Waukegan Mayor Bob Sabonjian recently decided to cut all funding for the city's municipal band effective immediately, leaving the band's members to play the last three concerts of the summer season as unpaid volunteers, and the future in doubt.
The Waukegan Municipal Band, founded in 1936, has played to generations with the support of city hall and the admiration of free-music lovers. Despite being founded during the Great Depression, Waukegan has always paid municipal musicians and has provided equipment and performance venues.
But Waukegan's revenue stream has run dry in recent months, and city hall is scrambling to cut costs in the face of a multimillion dollar budget deficit. It is now up to the musicians to volunteer their services or take their bows for the last time.
"We already had music planned for the next three concerts and it would have been a real disappointment for us and our audience if we couldn't perform," said the band's Assistant Director Sandy Grivet. "The city has a huge investment in printed music, equipment and talented personnel - it's a shame for them to let that go."
Although doubt lingered as late as Monday, Tuesday night's concert Waukegan Beach was scheduled to go on as planned, and the remaining two also are still on the calendar.
However, musicians will not receive the weekly wage of $40 for a rehearsal and subsequent performance. Individual practice time aside, the pay rivals minimum wage.
But with 40 to 50 band members performing at a time, personnel expenses cost the city between $15,000 and $18,000 for a nine-week season.
The band's membership, aged 15 to 80, understands the reality of playing without pay. Only two members have dropped out due to long commute distances.
"We don't do it for money, we do it for the love of the music," said Grivett. "We are not ignorant of the fact that this is a rough economic time but it is incredibly disappointing."
Nineteen-year-old Andrew Beckwith of Wadsworth, co-principal of the band's clarinet section, said the decision left him shocked and dismayed. But like his bandmates, he will accept the applause of Waukegan's residents as payment.
"I know that times are tight but this came out of nowhere - right in the middle of our season," said Beckwith. "If they gave us a pay cut I bet 98 percent of the people would still do it. The history behind this band is part of what makes Waukegan so special and we need to protect that."
No decision has been reached as to the future of the band next year and beyond.
"We're not sure of the direction of next season but the band members are very focused and committed to the community," said Waukegan Director of Public Relations and Marketing David Motley. "They are ending this season on a good note and we thank them for their generosity and willingness to give back to the community."
The fate of the band's extensive music library, equipment and percussion collection also remains undecided.
Sabonjian could not be reached for comment.