Music Express Enjoying the Ride
Date: June 12, 1998
The Windsor Star
By Ted Shaw
If running a band were as simple as waving a baton, Ernie Gerenda would have been out of the game long ago.
But every day’s a challenge for the 64-year-old director of Music Express, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Music Express is a showband that grew out of the Windsor Community Concert Band and, before that, the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education Band.
This year is the 20th anniversary of its incorporation. Hundreds of musicians, singers and dancers have performed with it.
Currently, the group has 30 full-time musicians and 20 singers, ranging in age from 18 to 64. Its musical repertory covers a broad spectrum of pop, jazz, country and even light classics.
This Saturday, Music Express performs a gospel show at Holy Name of Mary Church, 711 McEwan, to raise funds for church renovations.
Over the years, Music Express has toured internationally, including central Europe last year and a triumphant visit to China in 1992.
“This has been my pet project for more than 20 years,” said Gerenda, who retired in 1994 as arts coordinator for the Windsor Board Of Education.
He has been one of the area’s foremost music educators for nearly four decades, including a stint at Windsor’s Forster Collegiate.
Current and past member of Music Express were his students at Forster. In fact, one former student, Nino Palazzolo, is now a high school music teacher himself (at Leamington’s Cardinal Carter) and Music Express’s vocal director.
“The things I remember most from my teaching days and from the band are the kids I’ve taught,” Gerenda said, “It has been very rewarding.”
Music Express is dubbed “Canada’s Premiere Showband” I promotional material. Keeping it that way demands constant tinkering and attention, said Gerenda.
And it’s costly, Music Express is a non-profit organization relying on corporate and private donations, grants and limited performance income for an annual budget of about $45,000.
Every three for four years, the group organizes a major tour, which can cost up to $100,000.
The band commissions all its own arrangements, as many as three at a time. A seven-minute suite of music adapted from a popular musical, for instance, can cost up to $10,000 and take a year to complete
The group is also now using electronic keyboards and will soon move into computer sequencing, adding another expense.
It’s a tall order for Gerenda and his 50 charges, all volunteers. Most of them have families and work or go to school, but they devote every Tuesday night to rehearsals.
Twenty years ago, Gerenda admits, it was easier to get that commitment from younger performers.
“But these days the kids are looking for jobs. It’s much harder to get them to buy into devoting their time to the group”.
Music Express is in great demand for benefits and fundraising events.
In fact, Gerenda goes so far as to say Music Express has evolved as a community service organization more than a band. Besides Saturday’s show at Holy Name of Mary, the group in booked for a July 1 concert at Leamington’s Dock Restaurant to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Camp Trillium.
This weekend, it’s gospel. In July, Music express will perform Broadway melodies and a tribute to Frank Sinatra.
“We never prepare two concerts the same,” said Gerenda. “It’s expensive, but it allows us to expand our repertory for almost any occasion.”
In recent years, Gerenda and the band have generated funds for international tours.
“That’s the real reward for all the hard work,” he said. “These people deserve it for all the effort they put in.”