Chautauqua audience keeps Brass Band coming back to Amp


The Brass Band of the Western Reserve. Submitted photo.

Patrick Hosken | Staff Writer

The term “Western Reserve” refers to a patch of land in northeast Ohio previously owned by the state of Connecticut in the 18th century. Members of the Brass Band of the Western Reserve picked that name over, say, “Brass Band of Akron,” to highlight the group’s diverse geographical makeup.

“It just seemed like a good name,” said band director Keith M. Wilkinson. “We didn’t want to pinpoint the name to any particular city, because that’s not the band.”

Though it has rehearsal space in Akron, players from Youngstown, Sandusky, Columbus and other Ohio cities comprise the group, which will play at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

Wilkinson resides in Columbus, where he teaches mathematics at Capital University. He was a successful brass band director in England before moving to Ohio in 1996. He first took a position as music director for the Salvation Army, which ended after funding dried up. He then sought out local musicians for a new project, one that would eventually become the Brass Band of the Western Reserve.

Since its genesis in fall 1997, the band has performed in venues both large and small, including multiple visits to the Amphitheater. Wilkinson said it’s the audience that keeps the group coming back to the Institution.

“We’ve always found that the Chautauqua audience likes what we do, the variety of music we perform and the quality of the band’s performance,” he said.

That quality comes from camaraderie among band members, Wilkinson said. They play what they like to play, but they also play what audiences respond to and enjoy.

The band has seven recorded albums, and most are usually available to purchase at shows. The latest album, “Without Reserve,” is a play on the band’s name but also serves as a mission statement of sorts, Wilkinson said.

“When we play, we give our everything in terms of making music,” he said. “We play high quality, and we play good repertoire, so we don’t hold anything back.”

Sunday’s show is one of the band’s farthest destinations for a concert. Members travel from the Akron area, where the band played some “fireworks events” last weekend for the Independence Day holiday, Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said audiences can expect the big brass sound the band has become known for — glamorous show tunes and marches — as well as some guest soloist performances and sectional ensemble items.

The band chooses this type of set list, above all, to keep the audience entertained and engaged.

“We’re not out to educate; we’re out to entertain and send people home enjoying music we’ve played with a spring in their step,” he said.

The band has played Chautauqua almost every year since 2004, and Wilkinson said he hopes this collaboration will continue.

“We just love the venue for all sorts of reasons,” he said. “It’s a lovely place to play.”