Longtime director of Grand Forks Second Wind Band retires
“It’s been fun – and interesting,” said Don Craig, who led the band for 20 years
GRAND FORKS – Twenty years ago, Don Craig walked into Popplers Music and asked for a teaching job.
His timing was fortunate. The owner, Jeff Nelson, had been thinking about starting a band for adults who hadn’t played an instrument since their school days — or ever. He got the idea from the New Horizons International Music Association, based in New York.
“We talked about my experience directing a band in San Antonio,” Craig remembered. “He said, ‘I’ve been waiting for someone like you to show up.’ ”
Nelson gave Craig full creative range to start and direct the band.
“Our local group became the Second Wind Band, and started playing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’” said Ginny Bollman, longtime band member and president.
Some members, when they joined, had “never played a note anywhere,” Craig said. “Some were pretty good.”
Craig is retiring this week after 20 years as the band’s director. The group’s annual holiday concert Monday, Dec. 5, was his last.
“It’s been a lot of fun — and interesting,” Craig said during a rehearsal break recently at Popplers. “We played a lot of music. Most of the time they played up to their level.”
Over the years, Second Wind Band members have played well, he said. “I tell them when they could do better.”
Craig and his wife Melanie moved to Grand Forks in 1998, after he retired from the U.S. Army. In addition to directing the Second Wind Band, he also did some substitute teaching and, for about five years, directed the City Band. (Melanie Brown Craig grew up here, graduated from Red River High School and also served in the Army.)
Craig spent his 24-year military career directing bands. He devoted part of that time to directing a 20-piece “Glenn Miller-type band” that traveled throughout New England, he said. In the wintertime, the band played in schools where he also recruited musicians.
Craig, a clarinetist, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts.
As director of the Second Wind Band, he’s brought many talents, including writing and arranging music; providing a wide variety of music, ranging from fun and easy to difficult classical and contemporary pieces; teaching the nuances of the different genres of music; and planning selections for the concerts, said Bollman, who joined the band in 2004 and two months later was elected president.
“As a leader, Don led us to do our best,” said Bollman, “and planned for us to ‘peak’ at concert time. (He also) instilled a confidence in the players to be comfortable during performance. He believed in the band, and made it fun.”
Craig not only cares about the music, but also the musician, Bollman said.
“As a friend, Don cared about each player, concerned for each (person’s) well being. During the pandemic, he checked on members to see if they were OK, if they needed anything, and offered his help.”
She recalled a time, years ago, when the band needed a bass clarinet, and her husband, Jim, asked Craig to help him find one.
“That Christmas, I had one under the tree,” Bollman said. “It wouldn’t have happened if Don hadn’t helped Jim. His support of everyone has been invaluable.”
Making rehearsals productive and fun
The 24-member band meets Mondays and Thursdays for rehearsals, except in January, June and July.
Craig “ran productive rehearsals, but let the fun banter of the cohesive group happen too,” Bollman said. “He made sure our old lips had breaks and the treats and social time to build friendships within our band family.”
The group takes a break in the middle of the two-hour practice to have snacks, assemble around a long table and chat.
“That’s when all the socializing goes on,” said Glenna Leedahl, a longtime member who plays tenor saxophone. As a result, they’ve become a close-knit group.
The band usually gives about 20 concerts a year for nursing homes, churches, schools, daycare centers, shopping malls and parades. They’ve performed locally and at Northwood, Larimore, Grafton, Mayville, Edinburg, Fargo, Hatton and Stump Lake in North Dakota and East Grand Forks, Warren and Crookston, Minnesota.
Over time, more than 100 players have come from those towns and Petersburg, North Dakota, Bollman said.
The retired players were teachers, principals, nurses, doctors, farmers, engineers, physical therapists, business owners, food service workers, administrative assistants and others, she said. “All have a love of band music and each other.”
The band members are “pretty emotional” about Craig’s retirement, Leedahl said. They appreciate his leadership and enjoy hearing stories about his service in Germany and the background of the pieces they play.
“He has really given a lot of himself to the Second Wind Band,” she said. “We’re going to really miss him.”