Longtime Missoula City Band Director chronicles band’s history in new book

Posted at 4:19 PM, Jun 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-18 18:19:48-04

MISSOULA – For More than 40 years, he taught Missoula school children how to keep the beat, play an instrument and to love playing music.

But even retirement didn’t slow down Gary Gillett, who is making sure Missoula’s Music history will stand the test of time.

Music has always been a part of what makes Missoula Missoula. And on many summer nights, you’ll find people enjoying live music at the band shell at Bonner Park.

The Missoula City Band is older than Montana, established in 1865 and the oldest musical organization in town. And longtime city band director Gary Gillette thought it was time some of its rich history found its way into a book, so he wrote one.

“For the last ten years, I’ve been dabbling with it," Gillett said. "And then in my retirement, I just decided to spend a year researching which was just so much fun. And I found myself to be a band-nerd-junky-history-buff!”

It’s called "Missoula City Band: Stories In Time." Gary jokes that if you’re a musician, you get the pun. 

He dug through archives, found photos hanging in bars and museums and traveled the state for his research and had some help from local history buffs along the way.

“I spent plenty of time over in Helena at the Historical Museum there. Up and down the valley, talking to old people. I drove to Miles City and interviewed an old geezer that used to play in this band. But the vast majority came from little news blurbs in the paper.”

The band played in wartime, peacetime, to welcome presidential candidates to town and to celebrate store openings or community events. The Missoula City band represented the rhythm of the times.

Gary tells the stories of the maestros and band members and he’s showing off his book at this Wednesday’s City Band Concert, with a nod to his predecessor Alexander Stepanzoff and the music from the past.

“All the tunes in the program will be things that I’ve chronicled in the book of being played. I think the earliest one was in 1870 or something like that."

And now that a decade’s worth of work sits between these pages, how does he feel about this trip through time?

“The only surprise of the book for me when it came out was all that work and it’s that thin," he laughs. "Because I had good editors that kept saying, ‘Well, come on, make that shorter or can you be not so wordy?’ It’s a little thin, but it’s what, just over a hundred pages."

— Gillett formally releases his book during on Wednesday, June, 20, at the evening concert at Bonner Park at 8 p.m. Proceeds from the sales go to the Missoula City Band.