The Americus Brass Band is a group of former Long Beach State University musicians who have turned their passion into a lifetime of friendship and well-worn treble clefs. The Civil War gave birth to their sound and in some cases, their instruments as well.
The 30-member group is led by emeritus professor of music Richard Birkemeier, who serves as musical director. Americus Brass Band recreates 19th century American brass bands music, performing on original period instruments. Birkemeier himself plays a coronet made during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.
He said most of the members went on to have professional music careers but slowly returned to Long Beach, drawn by the unique dark mellow sounds of the period instruments.
The band began as a student group in 1976 when Professor Larry Curtis created a brass band that not only performed for Civil War reenactments, but toured internationally with the school’s Wind Symphony.
The ABB, kept active by new members, continued to perform over the years and has since toured nationally, including a recent show at SOKA University in Irvine. It has produced three CDs, appeared in more than a dozen television shows (ABC’s The North and South) and movies, including Glory, Hidalgo and Gettysburg.
Patrick Mullen first heard about the band while studying at LBSU in the late 1970s, but didn’t join until 1992, when he began serving as a substitute. “I totally fell in love with the instruments,” Mullen said.
Although a bit heavier and grayer, Birkemeier said, the group continues to keep the tradition alive. LBSU alumni in the band include Kurt Curtis (B.M., ‘83), Pat Mullen (B.M., ‘96, M.M., ’98), Mitch Mocilnikar (B.M., ‘90), Jerry Wheeler (M.M., 2000), Brad Harris (B.M., ‘90), Jeremy Swem (B.M., ‘05, Phil Keen (B.M., ‘84), Leigh Schwartz (B.M., ‘79), Ken Peters (B.M., ‘82), Tim Catlin (B.M., ‘86), and faculty members Loren Marsteller and Birkemeier.