Mohave Community Orchestra celebrating 20 years of music

Art Swanson, conductor of the Mohave Community Orchestra, leads his group in rehearsal. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

Art Swanson, conductor of the Mohave Community Orchestra, leads his group in rehearsal. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

KINGMAN - Growing up in Alabama, Charles Bodden might have picked up a banjo or fiddle collecting dust in the attic. He learned to play a little guitar.

But it was the trumpet that impressed the sixth-grader when musicians from the Mobile Symphony visited his school for a demonstration of instruments.

"I just thought that would be the one to do," said Bodden, a Kingman resident since 1971 and retired teacher from Palo Christi Elementary School.

He played trumpet throughout his school years, including one semester with the Million Dollar Band at the University of Alabama. He transferred to Florida State University and studied under Clifford Madsen.

For three years in the 1960s, Bodden played with the Minot (N.D.) Symphony Orchestra.

Now he's playing with the Mohave Community Orchestra, which will perform its final concert of the season at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lee Williams High School. The concert is free, donations accepted.

The orchestra is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a program entitled "Dancing Through the Years." Musical selections include "Salute to Big Bands," along with waltzes, polkas, tangos and traditional selections.

Kingman native Peggy Mabry, who formed Mohave Community Orchestra in 1995 while teaching music at Palo Christi, will be guest conductor for the evening. She's coming to the show from Texas.

Former orchestra members are invited to join the performance.

"This is a part of Kingman that kind of gets short-changed," said Art Swanson, conductor of the orchestra since 2004. "There's sports and hunting, but fine arts ... Kingman is a small city, but we have a lot to offer in the fine arts."

Kingman schools have a great music program, he said. Local students are selected for statewide honor bands each year.

Mohave Community Orchestra is made up of about 40 to 45 professional and amateur musicians who provide their own instruments. Anyone high school age or older is welcome to play. For more information, go to www.mohavecommunityorchestra.com.

The orchestra's first rehearsal was held at Black Mountain School in Golden Valley, and the first concert performance was Dec. 12, 1995, at Palo Christi in conjunction with the school's Christmas program.

The orchestra's repertoire includes classical pieces, Broadway musicals, popular tunes and jazz.

"I just love music and it's a challenge every time to get a new piece of music," said Bodden, a founding member of the orchestra. "I love to be part of a group playing."

Rehearsals are held Tuesdays during the school year at Kingman High School. The orchestra performs four concerts during the season, including a Christmas concert with the community choir.

Like many small community groups, orchestra membership is subject to individuals' schedules and school conflicts, conductor Swanson said. Many musicians play in other community groups such as the Kingman Concert Band and Mohave Community Choir.

Most of the members do more than play. They serve on the board of directors and help with publicity and fundraising events.

The orchestra is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and depends on donations for operating expenses and to grow its music library. The orchestra also provides small scholarships to students for lessons and summer programs.

Lifelong endeavor

Barbara Pike, principal violin II player and president of the board, said there's a wide age range among orchestra members, with a mix of retirees, working folks and students.

"We do have middle school and high school kids," Pike said. "I think it's great. Some are my private students and they have nowhere else to play. This gives them the opportunity to play with a group and get some experience.

"As a teacher, I think kids need to be encouraged to participate in whatever activities and if they get a little attention, it encourages them to go on."

Pike said she grew up in Kingman playing violin in small groups and church solos, and was excited to join the Mohave Community Orchestra 20 years ago. She hadn't played since her college years at what is now Northern Arizona University.

The orchestra draws musicians from beyond Kingman, hence the name Mohave Community Orchestra, Pike said. Players come from Meadview, Chloride and Golden Valley. Pike lives between Chloride and Dolan Springs and teaches music at Mt. Tipton School once a week.

Ronney Case started playing clarinet when he was 9 years old in Ames, Iowa. He played in his high school concert band and was in the Mt. San Jacinto (Calif.) Community Orchestra when the conductor asked if anyone had ever played bass clarinet.

"I said, 'One time.' The lady next to me said, 'Don't look at me. I don't have the wind,'" Case said. "Bass clarinet is longer and bigger. I really enjoyed it. I have big fingers."

Case said he held a low-A note for eight counts in the opening solo for "April in Paris" when he played with the Glen Miller Big Band.

Case moved to Golden Valley after retiring from the graphics and art department of a Southern California newspaper. He was attending a concert at Metcalf Park when his wife struck up a conversation with Ingrid Swanson, a member of Mohave Community Orchestra, and mentioned that her husband plays bass clarinet.

"That was (conductor) Art's wife," Case said. "He hit me up fast."