Twenty-two years ago, Bob Gaston gathered a handful of musicians and said that he was organizing a band. Gaston was a good musician, but he had a few problems in his repertoire. He was blind and deaf, which were certainly not musical advantages.
Today, his tiny band — now the CASI New Horizons Band — has flourished into one of the bigger, better community concert bands in MidAmerica.
“Bob formed that first band with only seven members. Now, we are more than 60 souls, $36,000 in equipment and thousands of scores,” says Bill MCabe, the band president and a trumpet player. “All by a guy who can barely see or hear. He’s a helluva guy!”
And, although it really doesn't matter, Gaston is 86 years old.
ON SUNDAY, Dec. 3 at 2 p.m., Gaston will raise a baton before his band for the last time. He is retiring. The band will cheer and the audience can be expected to stand in ovation in the big CASI hall at 1035 W. Kimberly Road, Davenport.
The band, about the size of many military bands, has a membership of seniors, all at least 50 years old. One of them is 90. A mix of men and women. No auditions required.
“We just ask if they play good,” says Gaston, a no-nonsense fellow whose thin face is nearly wrinkle-free.
He asks, “Do you remember our first concert of seven musicians?”
I certainly do. I wrote of that event which had a baritone horn, a French horn, a clarinet a flute, two drummers and a trombone. I expected their music to be like an old-time Salvation Army corner band. It wasn’t. I wrote, “They sounded pretty good.” Proud Gaston has a clipping of that review stuck on a wall of his Bettendorf home.
GASTON'S PROBLEMS of sight and sound have not been insurmountable. “I am not totally blind,” he says. “I study my scores with a huge magnifying glass until I have the music memorized. I won’t use a score December 3; actually, I never use score at a concert.
"For a band director to have a loss of hearing can be a problem, but I have heavy-duty hearing aids and can sense the beat and rhythm of the music. It is a special sense that I have. Beethoven was stone deaf when composing some of his final works ”
He is proud of his band. “It’s been a very personal pride and fun to see this band grow."
"It was CASI that asked me to organize a band. We rehearse, very strongly, every Thursday afternoon. I often think of that first band 22 years ago that didn’t have a trumpet. Now we have 10 of them."
Gaston’s band does at least a dozen concerts a year. There's no admission charge, but a bucket is passed for a few shekels to buy new music. A few weeks ago, they played before a big group and blew the roof off the place. A big-hearted soul dropped five $20 bills in the bucket.
The band once did a concert at a school. Band members who were in for 50s were asked to stand. Then he asked those in the 60s to get on their feet. Next, those in their 70s and 80s. The kids went wild, says Gaston, when the band’s 90-year-old alto sax player, Bill Moellering, stood up and smiled. Many members are professional musicians, like Tony Hamilton, who has a dance band that plays throughout the Quad-City region.
GASTON'S WIFE, Marlene, is accustomed to music scattered around the house. He graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Iowa, majoring in music. Some of his fellow Iowa grads are in the CASI band. A few are high school band and orchestra leaders who have retired from Quad-City area schools.
Gaston's concert band will play “Let There Be Peace on Earth” for its final song at the Dec. 3 concert.
He says, “I think that’ll be a good way to go."