Thousands of people see him every summer, the energetic, mustachioed front man of the Auburn Community Band.
Milt Simon is in his 29th year conducting the band that he founded from a mix of his music students’ parents and townspeople who hadn’t played in decades.
Simon, a Massachusetts native who moved to Maine to take his first teaching job at Auburn Middle School in 1975, said that looking back, there were only two years he wondered if it could last. He doesn’t remember why he had his doubts, but he can tell by reading between the lines in his own scrapbooks of band memories. The third and fourth year hit a scrapbook low. In 1986, it rebounded.
The band’s grown from a repertoire of 12 songs to 100-plus, from about 25 members to 47.
“Very few people in life ever get to experience what it is to be the best,” Simon said.
He strives toward that.
“I like the way Milt conducts; he’s a perfectionist,” said Louise Theberge, a clarinetist who’s been with the band 28 years.
“He points out to us that we don’t want to sound like the typical community band, that’s why we practice so hard,” said Sonny Begin, a trombone player who joined the year after Theberge. “That’s why we’re sounding better. We’re playing music we never thought we’d see.”
Simon himself plays trumpet but not with the band.
“I’m getting enough attention as the conductor. I don’t want this to be about me,” he said.
He left teaching in the early 1980s and embarked on a motivational speaking career a few years after. That took lots of traveling, Simon said, and planning around the band’s practice schedule. Today he’s the sales and marketing manager for Heutz Oil and a lieutenant in the Durham volunteer firefighter department.
The band’s 11-week summer season kicks off June 16 in Festival Plaza. The free concerts routinely draw 300 to 400 people. Simon’s wife, Susan, is always down front.
Practice and performances take up 50 weeks a year. Even though he’s started to make contingency plans for the next conductor, he’s not planning an exit just yet.
“I don’t know what Wednesday nights would be like,” he said.
Simon has a routine for every show. The band warms up at 6:30 p.m. He walks around and tunes each instrument. At 7 p.m., they open with the national anthem. At 8:15 p.m., they close with “God Bless America.” After everything’s picked up, he reflects for a few minutes on the night’s performance in the quiet. Then, it’s back home.
“I always go home and have ice cream,” Simon said. “I feel I’ve earned it.”
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Milt Simon conducts the Auburn Community Band at Festival Plaza in 2006.