GREENVILLE — Seated among his musical peers in the gazebo at Tower Riverside Park, Bob Hansen could be spotted at this year’s Danish Festival doing what he’s loved for more than 80 years — making music.
Bob, 89, was performing as a member of the Danish Festival Band at the annual concert played along the Flat River on Aug. 18, gracefully moving the three valves of his large baritone while blowing note after note through the instrument.
“I enjoy playing,” said Bob, whose long history of bringing forth music and performance in the Greenville community goes unparalleled. “That’s the thing with music. If you get so good at it that it’s not work, that’s where the fun starts.”
When he co-founded the Danish Festival Band 50 years ago in the summer of 1972 with the late Les Morford, Bob could be spotted as one of the premier performers, using his talents to play the trumpet in what was a small ensemble at the time.
As the years passed and the band grew, with members coming and going throughout the decades, there was one man who stood the test of time and performed for all 50 years. Be it on trumpet in his earlier days or on the baritone later in adulthood, Bob has relished the opportunity to continue making music with his peers and friends each and every year.
“I fell in love with that baritone part in this band so I’ll probably continue to do it until they kick me out,” he said with a laugh. “Some of the marches, they really feature baritones in the arrangements. They kind of play favorite to the baritone section with that tenor melody.”
Bob’s passion for music didn’t start with the forming of the Danish Festival Band. In fact, his attraction to the fine arts serves as one one of his earliest memories.
“I think back to when my dad was a pretty darn good musician, better than I was,” he said. “He had kind of a vocal background and was the drummer. He played in the Silver Theater when he was 12 years old for silent movies.”
Upon having children, Bob said his father, Eldon Hansen, didn’t want any drummers in the family, knowing how significant a commitment and involved of an instrument that would be. But still wanting his children to understand the importance of music, Eldon traded his own drum set in for a piano.
“I started taking piano lessons at 6 or 7 years old,” Bob said.
That initial experience of learning to play piano led to Bob wanting to play an instrument in the sixth grade band under the direction of Art Gorman at Greenville Middle School. However, upon taking the initial test to determine what instrument he would play, Bob was disappointed to find that he did not score high enough to make the band — with only 25 or so instruments provided by the school, he didn’t make the cut.
“My dad said, ‘let’s go down to the music store and purchase an instrument.’ So we purchased a trumpet and I got in the band that way,” Bob recalled.
Through middle and high school, Bob continued to play while enjoying his experience thoroughly.
“I think kids in band learn to work with a group and you have a certain part in that group,” he said. “The composer of that music, if he wrote a part, it must have been important for him or they wouldn’t have put it in the arrangement. So you learn to discipline yourself, to figure out where that part fits in the music. I’ve always loved that, knowing that, when I play.”
Performing in those bands turned out to be an experience that would shape the rest of his life, leaving Bob to appreciate band and choir programs all the more.
“Those programs, they keep a lot of kids in school,” he said. “Some of them probably wouldn’t stay if there weren’t programs like the arts, athletics, music and choir.”
Bob would spend a lifetime making a great influence on the local music scene, taking over his father’s store, Hansen’s Music House, in 1959, which provided parts, offered lessons and rented out instruments to area children for more than 60 years from 1948 to 2011.
“Running a music store, I didn’t have anything anybody had to have and it’s kind of hard to make a living — you have to look at it as a hobby, music,” he said. “If you can break even in it, you’re one of the lucky ones, and we were lucky enough to do that for many years.”
Music in the Hansen family would continue on through generations, with his son, Chris Hansen, being a professional arranger and leader of the band “Hark Up!” and several grandchildren involved in the fine arts, be it performing or teaching music.
Bob said introducing music to his son nearly mirrored his own experience.
“Chris, when he was a sixth grader, I said ‘you are going to start band,’ but he said ‘no,’” Bob recalled with a smile. “He said he wanted to be in choir.”
Per scheduling conflicts, Greenville Middle School couldn’t provide an opportunity for a student to take both band and choir.
“I said, ‘you’ve got to do me a favor, take band for three months,’” Bob recalled. “’If you hate it, let me know.’”
As it would turn out, the Hansens would find a way to fit both choir and band into Chris’ life. Bob’s wife, Ruth, ensured that would happen.
“This boy is going to do something in music,” Ruth recalled saying to the middle school principal. “We would like to have choir and band if possible.”
“They finally broke down,” Bob added. “They took it off the computer schedule and penciled him in. They finally broke down after my wife pestered them for several days. It was the best thing that ever happened.”
As Bob had assumed, Chris didn’t hate performing in band, but rather, took an immediate liking to it.
“He said, ‘OK, I’ll do it as a favor,’ and you know what? He was first-chair trumpet every time,” Bob said. “At midnight, we’d go upstairs and we’d have to tell him, ‘put that damn trumpet in the case’ because he wouldn’t put it away. Now today, he’s arranging music and that’s how he makes his living now.”
With music having been such an important part of his life, Bob along with the many members of the Hansen family, see themselves continuing to enjoy it as long as they are able.
“I just don’t have the chops for the trumpet anymore, but with the baritone, using a larger mouthpiece, it’s easier,” Bob said.
“It was work to me, to try and sit down at an adult age with the baritone and try and learn the fingerings for bass clef, but it was worth it. I remember how much fun it was to play music at things like family reunions when I was a kid and I have just as much fun today playing in the Danish Festival Band.”