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Suncoast Concert Band celebrates its 90th birthday

Formed in a trailer park during the Great Depression, the Sarasota-based band is still going strong.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. September 6, 2023
The Suncoast Concert Band got its start in January 1933 as the Sarasota Trailer Park Band.
The Suncoast Concert Band got its start in January 1933 as the Sarasota Trailer Park Band.
Courtesy photo
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The year 1932 was a difficult one. The country was in the middle of the Great Depression, John Philip Sousa died March 6 and Americans longing for relief elected Franklin D. Roosevelt president in November. In December, eight musicians calling themselves the "Tin Can Tourists" performed for the residents of Acadia.

The next month, the group moved to Sarasota and on Jan. 17, 1933 became "The Sarasota Trailer Park Band." That name would last until 1974, when the group was rechristened the "Sarasota Mobile Home Park Band."

Many of those watching the group now known as the Suncoast Concert Band perform during season at the Northminster Presbyterian Church may not be aware of how historical forces have buffeted the group over its long history.

Surviving the World War II years was no small task. While many members of the band were year-round residents, the war years, with its rationing and manpower mobilizations, forced some members to forego winter trips to Florida. The band, however, "played on."

As its popularity grew, so did the ranks of its members. Florida became a mecca for former professional performers. Some even came from famous Big Bands while others arrived from renowned symphony orchestras.

Retired professionals brought their expertise to Sarasota. Performing with the band provided them an opportunity to continue playing the instruments they loved and to make new friends.

In spring 1964, Leo Laier became the band's third director, following in the footsteps of Voltaire Sturgis and Fred Prefect. For the next 46 years, Laier worked to improve the quality of band performances.

To do so, he sought out new members that could bring a high standard of musicianship to performances. He also moved the band indoors to the newly built Payne Park Auditorium, the community center and meeting hall for the Sarasota Mobile Home Park. 

Membership, which held steady at about 40 players, grew to around 55 musicians. In 1975, Laier formed the Suncoast Jazz Ambassadors, a 16-piece Big Band for those who wanted to play big band and swing music. 

In 1979, the Suncoast Concert Band performed at the first Association of Concert Bands convention in Sarasota and again in 2017 at the ACB confab in Fort Lauderdale. The band's travel extended even farther when it journeyed to England and Ireland to perform a series of concerts in 1986.

In 1993, the band decided to shed its mobile park moniker. It became formally known as the Suncoast Concert Band.

The Suncoast Concert Band is shown here in a 1998 group photo.
Courtesy photo

After 46 years of untiring musical leadership, Laier retired as director in May 2010 and was named Director Emeritus. He passed the baton Robert Stoll, who had joined the band in the trombone section in 2005.

The band celebrated a milestone in 2011 when it hit 1,000 performances. Since its inception, the Suncoast Concert Band has been entertaining audiences twice a month from November to May. Their repertoire consists of marches, show tunes, overtures, religious selections and familiar melodies. 

The band played its final performance in Payne Park Auditorium in May 2012 and moved to Northminster Presbyterian Church. The opportunity to perform in this beautiful sanctuary has proven to be an uplifting and refreshing boon to both players and audiences.

Northminster Presbyterian Church is also the home of the Suncoast Jazz Ambassadors, which perform one concert a month from December to May.

As we celebrate our 90th anniversary, what do our audiences think about the Suncoast Concert Band and Jazz Ambassadors? Nancy Stoll, the business manager for the band, often hears from audience members who write to share their experiences.

Here are just a few:

"As a former music educator, I am amazed at the quality of the musical performances. It is outstanding!"

Says another, "Living on a fixed income, it means so much to me to be able to attend such a high-quality performance at a very affordable price." ($5)

Last, "Thank you for providing us with a most enjoyable Sunday afternoon of great music."

The Suncoast Concert Band has also been recognized by its peers. In 1993, it was awarded the Sudler Silver Scroll by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. The prestigious honor is bestowed upon community bands that demonstrate excellence and play a leading role in their area's cultural and musical scene.

This kind of positive feedback is precisely why the musicians practice, rehearse and perform. On to 100!

Robert (Bob) Stoll is a retired music educator who taught for 34 years in Massachusetts. He received his Bachelor of Music from New England Conservatory of Music. While teaching, he was personnel manager and played in the Metropolitan Wind Symphony and also the New England Brass Band. He joined the Suncoast Concert Band and Jazz Ambassadors in 2005 and became music director in 2010.


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