Brett Dimmer has devoted his life to music, plays a mean trumpet and now leads the City Band. He’s the... Music Man

BRETT DIMMER LOOKS forward to directing Port Washington City Band, a group he has been playing trumpet with since 1989. Dimmer plans to keep the band’s traditions and involve more youths. Photo by Sam Arendt


Ozaukee Press staff

Brett Dimmer wasn’t one of those high school graduates who entered college with an undecided major.

The Port Washington native’s career path was set in stone before he even set foot in high school.

Dimmer knew what he wanted to do in middle school, and he returned to middle school to do it. He has been a band director in the Grafton School District for his entire career — 16 years at the high school and the last eight at John Long Middle School— and was recently given the opportunity to lead adults in musical performance.

Dimmer, has been named director of the Port Washington City Band, replacing Lori MacRae, who led the band for more than 30 years.

Dimmer, who has been a City Band member for 32 years, filled in for MacRae at a concert a few years ago. He loved it that she let him choose the music for the program.

“To me it kind of seemed natural,” Dimmer said of leading the band, which is now in its 96th year.

“I wanted to make sure it continued and it was in the hands of somebody who cared about it and would make it thrive.”

Dimmer’s top priorities are to maintain the group’s membership and quality.

“People came to play because Lori was the director,” he said.

Dimmer wants to explore community partnerships and involve youth, perhaps having middle schoolers join in for a piece to help inspire future musicians.

“It would bring them and the parents to see what we’re all about,” he said.

Dimmer is not afraid to jump in and make waves in musical selections.

“This is a controversial thing,” he said. “I love the polkas. There are some in the band who don’t like to play polkas.”

But the songs are among fan favorites, and Dimmer is including one in each of the band’s six performances.

Polkas, he said, allow musicians just enough improvisation to “stay under the director’s radar. It’s kind of the spot you can let loose. Who can be in a bad mood after a polka?”

Concerts will also include a pop song, medleys from Broadway shows and movies.

“It’s fun to be able to recreate it in some small way,” Dimmer said of shows and films.

Marches will remain a constant.

“We end every concert with ‘Star and Stripes.’ That will continue,” Dimmer said.

He loves to play and direct songs by Percy Grainger, who he said was “very folksy with a great style,” and as a brass player he likes fanfares. Dimmer also likes Gustav Holst’s first and second suites.

“In my mind they’re the band standards,” he said.

Dimmer has played trumpet in the City Band since he was eligible to join — the summer going into his freshman year in high school in 1989. He started when his former middle school band director, Michelle Hussey, led the band before MacRae took over.

Performing concerts every two weeks during summer is a different experience than school band.

“You have so much music thrown at you so quickly,” Dimmer said.

In high school and college, bands work on pieces for a couple of months before performances. For the Port City Band, “two weeks is the max and you’re moving on,” he said.

Dimmer grew up learning to play his father’s coronet and developed a passion for music.

“It’s the unique feelings, emotions and places,” he said. “It emotionally can take you somewhere without going anywhere.”

The greatest and memorable events, such as the Olympics, are tied to music, Dimmer said.

His love of music translated into putting plenty of time into it.

“I practiced a lot,” Dimmer said. “Back in the day we did a practice record and we had to have it signed.”

Dimmer easily reached the requirement of two hours per week and had his parents sign his sheet for validation before bringing it to school.

Dimmer started learning under Thomas Jefferson Middle School band director Curt Eddy, then Michelle Hussey. In high school, Dimmer learned under Gerald Olson and sang in the choir under Bill Ross.

Dimmer directs the choir at First Congregational Church in Port Washington.

At Port High, the 1993 grad was part of a top-notch trumpet section that included Greg Garcia, who plays professionally.

“In high school we really challenged each other,” Dimmer said. “It was good for both of us.”

Olson chose songs to feature the trumpet section, one of the band’s best.

Dimmer fondly recalls performing at Camp Randall when the Port High football team advanced to the state title game in 1990.

As a soloist and in ensembles, Dimmer qualified for the state solo/ensemble contest multiple times. He liked group performances the best.

“To take stuff beyond the solo was a blast,” he said.

At the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Dimmer met his wife Jennifer, a French horn player who has played several seasons with Port City Band before the Dimmers had their two children. He hopes to convince her to come back.

Dimmer returned to the area to take a job offer with Grafton High School, spending every summer he could with Port City Band. He missed one when he worked as a second-shift custodian at Thomas Jefferson.

When Dimmer isn’t practicing or performing, he is listening to all kinds of music. His favorite tunes growing up were the “poppy” power ballads of Barry Manilow.

Broadway shows “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Hadestown” are among his favorites for music.

He likes 1980s and 1990s pop and rock, as well as classical pieces, and he tries to appreciate all music, including what his students like.

Dimmer has a new favorite spot to listen to music — in front of the City Band inside the “incredible” acoustics of the band shell in Veterans Park.

“You’ve got the best seat in the house,” he said.

One of the hallmarks of the group, he said, is the commitment of its 40 members. Nearly everyone came back after the pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 season, and Dimmer encourages more people to join. Players must be incoming freshmen or older. Auditions are not required.

Rehearsals begin Tuesday, May 23, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Port High band room.

The first concert is 6:30 p.m. Sunday, June 11.

Dimmer is happy to carry on the city’s summer musical tradition.

“What we have is unique and needs to be maintained and thrive,” he said.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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