Volunteer Programs

Concert Band

Cleveland Clinic Concert Band


History of the Cleveland Clinic Concert Band

For the greater part of the 90-plus years that have elapsed since the Cleveland Clinic opened its doors in 1921, the institution has provided a home for many musical groups. From the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Orchestra in the 1920s to the current Cleveland Clinic Concert Band in the early 21st Century, the desire to make music has flourished among the physician staff, the nurses, the other employees, and most recently the volunteers, of the organization, resulting in a congeries of ensembles, large and small, playing music of almost every type of music imaginable, for the enjoyment and benefit of players and audiences alike.

The Cleveland Clinic Orchestra, 1927, Courtesy of Cleveland Clinic Archives The Cleveland Clinic Orchestra, 1927, Courtesy of Cleveland Clinic Archives

Perhaps the first such group was the Cleveland Clinic Orchestra, shown in the above photograph taken in 1927. This ensemble included 17 performers—all women. The orchestra’s first and as far as we can tell, only performance took place on April 20, 1927, in the Laurel School gymnasium. Ironically, this facility was located in the exact same location as the practice site of the Cleveland Clinic Concert Band, founded some 74 years later, although the original building had been largely replaced by then, and even that building, the Chester Conference Center, is now gone, having been demolished to make room for a parking lot.

Program Cover, Cleveland Clinic Sixth Annual Meeting, courtesy of Cleveland Clinic Archives Program Cover, Cleveland Clinic Sixth Annual Meeting, courtesy of Cleveland Clinic Archives

The occasion was the Sixth Annual Cleveland Clinic Dinner, at which the Cleveland Clinic Opera Company staged an original production called The Chiropirates, a play in 2 acts, with music provided by the orchestra. The program cover, shown above, was designed by William Brownlow, the talented head of the Clinic's medical illustration department, who was among those who died in the Clinic Disaster two years later. Amy Rowland, George W. Crile’s multidimensional assistant, was the conductor. Rowland was also the author of the Cleveland Clinic’s first history, published in 1938, but there is no mention of the orchestra in that book. No notices of further rehearsals or performances survive. In fact, aside from the single photo and the mention in the above program, there is no physical evidence that the group ever existed.

The Arrhythmias, 1966 Academy of Medicine Chrysanthemum Ball The Arrhythmias, 1966 Academy of Medicine Chrysanthemum Ball

A later ensemble, aptly named the Arrhythmias, was a dance band in the tradition of Glenn Miller and the other big bands of the 1930s and 1940s. This ensemble performed, mainly at Clinic functions, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including some memorable nurses' parties at the Bolton Square Hotel, by then being used as a nurses' residence. The band was founded by radiologist Thomas Meaney, who played the drums. The photo above shows the Arrhythmias in a 1966 performance at the Academy of Medicine's annual Chrysanthemum Ball. Among the other staff physicians playing with the group at that time were pediatrician Derek Lonsdale (piano), pulmonologist Bob Biddlestone (string bass), urologist Ralph Straffon (tenor sax), cardiologist Dick Westcott (trombone), general surgeon Bob Hermann (trumpet), hospital administrator Jim Harding (trumpet), and several residents. Harding was not a physician but he had performed as a professional musician with the Horace Heidt Orchestra and was one of the best players in the group. Several of the physicians shown in this picture (including Meaney, Straffon, Biddlestone, and Westcott) have passed away, but a few recordings remain.

Several rock bands, two of them called DNR and Skin and Bones succeeded the Arrhythmias, and we will have more information about these groups later.


The latest musical group, the subject of this web site, is the Cleveland Clinic Concert Band. The CCCB was formed in April 2001 to perform at the tenth annual Volunteers Recognition Event. The band's distinctive "C-C-C-B" logo, shown above, was designed by Rob Porter of the Cleveland Clinic's marketing department. One of the central features of the tenth anniversary event was to be a performance of a new march entitled The Ambassadors, composed by Dr. John Clough, in honor of the founders of the Ambassadors volunteer program. The original plan was to have the premier performance of the piece by the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony under the direction of Dr. Gary Ciepluch, head of the band program at Case Western Reserve University, but the scheduling of the event did not permit this, being after the end of the academic year by a few weeks. The alternative approach, suggested by Caryl Richards, an advanced practice nurse with a strong interest in music, was to form a new band, made up of employees of the Cleveland Clinic, to rehearse and perform the piece. The volunteer membership of the band was assembled from about 300 responders to an all-points e-mail resulting in a band consisting of 50 members. The first public performance of the piece was conducted by Dr. Louis Alan Zagar of The Cleveland Music School Settlement on May 24, 2001.

Although the original intent was to disband the group after the single performance, there was interest among the band members in continuing to rehearse and to perform for other events at the Cleveand Clinic. Dr. Zagar was enthusiastic about the group, and with a membership of about 40 musicians, the band remained active. In 2002, the band gave several performances including a memorable one on September 11 in recognition of the bravery and dedication of the police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel, some from Cleveland, who saved many lives in New York and Washington following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon one year previously. Several thousand spectators participated in this observance on the main campus of the Cleveland Clinic. Another important event in 2002 was the Pyramid Society 10th anniversary meeting at which a $100-million donation from Al and Norma Lerner to support the new College of Medicine was announced and the band performed. The picture below was taken in the mall at Cleveland Clinic during the World Trade Center Commemorative Concert.

Cleveland Clinic Concert Band, September 11, 2002Cleveland Clinic Concert Band, September 11, 2002

Noted composer and director Dan Rager then assumed the band's leadership role after Dr. Zagar moved out of the Cleveland area. Rager brought greater musical discipline to the group and a more challenging repertoire as well. A portion of this new repertoire consisted of compositions by Rager himself. Under his leadership, the band began to engage in joint performances with other bands in the area and to perform in venues outside of the Cleveland Clinic. Small ensembles derived from the band also formed, including a saxophone quartet, a tuba quartet, and a brass quintet. Rager eventually also left the area to accept a faculty position at University of Wisconsin. The high point of Rager's tenure with the band occurred in 2006 when the group performed at the Blossom Music Center, the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra. This performance was recorded, and a sample can be played by clicking on the controller below.

The Liberty Bell, Sousa, Blossom Music Center 7/2/2006

In 2008, accomplished composer and conductor Roy Hawthorne joined the band as its new leader, and he remains in this post to this day. Early in Hawthorne's tenure, the band played for the dedication of the Clinic's new Arnold and Sydell Miller Pavillion, which doubled the organization's usable clinical space on the Clinic's main campus. Over the years, the band has been a regular and highly anticipated participant in volunteer recognition events, the annual heart transplant dinner, an annual Independence Day concert at the Cleveland Public Library, and many concerts at area nursing homes. In 2011 the band averaged one concert each month. The picture below was taken on June 30, 2012, at the Cleveland Public Library during the annual Independence Day Concert.

Independence Day Concert, Cleveland Clinic Concert Band at the Cleveland Public LibraryIndependence Day Concert, Cleveland Clinic Concert Band at the Cleveland Public Library

--John Clough

(Updated 9/6/2012)