Friday, March 7, 2014

Allan Minkkinen, and the Triumphant Return of Elementary Bands to Andover

When I started in Andover in 2001, I was one of three full time band directors, including Mr. Allan Minkkinen, who had been in Andover at that point for over 30 years.  Allan wrote dozens of cool arrangements, found ways to highlight particularly motivated students, and became a legend in this town.  He and I shared a passion for Civil War history, and enjoyed many discussions about the politics and the tactics surrounding the war.  He also had a very impressive collection of firearms, from antique military to modern sport.  I always imagined that if we were ever invaded by a foreign power, Allan would have possessed the training and equipment to single-handedly defend Ballardvale for a very long time.

Due to significant budget cuts in the Spring of 2002, two of our band positions were cut, among several others.  Allan took over the middle school choruses and kept up a lunchtime elementary band in each building, while I went from two to three middle schools, and added the high school chorus to my schedule.  Allan taught this schedule for one year before retiring in the spring of 2003.

Little changed with the band program until even the lunchtime band, our last foothold in the elementary schools, was done away with in 2009.  This coincided with Allan's failing health and untimely death.  I mentioned his passing at the Peace Concert that year, and dedicated a piece to him, but that's all I could muster in way of a public tribute.  It seemed disingenuous to do more than that where in his final years he had to watch his life's work dwindle down to nothing. I feared it would not be a gesture he really would have appreciated, given the trajectory of the program.

The summer of 2010 brought some new leadership to the Andover schools, and an aspiration to make things whole again.  The only promise made was that it would take a while, and be the result of careful intelligent planning.  The following year brought about a task force that looked into a five-year strategic plan.  That next year, we conducted some research as to how similar districts schedule instrumental music, and made recommendations as to what it would take to make steps in the right direction for Andover.  This past fall, a fine arts coordinator position was restored to the district, as were three full time music positions.

On Tuesday night, for the first time in twelve years, a significant elementary school band will take the Collins Center stage at Andover High School.  The last time this happened, in March of 2002, the band was directed by Allan Minkkinen.  It will be my humble privilege to symbolically resume his hard work in Andover as those seventy five kids play "Montego Bay" and  "Regal March" with what I hope would be the love that Allan would have put into it.  Their performance will be dedicated to his memory.  This is long overdue.


  1. This is a beautiful testament to a beautiful man. My pianoforte was last tuned by Allan nearly a decade ago, shortly after his retirement from the Andover schools. He had to 'tune it to itself' as it was so worn after a lapse of twenty years without tuning. He said it would never play well with other instruments, but would play fine by itself. I told him I thought that was true of many of us. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and harmony is heard only in individual, different tones. Thanks for sharing this, Maestro!

  2. A wonderful story and full of hope for the power of music in children's lives. I was the Fine Arts Director in Waltham for 4 years and had to fight like mad each spring as the adminstration tried to in some way reduce the program in art or music. Congratulations, Andover, for moving ahead in this important area in such difficult times.

  3. Thanks for the memories. I first crossed paths with Allan as a 7th grader at West Jr. High in 1970 (we were both trumpeters) and played some of my first pro gigs with him when I was still at AHS (as a bassist - still actively playing today). He was a great teacher, musician and friend. Nice to know that there are still like-minded people involved in the public school music program in Andover.

  4. It appears to me that Allan's life work lives on... in you, and all the people he touched. And this time, I'm sure the gesture is appreciated. Thank you for all you're doing to bring music and harmony to these children, including mine!