Barnum & Bailey Circus Band, 1917, Karl L. King Conductor

March Madness in February: The music of “March King” Karl L. King in Concert

The Karl L. King Municipal Band of Fort Dodge presented a technically impressive concert of King’s compositions as well as a couple of tunes showcasing cornetist Tim Miller, all under the direction of Conductor Jerrold P. Jimmerson and Assistant Conductor Dr. David Klee.

On a recent Sunday afternoon I drove the 150 miles from my home to Fort Dodge, Iowa, enjoying record high temperatures with the top down on my convertible as I sped along northwest on Interstates 80 and 35 and state highway 20, where empty fields stretched on both sides of the roadway as far as my eyes could see.  It was my first visit to Fort Dodge, home to the Karl L. King Municipal Band which performed its birthday concert to its namesake Karl King (02/21/1891-03/31/1971) in Decker Auditorium on the campus of Iowa Central Community College.

Karl King, although born in Ohio, is claimed by Iowa as a native son because he settled in Fort Dodge at the age of 29 and remained there until his death some 50 years later.  From age 19 until 29 King played and directed circus bands and composed many of the pieces needed during a circus’ performance literally overnight. King wrote over 300 pieces, 200 of those marches. He was a longtime director of the Fort Dodge Municipal Band and was influential in passage of the Iowa statute allowing municipalities to vote on a tax to fund local bands (more on this topic in a future post).

The conductor, Jerrold Jimmerson, played under King for the last 11 years that King directed the city’s municipal band.  At this concert celebrating King’sbirthday, Jimmerson prefaced each piece with historical tidbits which I found fascinating.  The first piece was The New Madison Square Garden, published in 1926 by King’s Publishing Company.  Next up was another march, The Chevalier, published in 1917 under a pseudonym, Carl Lawrence (Lawrence being King’s middle name).

The band then departed from the march theme to perform an overture entitled The Golden Dragon, published in 1917.  Jimmerson explained that King considered this tune his best non-march composition and this type of overture was performed during the hour-long concert preceding every circus performance.  The name of the overture derives from the circus bandwagon which paraded through town carrying the musicians, and to me the tune evoked a Wild West feeling (note that King spent 3 years as bandmaster of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show). The euphonium solo was excellent and I enjoyed the faster ending propelled by the woodwinds.

The next two pieces featured Tim Miller as cornet soloist. Miller was band director at Humboldt IA High School and Junior High School for many years, and he displayed a masterful skill on the fast passages and melodic interludes of Theme and Variations: Grand Russian Fantasia by J. Levy (arranged by Paul de Ville) and Intermezzo: Sleep Lagoon by Eric Coates (arranged by Denis Wright).

Karl L. King Municipal Band conducted by J Jimmerson, soloist Tim Miller
Karl L. King Municipal Band conducted by J Jimmerson, soloist Tim Miller

 

The next two King compositions were both written in 1917 and were conducted by Dr. David Klee, also a flute player in the band: the Sir Galahad march published by the Barnhouse Publishing house in Oskaloosa, IA, and the intermezzo Spanish Romance.

A medley of World War I tunes, Over There Fantasie arranged by Ferde Grofe, featured the familiar melody “Over There” written overnight by George M. Cohan after he read about the US declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917. According to Conductor Jimmerson, this medley became very popular during World War II.

The program concluded with two King compositions followed by The Star-Spangled Banner: the galop Eclipse written in 1917 (I had to look up the term “galop” which is defined as a lively ballroom dance in 2/4 time) and the famous circus march Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite written in 1913 when King was a baritone player in the B&B Circus.

After the concert ended, I spoke to Conductor Jimmerson for a few minutes, and he graciously explained how the band members only rehearsed for an hour or two on the day of the concert and then played the concert itself, which made the accuracy and cohesiveness of the performance all the more impressive.

This was an enjoyable, fast-paced concert, interspersed with just enough historical trivia and contextual information to keep the audience engaged.

If you go: the Karl L. King Municipal Band’s next performance is March 12, 2017 at 3:30 pm at Decker Auditorium on the Iowa Central Community College Campus in Fort Dodge, Iowa. There is no admission charge and it seems safe to assume that seats will be available even for late-comers. For more information and for extensive photos and audio files of the band’s performances, visit http://www.karlking.us

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