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Passionate musicians lead revival of the East Troy Community Band

Douglas Stewart
The author is a frequent contributor to The Week and lives in Elkhorn.

(Published July 5, 2007, 2:02 p.m.)

Pete Roth picked up a horn at the age of 11 and, for all practical purposes, never put it down. These days he plays first chair trumpet with the East Troy Community Band, which is alive and thriving with the likes of Roth and the growing number of other local musicians.

Their next performance is Thursday, July 12, on the square in East Troy.

The band has come a long way since 2002, when the original East Troy Band was nearly lost to memory.

That's when Jay and Heidi Huenink decided to bring it back.

In the past five years, the band has gone from 27 members to over 45.

In those first few years, players had to be recruited.

Jay Huenink had done his student teaching at Cudahy High School, where Pete Roth was teaching at the time.

He called Roth and asked him to join the band. "They've come a long way and have improved," Roth said. He smiled, as he does a lot, and said, "In the beginning it was pretty rough." In fact, today eight of Roth's former students are members of the band.

Pete Roth was born on Dec. 31, 1945 into the third generation of a very musical family. His grandfather played a variety of musical instruments. "In those days," Roth said, "you didn't make a living playing music." His grandfather owned a grocery store and finally went to work in a machine shop to support his family.

Roth's dad was another matter. He was a master of stringed instruments and played them all. He quit school and joined Eddie Howard's Band.

 

Howard led a popular band from the early '30s into the '50s. "Dad played mostly string bass with Howard and was on the road for 11 years." When Pete was born, his dad was on the bandstand with Howard at the legendary Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. "They interrupted the show and announced, 'The bass player just had a baby boy!'"

Pete Roth's mother was another member of the company. She taught dance at the Aragon, and it all came together.

"As an infant and toddler, I went with the band. I slept in dresser drawers and baskets." But having a family changed their way of life. "I went from being on the road with my dad to living in a musical household," he said. At the age of 11, "Dad grasped both my hands in his. 'You are going to take trumpet lessons now,'" he said. And the trumpet is was, and remains his first love.

When Roth entered college at UW-Whitewater, he'd been playing for nearly 10 years. "Whitewater was amazing; I got to study under Charlie Schluter who was the principle trumpet player with the Milwaukee Symphony at the time. I learned a lot from Charlie, irascible as he was."

He received his teaching degree from Whitewater-in music, of course. He taught for a couple of years in Sheboygan Falls, Wis. and then moved back to Cudahy High School where he remained for 35 years.

Bands and more bands

Besides the East Troy Community Band, Roth plays with a Latin band. "We don't have a name yet, although we do have a CD," he grinned. "It's modeled on Ricky Ricardo's Cuban band from I Love Lucy. And the July 4th, they played at Humboldt park in Milwaukee.

And then there is the Jolly Boys Brass Choir. "Chuck Kullberg, who owns Kullberg Jewelry in Elkhorn, spearheads the group. We do the Elkhorn Christmas Parade every year on a float," Roth said. And each Christmas Eve, they rent a bus and crash private parties, bars, restaurants, resorts and even nursing homes in Lake Geneva, Fontana and Elkhorn.

"It's become a rich tradition. We've been doing this for 25 years and people will call Chuck Kullberg to be sure we'll stop by." The band is made up of musicians from all walks of life. "We have doctors, lawyers, DAs, insurance guys, you name it."

Two years ago, his wife died of leukemia. After she was hospitalized, he spent months traveling from their home in Mukwonago to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. to see his wife, and to Oak Creek to "consult." "It was the kids that pulled me through it-they were fantastic."

He has two kids, Peter Daniel and Heather. Peter lives in southern California where he is an electrical engineer and a very successful salesman. Peter Daniel Roth is also a trumpet player and plays with a couple of rehearsal bands. "Heather is the hippie of the family. She lives in Lafarge, Wis. and she and her husband are trying to go off the grid. These two kids are polar opposites." Heather plays the flute; she and Peter Daniel are the fourth generation of musical Roths.

And for 50 years, through the good and the bad, Pete Roth's always had his horn. "I never even thought of leaving music," he said, "It doesn't make any difference what generation you're from, what color or nationality; when the music gets you, you're hooked."

Pete Roth will be playing with the East Troy Community Band, in his usual first chair, on July 12 on the square in East Troy's center. The concerts are free and a band plays every Thursday evening. The East Troy Community Band plays every other Thursday, with guest bands alternating with them. Most folks bring their own chairs. Drop in-you'll enjoy it and you'll get to see a master at work.

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