The California Community Ensemble has been a fixture in the community for 15 years now but may see its budding history in jeopardy unless the group can find a new director in time for its upcoming season.
The group, led by former director Phil Lewis for 13 years, has seen a revolving cast take up the mantle since Lewis relinquished his role in 2017. Former director Chris Small took over for Lewis but would end up quickly relocating last year — the team of Joe Odneal, of Prairie Home, and Amanda Allen, the director of the Jefferson City Community Band, helped to finish out the year. They, too, stepped away at the end of 2019.
Since then, the group hasn't been able to find someone to fill the role for the 2020 season.
"We don't have a date when we're going to start (practicing) yet," ensemble member David Jungmeyer, a tenor saxophone player, said. "And if we don't find somebody, we may not start."
At the moment, the group's continuation is up in the air. Members are rallying now to help ensure it isn't a question.
The ensemble, now sitting at around 12 members, has featured instrumentalists from middle school age to their mid-80s throughout its history, hailing from backgrounds ranging from farmers to doctors. Some members, past and present, may never have even picked up the instrument they play in the group.
Others still may not have played their instrument in decades, like alto saxophone player Paul Jungmeyer, who hadn't touched a saxophone in 50 years, or trumpet player David Garnett, who laid aside his trumpet after last playing in the Second Armed Division Band from 1969-71 during his Army service and picked it back up in 2011. Trombone and sousaphone player Don Jungmeyer also put his instrument down following his military service before picking it back up years down the line. The Community Ensemble provides members with the chance to return to something they enjoy.
The group plays a number of venues from year to year: at nursing homes during the Christmas season, concerts at the Finke Theatre, area church services and has even appeared at the Ozark Ham & Turkey Festival. During the season, the group practices every Thursday at the Finke, or at an area church — usually one of St. Paul's Lutheran Church or the California United Church of Christ — if the Finke is unavailable.
Members of the group said what they're looking for in a director is pretty simple: "Someone who loves music and loves a community environment," Garnett said.
But even if a director were in the fold, the group still has another need: more members. Some sections are rather sparse, David Jungmeyer said. The trombone section is down to one, and the clarinets and flutes are in need of reinforcements. The group no longer counts a French horn among its ranks, nor a bassoonist.
"There's people out there, I know, that if they just picked up their instrument (could play)," David Jungmeyer said.
Those who may be interested in directing or joining the group as an instrumentalist can contact David Jungmeyer at 573-659-1124.