Gordon Troxel of Minot can hardly believe his luck in getting to direct both Minot's community brass band and barbershop vocal group.
Having had a full career as a businessman, music teacher, farmer and crop sprayer, Troxel, 76, often amazes at the opportunities that continue to come his way. He amazes that Minot's musical community entrusts the direction of its band and men's chorus to a farm boy from Berthold like himself.
"I do enjoy directing. It's a lot of work sometimes, but I am so lucky," he said. "I don't think there's a morning that goes by I don't think, 'I am really lucky.' "
Jill Schramm/MDN • Gordon Troxel directs the brass band through a piece featuring a trumpet solo by Pat Schwan.
Troxel will be directing the brass band during its fall concert Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. The concert, featuring guest soloist Justin Goetz from Minot State University on xylophone, will be held in Ann Nicole Nelson Hall.
Troxel has been developing his musical skills and helping others to do the same for many years.
He credits his musical bent to his grandfather, who bought a piano even though, to that point, the family wasn't particularly musically inclined. Troxel's mother, then just a girl, took interest and taught herself to play that piano. It was through listening to her play piano in later years that her children developed a love for music.
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Troxel didn't initially consider a career in music, though. He intended to farm with his father when he graduated from high school. College would have conflicted with harvest.
"But that year and it's the only time it ever happened we finished harvest before college started," Troxel said.
Troxel was walking around Old Main at Minot State University, considering enrolling, when college band director Lawrence Hahn spotted him. Hahn knew Troxel as the high school baritone player who had won music contests. He told Troxel to enroll as a music major and he would be his adviser.
Troxel said he still might have later left college to go back to the farm except that he became involved in a freshman quartet. MSU fostered his interest in vocal music, which he has continued to enjoy as director of the Nodakords barbershop group for about the past 14 years.
After college, Troxel taught in Garrison and Kenmare before joining the Army. Stationed in Washington state, he played in the Army band.
He later taught at Des Lacs, Great Falls, Mont., and at an air base in Alaska before retiring to the farm. He also used the GI program to obtain his commercial pilot's license to do crop spraying, including cotton spraying in Mississippi and Arkansas.
He and his wife, Irene, also a former teacher, opened Nite Train Pizza in Minot 25 years ago. Irene manages the shop, which has been a family affair. The Troxels have seven children, 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
"Without the support of the wife and family, nothing happens. I have great support," Troxel said.
He said that many of life's opportunities just happened. Among them was an offer to come out of retirement to teach music in Rugby. He spent eight years there. He also has taught at an Indian reservation in Montana and in Fessenden while farming on the side.
Troxel still farms a portion of the family farm. It's on the tractor that he comes up with some of his best musical ideas for the brass band and Nodakords.
One of his ideas will be showcased at the band concert. Some members will play water-filled jars on the band's rendition of "Mr. Sandman." Getting the right glass jars and filling them with enough water to create the desired keys is as much a challenge as playing the jars, but Troxel said the band and audience both will have fun with it.
"It has to be challenging and it has to be interesting, but it has to be geared to the audience," he said. "It has to be exciting for the musicians and exciting to the audience."
Band member Anna Marie Shomento said the group was delighted when Troxel stepped into the directorship four years ago because they knew the enthusiasm he had for the band.
"He seems to enjoy it so much," she said. "He's a fine director and he's certainly very, very dedicated. He really works hard in getting us new music and keeping us challenged and making it very interesting for us."
"He has a real passion for music," said band member Curt Kumpf. "He's always been enthusiastic, trying to get the most out of the band and other groups he works with."
He added that working with Troxel is fun for band members because they want to play as well as they can, and Troxel encourages that.
Troxel has been with the brass band since its inception nearly 19 years ago. It's the only brass band in North Dakota or in other states around the region, with the exception of Minnesota, he said.
Troxel played euphonium in the brass band until taking over the directorship.
Directing keeps Troxel from playing in the brass band, but he makes up for it by participating in the city band in the summer and attending the adult summer band camp at the International Peace Garden. He also has played in a euphonium trio.
When not participating in music, Troxel enjoys supporting the other musical groups and arts programs in Minot. Music has introduced him to many people whom he otherwise never would have met, he said. In his mind, Minot is blessed to have a strong arts community.
"We are just really lucky here in Minot," he said.