Rockford Community Band and Orchestra celebrates 25 years

Rockford Combined Community Band and Orchestra circa 1997

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Rockford Community Band and Rockford Community Orchestra. To celebrate, they will be performing a joint concert Sunday, April 29 at 3:00 pm in the Fine Arts Auditorium at the Rockford High School.

Both organizations have come a long way in 25 years. Don Brightman, an original member of the orchestra, said, “We started as the Rockford Community Orchestra with 13 members. It was just a variety of string, brass, woodwinds and percussion players.”

“25 years ago, I volunteered to be the conductor just to get it started,” the original conductor, Joe Bell, said. Bell’s temporary position lasted ten years.

One of the first things Bell did was establish a Board of Directors. If anything happened to him, he wanted to make sure the band would continue. The original board met in the Wolverine warehouse that has since been torn down in downtown Rockford.

Rockford Combined Community Band and Orchestra circa 1998

Their first concert was in the North Middle School auditorium, then they moved to the middle school gymnasium and then to the cafeteria. In recent years, they’ve held their concerts in the high school auditorium. “The Rockford area schools have always been very supportive,” Bell said. “We couldn’t have grown and prospered like we have without them. It’s fantastic having a real auditorium to play in.”

“I used to advertise the sam hill out of our concerts,” Bell said. “I used all the local newspapers and all the marquees I could get in downtown Rockford to attract concert-goers. And we brought in several renowned soloists. A pianist, a flutist, a trombone player. It was a great pull to attract more concert-goers. We love a big audience.”

After the first ten years, the balance was such that the orchestra became a string only ensemble, and the brass, woodwind and percussion were formed as a separate group: the Rockford Community Band.

Eight years ago, the orchestra added brass, woodwind and percussion players so that they now play a full symphonic repertoire.

In recent years, the Rockford Community Orchestra plays in three concerts a year, all at the Rockford High School. The Rockford Community Band plays in two joint concerts with the Community Orchestra and four more concerts in the community, including one for the veterans at the Grand Rapids Veteran’s facility and another at Rockford’s Start of Summer festival in downtown Rockford.

Several of their earlier concerts, including a Christmas concert, were televised through the RCTV program. A closed-circuit channel, it was operated as Rock TV through the high school. Tom Arends was very instrumental in getting them televised as well as helping them financially through the years.

Last year the orchestra created a partnership with the fledgling Rockford High School Orchestra. They presented a joint concert and played a combined number for the concert finale. The collaboration has continued, with a number of student musicians becoming permanent members of the RCO. Brightman said, “The hope is that by giving student musicians the opportunity to play with the full symphonic orchestra, we will enhance both their skill levels and their appreciation of the symphonic repertoire.”

The current orchestra’s conductor is Dr. Nancy Summers. The band’s conductor is Tiffany Engle.

Financially, both the orchestra and the band are self-funded, and musicians pay for the opportunity to play in the organizations. Recently, both the band and orchestra received grants from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs to assist in providing musical performances to the greater Rockford Community. And contributions from the community are always welcome.

Anyone interested in participating in either group, should contact RCO at or the band at

Both the Rockford Community Orchestra and Rockford Community Band are a part of Arts Rockford. Arts Rockford is one of the most diverse arts organizations in western Michigan currently supporting 14 local arts groups including ten performance groups with music, theatre and dance and four visual and literary groups. Together these arts organizations – with over 1,200 individual members – host over 60 annual art events.

Arts Rockford provides support for performance and visual arts and is funded in part by an award from the Michigan Council for Arts and Culural Affairs and National Endowment for the Arts. More information on Arts Rockford can be found on their website: