The jazzy sound of big band music is still alive and well with the help of Twilight Memories Big Band. The group is an 18-piece community band ensuring the continuum of the big band era in the tri-county area. The group also features the singing of Shelley Sysum. Twilight Memories has performed at the Martin Hansen Amphitheater in Eaton Rapids, the Eaton Area Senior Center and multiple other senior centers, the Mason Summer Concert Series, in Corunna for a D-Day Celebration, and many more locations in the area.
The Big Band sound originated around 1910 in the United States and the sound dominated jazz in the early 1940s when “swing” was most popular. Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman exemplified the genre and were some of the most popular bands of that era.
Twilight Memories was established in 2000 by the late Hal Dobrowa, who performed in big bands when he was young. Dobrowa decided to start his own band. Randall Roost walked into the Waverly High School in 2000 and saw a sign advertising “Big Band Practice” and had to check it out. He turned out to be the only one who showed up for the practice, though. Roost helped recruit other members and after a few years they had enough people to sound like a band, he stated. In 2006 Roost took over the band when Dobrowa moved away.
“I had no training, and never had a music lesson, but I had a passion for this music,” Roost explained. His father, a musician, taught him how to play the trombone. Their practices were more like social gatherings, Roost said, a group of friends making great music together.
“We’ve had a number of very talented musicians over the years, but we also include novice musicians in the group,” Roost said.
The rule for the band, Roost explained, is that they operate as a community band and don’t charge for performances, although they accept donations to help cover some of their expenses. None of the band members are paid and all donate their time to help other groups in fund-raising efforts.
“It’s just a great group of friends who love to play this style of music,” Roost said. “Most stay in the band for a long time and only leave when God takes them upstairs.”
“We’re laid back and casual, which is why we are so successful at keeping people in the group,” Roost added. “As long as we can find musicians to play, we will keep going.”
“It’s hard to find younger musicians who want to play,” Roost said. “We have a wide range of ages in the band, from 45 to about 82.”
“Vocalist Shelley Sysum is an excellent asset to the band,” Roost said. “She has a wonderful voice and great stage presence, and we are blessed to have her.” Vickie St. John has also been a vocalist in the past for the band. “It’s much different singing with a live band than with something recorded or with karaoke,” Roost said. “These women have a specialized skill set to do what they do and do it so well.”
The band practices each week on Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. For many years they have practiced at St. David’s Church in Lansing, but that option that is not currently available due to COVID-19. Pandemic rehearsals have happened in driveways and basements, with proper precautions taken to protect band members.
Twilight Memories is not limited to just the big band type of music. They also do other styles, like polka, country and western, Patsy Cline, and Kathy Mattea music. With an extensive library of music, they can match up music for the type of event they are performing for. During Eaton Rapids Air events in the past, they have performed music from the Wizard of Oz and also 1950’s favorites.
Contact Twilight Memories Big Band by emailing email@example.com or Randall.Roost@gmail.com, or through Facebook @twilightmemoriesbigband.