet in the same gig. It's talent like that which has kept the music going for 110-years in St. Louis.

If you need additional information about the Letter Carriers Band of St. Louis, contact buzzmusicmedia@gmail.com --- and ask about performances or opportunities to join the band as a musician. Practices and performances are on Tuesday evenings. Practices are usually held at Shaw VPA School on The Hill at 7:00 pm on select Tuesdays. Band officials ask that --- before showing up --- you would contact a band member or Dolores Ullrich to make sure there is a practice scheduled, if you are interested in performing with the Letter Carriers Band. Some musicians from other groups perform for a short period of time during the hiatus of their other band(s), but come back year after year because they love the merry little band of music makers.

If you are interested in becoming a musician with the Letter Carriers Band of St. Louis, you'll find some of the musicians have been around here a long time --- and the band as a whole is hoping to be here a LOT longer!

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