Wichita Wind Ensembles – a nonprofit organization that sponsors two honors bands for area middle- and high-school students and an adult professional band that has brought international talent to Wichita for the past several years – is calling it quits.
A financial strain that is hitting all the arts along with more competition for students’ time are among the reasons being given for the silencing of Wichita Wind. The adult band’s final performances will be Saturday night and Memorial Day at the Forum Theatre. The student bands performed their spring concert Sunday night at Friends University, after which director John Taylor, a music professor at Friends, made the announcement of the group’s disbanding.
The Wichita Winds Ensembles was founded in 1991 to give kids in south-central Kansas who play wind instruments a chance to practice and perform with high-caliber peers. The announcement Sunday night left some of the student members in tears, said Della Lickteig, a longtime volunteer for the group whose children played in the ensembles. For children from surrounding small towns, “they’ll never get the opportunity to play with the best auditioned kids in town, a big band like that.”
Some students drove as much as two hours to practice on Sunday afternoons for fall and spring concerts, Taylor said.
“It had a long tradition of offering for those advancing students an opportunity to play in a group that was really excellent,” said Lori Supinie, owner of Senseney Music and a former member of the board of directors of the ensembles. “My children both played in it. It was definitely an enriching experience for them.”
At its height, the organization saw 300 students audition for 150 seats in three honors bands, Taylor said. Now there are 40 students in the middle-school band and 40 students in the high-school band, he said; about 100 students audition for the spots.
“In recent years, the number of students auditioning has tapered off. There’s kind of an evolution in kids’ lives at this point,” Taylor said, noting that band students, unlike string players, have to spend more of their time playing at school events such as athletic games than they used to. He also thinks that kids perhaps are spending more time on such things as social media.
He said other options for such student musicians now include participation in community bands such as Senseney’s and in the Wichita Youth Symphony, taking part in ensemble and solo contests and forming their own chamber groups at school.
The adult band was founded in 2007 with 50 members playing woodwind, brass and percussion instruments – an orchestra without strings. At the time, Taylor said in introducing it: “We already have the greatest orchestra literature played (in Wichita); we have the greatest music theater played. Now to have the greatest band literature played will be a great treat for this city.”
Wichita Wind board member Greg Keith said that money from grants, donations and government aid had dwindled, and such money is necessary for the band to stay afloat.
“It’s a real shame,” Keith said. “I think it provides a cultural experience for the community. ... The musicians are wonderful; we’ve had good attendance. It’s just a very difficult time for the arts.”