The idea of a band came about in the spring of 1995 when
, a retired tour bus driver, read an article in Newsweek about the
New Horizons Band
of Rochester, New York. The New Horizons Band was a pilot program underwritten by NAMM (the National Association of Music Merchants) to determine if the concept of a concert band for people fifty years of age or older, who hadn’t played for decades, was feasible. In 1991 NAMM asked
Dr. Roy Ernst
of the Eastman School of Music to head the project. He accepted, and the rest is history. The New Horizons Band got high marks across the board,
as a performing entity, a social group, a learning opportunity, and a perfect way to have fun.
George contacted Dr. Ernst, who suggested that a band be started in Santa Barbara. George knew immediately who should lead the new band:
Van, his son's former music teacher, had been a long-time teacher at La Colina Junior High School and was recently retired. When presented with the idea, Van was very interested. At his recommendation they contacted
Nick Rail, of Nick Rail Music, who agreed to become the band sponsor. The three of them met bi-weekly for three months, planning and strategizing, putting everything in place to help guarantee a perfect launch.
They chose to name the group the Prime Time Band.
Nick Rail Music underwrote the startup costs of the band and Van’s wife Lorraine served as Band Manager throughout Van’s tenure as conductor.
Together they began the job of organizing and getting the word out to the community.
Nick feels that Van's participation in the formation of the Prime Time
Band was critical to success.
"Van is more responsible by far than anyone else for our having Prime Time."
"Yes, George Pendergast posed the idea to Van after reading about it in a magazine, but I think sooner or later someone else would have done it for him."
"I was well aware of the concept but hadn’t stepped up to the plate on my own; I got involved when I was contacted by George and Van.
While it’s true that this type of band gets off the ground better and faster with the help of a local music store, it could have happened without Nick Rail Music."
"Van is the reason we’re here today; not George; not me".
The band first met during August, 1995. Thirty-three
people showed up at the first rehearsal. Of these, about one-half had never
played an instrument before. Other players were resuming after a hiatus of thirty
to fifty years or more. Others chose this as an opportunity to learn to play
a new instrument - one they had always wanted to play.
The first Winter Concert, now an annual event, was held in December,
1995, in the auditorium at La Colina Junior High School. This was
a real switch! The "kids" and grandkids were coming to hear and support
their parents and grandparents. There were about fifty participants playing in
the first concert.
Van retired from his position as Executive Director of the Prime Time Band organization and conductor of the Prime Time Band at the end of 2004.
The band honored him with a retirement dinner
and at his final concert conducting the Prime Time Band.
For a more thorough discussion of the band's history, click