by P. Carter Newton, publisher
Courtesy of Galena Gazette
This coming Saturday, June 20, Hunter Fuerste will be bringing his big band to Turner Hall. Some in the crowd will be seated at tables. Others will be seated in rows of chairs on the main level or in the Turner Hall balcony.
One thing can almost be guaranteed: When the music starts, the toes will be a tapping. I’ll guarantee you that!!!
I’ll guarantee you one other thing: There will be a band member who will be enjoying the occasion as much as anyone. That person is the Rev. Gary Kirst, pastor of Galena Bible Church.
Or. . .if I can be a bit less formal. . .Gary. You just can’t be too formal with a guy who’s on your Tuesday night golf league team!
Gary’s a member of Hunter Fuerste and his American Vintage Orchestra. That’s interesting enough: a local guy who has the chops, as the saying goes, to pursue his musical interests with a big time big band.
What’s really interesting is the relationship Gary has with the band’s leader, Hunter Fuerste. You might also say that musically, the two are joined at the hip.
In the early 1980s, the two played in a Milwaukee, Wis., based big band, the Harry Kay Orchestra. Gary attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison pursing a master’s degree in meteorology and drove over to Milwaukee on weekends to play with the band. Hunter was attending the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
Then life happened. Hunter graduated from medical school and ended up back in Dubuque, Iowa.
Gary finished his master’s program. “I was the worst forecaster in the class,” he admits. “I wasn’t headed for greatness in the field.”
He was blessed, though, with a strong music foundation. He started playing trumpet in the fourth grade. “My band director was an enthusiastic guy who happened to be a trumpet player,” he adds.
Then he fell into musical friendship with a group of guys in high school who all liked jazz. Like, man, they were really into it.
The formed a quintet. The piano player could transcribe the tunes and they gave each other room to improvise.
“That’s the way you learn,” he continues. “You need to improvise in order to get comfortable doing it.”
When Gary moved onto college, he continued fostering his interest in music.
In graduate school, he and his wife, Linda, became ever more involved in their Madison church. He really enjoyed his pastor/mentor, the Rev. Dick Sisson.
And since he wasn’t “headed for greatness” in the meteorological field, Gary began thinking about loftier pursuits. “I thought that if I could do anything in the world, I would like to serve God full-time,” he recalls. “I was beginning to spend more time on Bible studies than meteorology studies.”
As was his band director, his minister was also enthusiastic and encouraging. Seminary was in the future. He applied to and was accepted to Trinity International University in Deerfield. It was the only place he applied.
If it was good enough for Dick Sisson, it was good enough for him. Gary will tell you that, point blank.
While in seminary, Gary paid his tuition by doing various jazz gigs around Chicago.
The music never left him.
In the early 1990s, Gary accepted a call at the Galena Bible Church.
Upon moving to Galena, Gary heard about Hunter’s jazz quintet that played mostly in nursing homes and other local venues. He reached out to Hunter.
When a secretary told Hunter about a Rev. Gary Kirst who had called, Hunter simply said, “Oh, that’s Gary.”
Gary joined the quintet and later the big band when Hunter formed that band. Although their relationship is now one of 20-plus years, Gary is still amazed with Hunter’s musical abilities.
Hunter doesn’t go out and buy the music. He listens to the original 78s and transcribes the part for each instrument, for each musician.
If Gary were proofreading this, he’d say “Hunter painstakingly transcribes each part.” He’d also say that Hunter makes every effort to represent multiple facets of the big band era in the music which the band plays.
“That makes it fun,” he adds.
Playing with the band is a good outlet, he continues.
“It’s fun. I enjoy playing with the guys. It’s a whole different group of people (than with whom he interacts everyday). I enjoy these friendships and would like to think I can be a good example of a Christian to other people who may not go to church. I feel I’m always a pastor and an encourager. It’s an outlet and it’s fun.”
Gary’s musical interests aren’t limited to this big band. “What I love to do is bee bop jazz from the Charlie Parker and Miles Davis era. That’s my cup of tea. And, I like combo jazz even more,” he adds.
For this night, Gary will put these interests to the side and make music with Hunter Fuerste and his American Vintage Orchestra. I hope you let your toes tap in appreciation of these wonderful musicians.