I play in a community band and I haven’t talked about it in a long time. Probably not since we did the pop-up concert on the grassy circle of a cal-de-sac in September of 2020!
People who play live music suffered withdrawal during the covid pandemic. And when, in the fall of 2021, the community ed department said we could hold rehearsals at the school again we were happy even though we would have to wear a mask at all times, even when playing, and the bells of our instruments would need to be covered as well.
We sent out a survey to our members, asking who and what instruments felt they would be able to play with these restrictions, while knowing covid was a risk. About 50% of the band felt they wanted to play, and so we began, last fall, to plan our season.
Instrumentation was rough. We had, in the beginning, only one percussion player who lugs his personal drum set to and from rehearsals and another to play all the rest of the instruments back there. We had a handful of clarinets, some came most rehearsals, some came some rehearsals. Sometimes it was just one young man and me. We had no trumpets to speak of and only two trombones.
But as the weeks went by we began to fill in the vacant parts. Tenor sax players played the trumpet and cornet music. The tuba players wrote timpani parts into their own music. Everybody played all the cues written, to cover what would normally be played by someone else.
Individuals stepped up. People who never before played first parts gained confidence with practice. Often I’d say to the young man seated next to me in the second clarinet section, “It’s just you and me tonight, but we’ve got this.” and he’d give me a thumbs up and it turned out we did.
And a benefit of being short handed? You get to play really loud most all the time.
In the end band members and other people recruited musicians for us, and with only a couple rehearsals left before our concert we gained two trumpet players, both of whom play beautifully, a baritone player, and some high school students to fill in on clarinet and percussion parts. We even got a community band alumni, now a music major away at college, to come play timpani for us the night of the concert!
So, how did it go? Did this cobbled together group of retirees and working adults and busy students pull it all together in time? Well, we played fun music, music from old television shows like Gilligan’s Island and Perry Mason and MASH and Dragnet and Leave it to Beaver. We played music from the Beatles, and from movies like Chariots of Fire and The Way We Were and Gone with the Wind and Star Wars. We played bits of Send in the Clowns, Another Op’nin, Another Show, Let Me Entertain You, You Oughta Be in Pictures, Hooray for Hollywood and more. And of course we threw in a march or two, because what’s a community band without marches? We did Red Skelton’s Red’s White and Blue March. We ended with the original Overture to West Side Story, and for our encore we played The Stars and Stripes Forever, because, as our conductor told the audience, we needed to hear it.
Yes we pulled it together. And what a fun concert it was to play! Not easy, it’s never easy when you only rehearse once a week and the cast of musicians changes every time you meet. But fun because we were together.
And, in fact, that’s the real purpose behind a community band. Playing in our concert Tuesday night was a man in his 80s who hadn’t played in decades and who considered not preforming that night, worried that he’d make a mistake (he didn’t) and a freshman in high school who stepped in to help us and who got to play his very first concert solo, who did a beautiful job.
That’s the age spectrum, in a community band, people who love to play, from 15 to 80 something. Making mistakes and flubs and blats and ringing tones and harmonies beautiful enough to make your eyes water while you’re playing, a community band is a bunch of people pulling together, even when it’s hard, to make each other smile, and to make our audience smile too.
“That was so much fun to listen to!” I heard one woman say to her musician on our way back out to the car that evening. Yep. And if it was fun to listen to, just imagine how fun it was to play.
If there’s a community band in your town, make a point of attending their next concert. They’ll have a website, you can find out times and dates there. And if you play, but just haven’t in a long time, dust off that instrument and go see how it feels to be in the middle of something pretty amazing.
It’s been a long time since most of us felt amazing about anything. Go listen. Go play. It’s bound to make you smile.