Los Alamos Big Band. Courtesy photo
So what can you do in Los Alamos once Christmas is over? Why not bring a friend to a Big Band dance?
Monday, Dec. 29, is the annual Big Band after Christmas Dance in Los Alamos. The dance is open to the public and will be 7:30-10:30 p.m., at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish Hall, 3700 Canyon Road. Proceeds from the dance will be used to help the IHM youth group.
Music will feature the Los Alamos Big Band and for this dance the featured vocalist will be Rene LeClair. The Los Alamos Big Band has been playing at dances throughout Northern New Mexico since 1984 under the direction of Jan McDonald, who for many years was the bandleader at Los Alamos High School. The band features the danceable music of the Big Band Era such as “In The Mood”, “String of Pearls”, “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Moonlight Serenade.” They also play other danceable music such as “Moon River,” Latin numbers like “Besame Mucho,” and even “Rock Around the Clock.” Several new Christmas tunes will be featured at this dance.
The IHM venue provides a large dance floor and good acoustics. Decorations and refreshments will be provided by the IHM Youth Group.
The Big Band started in 1984 when Dick Souder retired from Chrysler in Michigan and started working at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Souder headed a Big Band in the Detroit area called “The Executives.” His only regret about coming to the Land of Enchantment was that he missed his Big Band. Skeptics said a semi-professional Big Band could not survive in a small town like Los Alamos, but Souder teamed with Jan McDonald and later Ralph Bennorth to organize the band and start playing at dances throughout Northern New Mexico.
Each year the band gives the “Souder-Bennorth Memorial Scholarship” in memory of Dick and Ralph to a worthy high school student from Los Alamos or Espanola. Many of these students have gone on to become professional musicians.
Although half the band members work in Los Alamos, others come from Santa Fe and the Valley. Many band members have music degrees. Others have technical degrees including several PhDs and LANL managers. The band also has a physician (Mike Wagner, trumpet), a retired attorney (Gerald Becker, saxophone), several retirees, and music teachers. The band has always had a drum, bass, piano, four trumpets, four trombones, and five saxophones who also double on clarinet for the full Big Band sound.
Throughout the years the band has played for numerous dances, county festivals, weddings, LANL events, conventions, and even two funerals. One of the more memorable weddings was in Mora, New Mexico, where the bride and groom rode off to the wedding cottage on horseback to the sound of the band. Other gigs have been from Farmington to Taos to Belen with many gigs in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. But most gigs have been in Los Alamos.
Admission is free, though contributions to the IHM youth group are greatly appreciated.
Information on the band (upcoming gigs, photos, etc) can be found here and on Facebook – just search for “Los Alamos Big Band.”
For further information or to receive e-mail notices of upcoming dances, contact John Hendricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.