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Belotti marks silver anniversary of North Little Rock Community Band

Music Director Rico Belotti has been with the band since the 1980s.
Music Director Rico Belotti has been with the band since the 1980s.

The North Little Rock Community Concert Band will present the opening concert of its 2013 season on Sunday, March 10, at 3 p.m. at the Patrick Henry Hays Senior Citizens Center.

Music Director Rico Belotti, who is a retired Jacksonville High School band director, will begin his 25th year as conductor of the all volunteer wind band with a program he calls “Famous Melodies (and a couple that aren’t).” Sandwiched between the band’s customary playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the audience will be presented with a collection of melodies that in some cases are more familiar than their original titles or genre. From the Oscar winning film “Ben Hur” the band will open the program with Miklos Roza’s “Parade of the Charioteers” and proceed to Franz Von Suppe’s “Light Cavalry Overture.” “Swedish Folk Song” will prove to be a much better known tune than the title suggests. The March movement form “Holst’s: First Suite in Eb for Military Band,” “Fantasia on Lady Of Spain,” and what will follow will be “Colonel Bogey,” which was made famous by the film “Bridge on the River Kwai.”

Some early 20th popular tunes from Irving Berlin arranged in a medley called “From Rags To Ritz” and a medley of snippets from 17 widely known band work titled “Alpha and Omega” come next. “Brighton Camp,” three folk melodies popular during the American Civil War and molded into a regimental march by Little Rock native Randall D. Standridge, will bring the hour-long concert to its conclusion. The concert is free to all and the Hays center is at 401 W. Pershing.

Belotti said the band has had an interesting history for the last quarter of a century.

The North Little Rock Community Concert Band was founded in 1982 through the corporate vision of its founding conductor and Director Emeritus, Arkansas band legend J. Raymond Brandon, Mayor Reed Thompson, and 25 initial band members.

Beginning on Sunday Nov.21, 1982, the band has played continuous seasons of free public concerts for North Little Rock audiences.

“The first seven seasons were played under the baton of now Conductor Emeritus Brandon,” Belotti said.

Since the late Mr. Brandon’s retirement in August of 1989, the band has performed with its present Music Director and Conductor, Belotti, on the podium. The band presents two indoor and three outdoor concerts each season, as well as performances at other special civic events.

“The band is a proud volunteer support group of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and plays each year along the race route,” Belotti said. “The North Little Rock Community Concert Band is a member of the Association of Concert Bands and has performed at the ACB National Convention. The band has also played for the Arkansas Bandmasters Association Convention.”

The band has also played for the Arkansas Bandmasters Association Convention. The NLRCCB is a sustaining member of the Arkansas School Band and Orchestra Association.

According to Belotti, the five-fold purpose of the band is:

1. To provide adult citizens with advanced musical proficiency an opportunity to continue their pursuit of music, and share their talent with others.

2. To upgrade the cultural spirit of the community.

3. To present formal concerts, admission free, for the community, and to play for certain major civic functions in North Little Rock.

4. To inspire student musicians to continue their music study.

5. To uphold the tradition of the concert band, and band music, in America.

Belotti said the band is accepting new musicians.

“If you are a musician, we invite you to attend one of our rehearsals and join us as a member of our band. Copies of our schedule are available from our conductor after each performance,” he said.

For more information about the band, including a schedule of rehearsals and concerts, go to www.nlrcommunityband.com, call 501-758-2576 or write the band at P.O. Box 153, North Little Rock, AR 72115.

Belotti, a native of Little Rock, joined the band in the fall of 1987 as a tuba player. He had move to North Little Rock on assuming the position of band director at Jacksonville High School after teaching 14 years in the Marion, Arkansas Public Schools.

“When the legendary J. Raymond Brandon resigned from the band in August of 1989 he gave the band’s board of directors a list of ten possible successors,” Belotti said.

Belotti said he wasn’t the first choice for the all-volunteer North Little Rock Band.

After the first nine turned them down, Belotti was asked by the board to take the position of interim director that he agreed to do to keep the band alive.

“The title quickly became permanent and a labor of love began,” Belotti said.

Belotti has guided the band from times in the early 1990’s when there were few musicians to its present day status as a five-concerts-a-year organization with over 60 members.

In the early nineties the band began to play outdoor summer concerts at Lakewood Village and those continue in 2013. The band has played at Dickey Stephens Park on the Fourth of July and will perform there again this summer on that holiday.

“Thanks to funding from the Mayor’s office the band has been able to become a self supporting organization with its own equipment and music library,” he said.

Belotti says that many community bands have to borrow percussion instruments and music from local schools to operate but the NLRCCB is free from that burden.

This is an accomplishment that Belotti said he is very proud of and means that the band is well set to continue long after he has stepped down from the podium.

But he says that the real strength of the band lies in the volunteers who play in the band. None of the players or the director is paid and they all rehearse and perform for the love of the music. “That is what makes this group and others like them so special,” said Belotti. “There are many things that one can do in school and college that must be left behind at some point. But when there is a community band that is open to all, there is an outlet for the continuation of practicing the art of music for as long as one is able.”

Belotti said that one member of the band retired last year at 91 years of age and that another member of the band just reached 90 this week. The band contains musicians of high school age and seniors who have just started to learn to play or have picked up their instrument after 30 years without playing.

The band also has some of the finest players in the central Arkansas area.

Belotti said he has enjoyed the time he has spent with the band through the years.

“To see these musicians making music together tells me that what I am doing is worth it, and keeps me going when the planning of concerts, stuffing of music folders and managing of equipment gets to seem like an endless task,” Belotti said. “When I step onto the podium and give the downbeat, I never really know what might happen. But seeing the faces of the musicians, hearing them bringing the music to life and hearing the applause of the audience is like the fountain of youth for me.”

He added, “The band was given a rich heritage from J. Raymond Brandon and we strive to continue that tradition”

Belotti retired from Jacksonville High School in the summer of 2005 completing 32 years as a high school band director in Arkansas.

He is a Past President of the Arkansas Bandmasters Association, a member of Phi Beta Mu, an international bandmasters fraternity, the American School Band Directors Association and Kappa Kappa Psi. He remains active with school bands through private lesson teaching, adjudicating bands at marching, concert and solo / ensemble assessments, and mentoring young music teachers. He performs as a tuba player with the Natural State Brass Band, also serving as the president of that ensemble and on the board of the North American Brass Band Association. He directs the adult hand bells and sings with the choir at Christ Episcopal Church Little Rock. He also conducts historical tours of the greater Little Rock area for Little Rock Tours.

Belotti said he enjoyed his time as band director at Jacksonville High School.

“My 18 years at Jacksonville provided me with the chance to interact with many fine young people and co- workers. The time I spent at JHS was a constant challenge but one I have fond memories of,” he said. “Several of my students also played with the NLRCCB during my Jacksonville tenure. One of my longtime friends and my predecessor at JHS, Lee Clark now plays in the NLRCCB. My proudest reminders of my days at JHS happen when I see the teaching results of several of my former students who now teach music in Arkansas and other states. To know that I helped instill in them a love of music is the greatest memory of my Jacksonville days.”

For more information about the concert or the band visit www.nlrcommunnityband.com (the band’s new web site) or call 758-2576.

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