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Founding OCCB Director Jim Christensen
Jim Christensen was born and raised in Ely, Nevada, where he graduated from high school in 1959. He went on to graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a B.A. in Music Education. Jim taught music in Nevada public schools for 6 years, serving in Sparks, and Winnemucca. In 1969 he was hired as the music instructor at Oroville High School, a position he held until 1985.
Jim Christensen is a charter member of the Oroville Community Concert Band, and has been the director since its 1992 beginnings. Jim also directed the Oroville Community Chorus from 1996 to 1999. Jim retired from Butte County’s Assessor’s Office summer of 2007, but still led the band. Chaffing in retirement, Jim began full time management of Oroville State Theater Performing Arts Center 24 November 2008. For 4JULY 2010, Jim took up the Chorus reins again, and led through early 2014. Robert Brown led the chorus through 4July 2015, and then Jim led the chorus again from Sep-Dec 2015.
His Retirement From Leadership Running both groups took a toll on Jim Christensen in his 70’s. Band and chorus folks decided he needed help to carry the loads that leadership brought. Beginning early 2014, many tasks he handled mostly alone for years, were divided among members to ease his burden.
Sadly, nearing 75 years old, and amid health concerns after almost 24 years of music leadership, Jim chose to resign as Director on 17 December 2015. The baton was passed to three qualified folks from the band, Dick Zancanella and Dave Chollet to lead the band, and Bill Eslick to lead the chorus. Charter member Jim, though, remained an OCCBand musician, and may be called upon to guest direct some numbers.
Behind the Scenes
There is more to Jim Christensen’s band /chorus leadership than “up front” on the podium. Jim’s behind-the-scenes efforts have always been equally important to building and maintaining the organization to make us the best band we could be. A deeper look at Jim’s contributions is seen through the comments from charter band member and trumpeter, Loren Fox, in 2008.
“The band most likely would not have lasted all the years without his leadership and hard work. He has motivated us and challenged us. His knowledge of just how far to dangle difficult music in front of us making us strive a little harder each year has been remarkable
Leading a bunch of goof-off trumpet players is not easy. He knows how to let us have fun while rehearsing. Only rarely has he ever had to put his foot down, and then it has always been at the right time and for our own good. He has a keen sense of how far he can push the band.
It is quite an extraordinary group that has been assembled. There always seems to be someone that will step forward to sell tickets, set up chairs, move band equipment and risers for concerts, organize music etc. And when nobody has been able to help – he has just done it by himself.
To have such a diverse group of people with so many different personalities and ages get along for so many years, continuing to grow each year is really rather remarkable. Jim gets much of the credit, as he has been responsible for setting the tone of the rehearsals making each one special and fun.
It has been wonderful the people that Jim has been able to attract to the band. Look at how many years Jim Moll has been supportive of us. Would he have continued if Jim C. were difficult to work with? Would Karen [Finley] be where she is today if Jim hadn't been there to help? Would Karen work year after year with Jim if he weren’t a marvelous human being to be with? How many people have ever left the band because they didn't like Jim?
Jim had a dream of what we could become that was far beyond what most of us could have imagined. One wonders where we will be 15 years from now?”
Jim's Two Plus Years Managing the State Theater
Early December 2008, an Oroville Mercury front-page story explained the future of Oroville’s State Theater and our own Jim Christensen. Determining the theater's would be better served, the city of Oroville and Butte County’s Private Industry Council (PIC) arranged that theater management would pass from the city to PIC by January 2009. The city provided only part time theater management, but under PIC would gain full time management and receive more funding.
PIC convinced retired Butte County employee, Jim Christensen, to become the full time theater manager, and to start November 24, 2008. In addition to maximizing the theater’s availability for performing arts, PIC wanted to utilize the facility as a place to train adults and local college students in skills for “performing arts center management”, much like it already did with skills for students of restaurant management and cooking at PIC’s Checkers restaurant in Oroville.
Jim’s sixteen years of close coordination with former State Theater management (1993-2008) helped prepare him. Leading OCCB ensembles performing often six times a year at the theater, Jim learned to advertise shows, handle ticket sales, and to manage stage setting, lighting, and sound, thus helping him to anticipate theater activity needs. Jim got to know the workings of the State Theater as well as the Hunchback knew his Notre Dame, and the Phantom knew his Opera House.
Two years later, PIC had funding issues and cut some programs, effective 03 February 2011, including managing the theater, Jim’s position.
Little Known facts About Jim and Band
When Jim was finishing music studies at the U Nevada, Reno, 1962-63, he met an Oroville underclassman on scholarship to the music program; Dave Chollet, an early OCCB member. In Jim’s words, “I met Dave Chollet at Lake Tahoe Music Camp August 1962. He started his freshman year at UNR as I was starting my senior year. I assisted him in finding housing to could get out of Lincoln Hall dorm, and also so he wouldn’t have to pledge a fraternity”.
Jim took over Oroville High’s band in 1969, several years after long time leader Phil Becker. Six of Becker’s musicians have been in OCCBand: Dave Chollet, Eric and Dick Zancanella, Don Crawford, David Strang, and Dave Noel. OCCB has been liberally sprinkled with Christensen’s former Oroville High musicians as well.
Jim has worked with many families in his long musical career. There are at least 30 groups tied to his teaching days, and the community music groups today.
Dick began his music career in the 3rd grade playing for Thermalito schools. He played a number of instruments growing up and transitioned to the tuba because it was cool and his dad played one. He was voted Outstanding Senior Instrumentalist before graduating from Oroville High School. He received a music scholarship to the University of Nevada, Reno. However, before graduating, he joined the Navy in 1965 and was deployed to Viet Nam. He remained in the Reserves until he retired in 1987 after 22 years of active service.
Upon his return from Viet Nam, he finished up college and obtained his teaching credential. His teaching career spanned 31 years as a 6th Grade teacher (4 years at Bird St and 27 years at Ophir). While there, he produced and directed whole school Christmas and Spring musical productions as well as 6th Grade musical plays.
In the late ‘90s, he became the Foothill Community Church Choir Director and recently retired in the summer of 2016. He directed the Oroville Community Concert Band from December 2015 to March 2019.
David Chollet,local choir director, OCCB trombonist, and an experienced Birdcage musical leader, was the first to lead the new chorus ensemble in 1993. Under Chollet, 1993–1995, they only performed with the band for 4July Concerts. OCC folks wanted more gigs, but David's plate was already full, raising a family, working full time, and leading a weekly church choir.1996, Jim Christensen led OCCB, and volunteered to lead OCC through two concerts that year. Both Jim and Dave had full time jobs, so they split the OCC leadership in 1997. David led OCC for 4July 1997, and Jim led OCC for Christmas 1997. After that, Karen Finley volunteered to lead OCChorus.
Karen Findley was an Oroville Community Concert Band member almost from the beginning. Having just participated in the Birdcage Theater production of “Carousel”, Jim Christensen gave her a phone call when the recruitment for new members for the band was underway. She was a clarinet-playing student of Jim’s when he was the director of the Oroville High School band.
Karen’s love of both concert band and choral music, and Jim’s strong words of encouragement made the progression to a leadership role inevitable. She led a chorus with band number in 1998 4July Concert, and the 1998 Winter Choral Ensemble (chorus only) Jim Christensen and Karen Finley, were co-directors on the program. Christensen handed over OCC direction full time to Karen beginning autumn 1998.
When Karen was not involved with band and chorus activities, she spent her time as the Associate Executive Director of CSU, Chico Research Foundation. Karen led OCC 1999 through 4JULY 2009, when she relinquished all music obligations to care for her husband. Jim took up the OCC reins once more beginning 4JULY 2010, and continued leading the band.
Running both groups took a toll on Jim Christensen, now past 70. Beginning in 2014, Robert Brown, OCCB/OCC, volunteered to lead OCChorus through 4July 2015. Jim C. then took over the chorus again.
OCCB Guest Conductors
Since 1992 the band has always had some director-qualified musicians. Cecil Fox directed 13 times 1995-99. Winter Concert 1996, Christensen began tapping band resources. Although Jim was present, he asked Bill Henneker, Bob Christensen, Ron Wolcott, and Jeff Stratton, to lead numbers.
In the years 1999, 2006, and 2009 Jim took a personal leave during 4July Concerts to attend class reunions in Nevada. Jim prepared to have guest conductors run the shows in his absence. On two other occasions, 1998 and 2008, band folks guest-conducted, even though Jim was leading the concerts.
Band/Chorus member Karen Finley’s choral directing debut came in band-with-chorus numbers in two 1998 concerts, and in 1999 became full time chorus director. Winter Festival 1998 guest conductors were Dick Zancanella and Dave Chollet, even though Jim led the concerts.
The 1999 guest conductors were bandsmen: Jim Henneker, Bob Schofield, Bob Christensen, Dick Zancanella, and David Chollet. The 2006 conductors were bandsmen: Robert Brown, Jim Henneker, Dick Zancanella, Bob Goodwin, and Bob Christensen. Dick Zancanella conducted again in 4July 2008 leading one number for band-with-chorus. Dick Zancanella, 4July 2009 and 4July 2015, handled all of Jim’s band direction. Like Jim, Dick always managed to sing bass in the chorus.
David Chollet directed the Winter Fest 2011 Premier of his Encore for Symphonic Band. As mentioned earlier, musician-singer Robert Brown, beginning early 2014, volunteered to lead OCC for 4July 2014 through 4July 2015.
Guest Conductor, Octogenarian Cecil C. Fox
Trumpeter Loren Fox’s dad, Cecil Fox, 85 in 1999, guest directed “The Stars and Stripes Forever” thirteen times for OCCBand: twice yearly in 4July Concerts, 1995–99, a 1996 Palermo Benefit, and 1997 WinterFest and VFW gigs.
Cecil performed the march as a Sterling Colorado high school trumpeter when John Phillip Sousa conducted Fox’s band in 1929 and 1931. Cecil’s 1930 band played for Sousa’s arrival by train for a Sterling concert. Emcee Jim Moll told this anecdote to audiences each time Cecil conducted. In OCCB performances, Cecil appropriately wore red suspenders, red long-sleeved shirt and blue trousers.NEXT: Jim Moll, Master of Ceremonies
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