Como Pops back again for summer run

By Janet Wight

The Como Pops, a local band of professional musicians, has been delighting concertgoers of all ages at the Como Lakeside Pavilion for 70 years.

And the musical ensemble is back for another series of summer concerts.

The group’s June 11 concert will feature music representing diverse customs and traditions including ragtime, Spanish music and Juneteenth-themed selections.

Como Pops concerts focus on music that appeals to seniors. Programs include a variety of genres including show tunes, Dixieland jazz and “a lot of good old patriotic stuff,” according to longtime Pops band director Jim ten Bensel. Sing alongs, a crowd favorite, are an important component of each concert, he added.

Ten Bensel said he would like to track down Hmong and Somali music too in order to showcase these local cultures at a future concert. The Bugle recently spoke with Jim to learn more about the ensemble and its upcoming concerts.

Prior to Jim’s tenure as director, Max Metzger led this cherished institution from 1953 to 2005. Jim explained that Max wanted him to become the next director given his musical conducting experience and strong support from band members. .

Before assuming this role in 2007, Jim was a euphonium player in the band for 25 years. He also plays trombone and viola.

Currently, the ensemble is strictly a concert band with only woodwinds, brass and percussion. Previously, the group included strings as well.

Most of the band members are rather elderly, Jim said, and they have even had musicians in their 90s!

“We are a professional group, some of the finest of the professional players,” Jim said.

All Como Pops musicians are members of the Twin Cities Musicians Union. Originally, St. Paul members were part of Local 30, while Minneapolis members were in Local 73. The two have now merged to create Local 30-73.

Jim has built a community of musicians during his stint as director. If a position needs to be filled , Jim simply asks current members for recommendations.

Meanwhile, the ensemble’s rehearsals are 45 minutes prior to each concert. Band members have the opportunity to pick up the music a few days in advance, so during rehearsals they primarily review new pieces. All of the musicians are highly experienced, so they are able to heavily rely on sight-reading.

Earlier in his career, Jim was a professional musician and music educator. He is still busy as a freelance player and is active in the Minnesota State Band, the Golden Valley Orchestra and the St. Anthony Civic Orchestra.

Jim said conducting the Pops ensemble helps keep his skills sharp, he explained.

Meanwhile, Eileen McLaughlin, Jim’s wife, creates the printed programs and assists with the concerts.

Additional summer concerts

In addition to the June concert, the Como Pops are scheduled to play at the Como Lakeside Pavilion on July 4 and August 13. All concerts begin at 3 pm with free admission.

Donations are appreciated and accepted at any of the concerts. Checks payable to Springboard for the Arts (with Como Pops written on the memo line) may be mailed to Como Pops, c/o Jim ten Bensel, 3428 St. Paul Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55416. Or, donations may be made online at springboardforthearts.org. 

Janet Wight, a resident of Como Park where she lives with her husband and daughters, is a regular freelance writer for the Bugle.

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