Greenwood Community Band returns from trip to Netherlands

With its soaring high arches and massive glass windows stretching to the ceiling, the NedPhO-Koepel is a fitting home to one of Europe’s great orchestras.

The concert hall in Amsterdam is where the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra rehearses. World-class performers have perfected selections by Brahms and Bruckner, Strauss and Wagner within its modernistic walls.

But for one night, it was home to a collection of Johnson County’s finest musicians.

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In what could be the start of a cross-continental musical exchange, the Greater Greenwood Community Band spent a week in the Netherlands performing with Dutch bands and experiencing the art, food and culture of one of Europe’s most beautiful countries.

Organizers hope that the trip not only proved an exciting experience for members, but also to further strengthen the band’s connection with other community-based musicians, and potentially have them visit Indiana one day.

“We considered ourselves to be ambassadors of our community. Any time you leave your community and take your name with you, you’re representing them, and I think we represented Greenwood well,” said Ora Pemberton, associate director of the band.

The trip had been in the planning for years, inspired by Mirjam Vermeulen and her son, Rutger, two members of the band. The Vermeulen family used to live in Netherlands before moving to the Center Grove area.

They had suggested to band leadership that a trip to Europe could be worthwhile. Band director Thom Dirks and Pemberton agreed that it would be a unique opportunity for the band.

The group had traveled to small festivals throughout Indiana, but this would be its first major touring excursion.

“This is something that community bands just don’t get the chance to do,” Dirks said. “A group grows so tight together and becomes such a compatible organization on trips like this. They learn so much.”

More than 70 people ended up signing up for the tour, including some from bands in Zionsville and the northside of Indianapolis. On June 5, the group departed from Indianapolis on two flights.

“The great thing was, there were 72 adults who had not traveled all that much, and no one was complaining,” Dirks said.

During the week in the Netherlands, the Greenwood band scheduled three concerts, each in a unique venue.

The performance at the NedPhO-Koepel was more polished and formal. In addition to the show in Amsterdam, members also performed in Vermeulen’s hometown of Monnickerdam. They were able to play in the massive Katholieke Kerk Nicolaas en Anthonius, a 19th century church.

“It was in a medieval-type town, so we didn’t have access to bring a bus in. Everyone had to walk and carry stuff to the church,” said Connie Dirks, Thom Dirks’ wife.

In its final European performance, the band played in a pastoral outdoor stage in the village of Ilpendam. The setting was similar to what they are used to during shows at the Greenwood Amphitheater.

A youth band warmed up the crowd, then Ilpendam’s own community band took the stage, followed by the Greenwood group.

“At each place, you had a chance to meet and talk with people. Our band got to talk with people who played their instrument in another band, which was nice,” Connie Dirks said.

Though the trip was built around the concerts, it also served as a sight-seeing excursion.

The group toured the Netherland’s iconic windmills, learning about the engineering and mechanisms that help pump water from the low-lying land back behind the protective dikes.

At museums such as the Rijksmuseum, they could marvel at priceless paintings by masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. They traveled by boat along Amsterdam’s complex network of canals and out into the North Sea.

The Netherlands is a leading exporter of flowers, a majority of which are tulips grown in huge color-coded fields throughout the countryside. Those flowers are harvested, frozen and then shipped all over the world each morning.

As part of the tour, the band was able to visit the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, the largest center of plant and flower trading in the world. Conducted in a 1-mile square structure, armies of workers move the flowers as they are sold and prepared to be shipped.

“The flowers are sold in lots. Once the price is set, they have 90 minutes to get that entire shipment of flowers on a truck or on a plane,” Connie Dirks said. “There were so many people working on that floor, and so many carts going so many different directions, it was amazing that they could keep up with it.”

The group returned to Indiana on June 12, invigorated by the travel and ready to use what they’d learned from their counterpart Dutch bands in their own performances.

And already, members are asking Thom Dirks when they would take another similar trip.

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Greater Greenwood Community Band concert

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: MacAllister Amphitheater, Garfield Park, 2432 Conservatory Dr., Indianapolis

Cost: Free