Teacher, Conductor J.A. 'Fritz' Velke II

John A.
John A. "Fritz" Velke II conducted the National Concert Band of America. (Family Photo)
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 5, 2005

John Arthur "Fritz" Velke II, 75, a retired Fairfax County music teacher and conductor of the National Concert Band of America, died of cancer Sept. 30 at the Casey House hospice in Rockville. He was a Bethesda resident.

Mr. Velke was born in the District and grew up in Alexandria. He began piano lessons at age 10, violin lessons at 12 and trombone lessons at 14.

As a senior at George Washington High School in Alexandria, he played violin in the Virginia All-State Orchestra. He later played several seasons in the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra. He also was a piano player with a number of area jazz and Dixieland bands.

He continued his music education at Catholic University, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1953 and a master's degree in 1955, both in music, and took postgraduate courses in music theory and composition. He also played first base for four seasons on the Catholic University varsity baseball team and was a lifelong fan of the Baltimore Orioles.

He played trombone in the U.S. Air Force Band from 1953 to 1957 and then began a 29-year teaching career in the Fairfax public schools. He taught elementary school bands in 1957 and 1958; band and girls chorus at Herndon High School, where he also coached baseball, from 1958 to 1964; band at Jefferson High School from 1964 to 1967; strings at several elementary schools from 1964 to 1977; and orchestra at several schools, including Irving Intermediate School and West Springfield High School, from 1977 to 1985.

His orchestra at West Springfield won a number of awards during his tenure as director. He retired in 1985.

In 1974, Mr. Velke joined the National Concert Band of America as a trombonist and assistant conductor. He retired in 1997 as conductor.

He also conducted several community bands, including the Alexandria Citizens' Band (1964 to 1966 and 1985 to 1996) and the Falls Church Civic Band (1969 to 1979). In 1986, he began performing with Windjammers Unlimited and in 1991 became a member of the guest conductor staff. In addition, he played trombone with the quartet D.C. Bones and piano with D.C. Dixie, a Dixieland band, and Sounds East, a jazz group.

Mr. Velke also was an accomplished composer. His 27 commissioned works included pieces for chorus, symphonic band, orchestra and various chamber groups. His "Concerto for Band" won the American Bandmasters Association Prize in 1962.

He was president and chief executive of Velke Publishing Co. and a member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase.

His first marriage, to Elizabeth Waterman Velke, ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 31 years, Katherine Rogus Velke of Bethesda; four children from his first marriage, John A. Velke III of Jemison, Ala., Betsy DeMulder of Springfield, Bob Velke of Columbia and Jim Velke of Germantown; two stepchildren from his second marriage, Chris Van der Slice of Ocean City and Jennifer Van der Slice of Anchorage; a brother, David "Hans" Velke of Catharpin; and 13 grandchildren.

In 1964, the Arlington Symphony Orchestra commissioned Mr. Velke to write a concerto for brass. He completed the piece, and the orchestra played it, but Mr. Velke wasn't quite satisfied with what he had composed. He took it back to tweak it, his daughter recalled, but never finished his revisions. In the last weeks of his life, his children commissioned a composer and arranger, Blair Goins, to complete the changes their father had intended to make so many years ago. He finished shortly before Mr. Velke's death. The revised concerto will be played for the first time at his funeral.

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