Music for the ages: Kulm City Band plays on for over a century
With most other town bands having long since disbanded decades ago the Kulm City Band members credit their longevity to having fun together.
The 40 active members of the Kulm City Band are mostly adults and very good musicians, said Wesley Gackle, band director. There are about 100 members who play when they come back to attend holiday celebrations in Kulm, or when the band travels near them to play a sports tournament or event on the road.
“The band is very important to the community,” Gackle said.
The band formed around 1895 under director Ole Johnson, according to the 1992 Kulm centennial publication. The band performed under various directors until Ed Hollan, a World War 1 veteran, kept the band together from 1925-70, before Gackle’s father, Robert Gackle, directed it from 1970-2006.
“My dad just loved it and he was so good at recruiting,” Gackle said.
The band was still marching with majorettes into the 1960s when Gackle and a cousin reluctantly joined while still in junior high school.
“Our dads made us play, and you know how that goes,” Gackle said. “But, you know, we enjoyed it and we kept playing through high school and we are still playing.”
The band was in the 7-mile parade for the state centennial celebration and performed at many events statewide, including at towns that don’t even exist anymore, he said.
The band stopped marching in the 1970s when a trailer was converted into a rolling band platform that allows the band to sit and play, Gackle said.
Kulm Public School music teacher Marvel Ann Lindgren started the pep band 10 years ago. She also plays French horn in the City Band.
“It’s a source of pride for our community,” Lindgren said. “Somehow, thank goodness, we kept going. It’s a great place to live.”
The City Band members perform with the pep band when student musicians have a conflict with sports, she said. The kids also play with the City Band in the summer, she said.
“It’s just been a really positive experience,” Lindgren said. “They are wonderful musicians.”
Arv Lindgren, Marvel’s husband, plays the baritone sax in the pep band and the soprano sax in the City Band. He didn’t start playing until he was 50 years old.
“I didn’t want to get old,” he said. “There are some guys here who can really play and that really helps.”
The great players raise the bar for everybody, Lindgren said. That has helped to keep the band going as much as being invited to perform at fun events, he said.
Bill Gackle, 90, joined the City Band in 1942 while in high school. He is now the longest-serving member and plays the baritone horn alongside his son and grandson.
“Well, it’s because I’ve got the uniform,” Gackle said. “I want to use my horn yet. It’s not rusted too bad.”
Some of Gackle’s favorite memories are when U.S. Sens. William Langer and Milton Young designated the the Kulm City Band as North Dakota Senators Band in 1949. He remembers that a Kulm car dealership would lend them used vehicles to drive to events as far as Fargo and Mandan.
He recalled driving with a group to Jud along a gravel county road when the 1947 Ford sedan they were in encountered a rough surface and wound up in a slough. The members were all in the water laughing as the drumsticks to the snare drum floated by them, he said.
“That thing just bounced right off the road right into the water,” he said. “The other cars in back picked us up and we took off and played our set.”
The band looks forward to performing at the Kulm 125th anniversary in four years, he said.