I had the most delightful evening playing a concert with the Cressona Band (http://www.myspace.com/cressonaband), a Schuylkill County outfit for which I've been honored to play (off and on--in recent years, mostly off) since the summer of 1991.
We played under the baton of John P., a band director who just retired after directing bands for over 35 years in Schuylkill County high schools, whose daughter Mikki is now directing in Berks County. Next to me was Craig S., a band director who judged one of my county band auditions almost 20 years ago; our section also featured his sons, neither of whom was alive when I started with the band. For perhaps the fourth time in 40 years my mother got to meet Mark C., a boy she grew up with in Hometown, who picked up his alto saxophone a few years ago and has since recruited his children for the band.
Thoughts and conversations took me back to Joe B., Joe P., Frank M., Bruce H., and Mike B., fellow trumpet players all. Bruce, the only surviving one among them, may bristle to know that I have a couple of his clothespins (for keeping the music steady on windy days like today); on one he wrote his name. I liken it to a towel stolen from the Waldorf-Astoria. When I first joined the band, Joe B. let me sit up with him and take a solo here and there. He was still playing into his 90s for his church--not only the cornet, but also the musical saw. Something worth hearing, I must say. I also miss a number of clarinet players: one is Howard C., our first-chair clarinet who famously tuned us all up--even the snare drummers--with the old-reliable concert B flat. He's living near his daughter in Texas now. I'm not sure that he can play anymore. Another is Tom W., a man who often gave me rides to practice before I could drive. Over the years I would see him with his cronies "up the mall" at the Chick-fil-A. Our last encounter was on a Memorial Day, after a parade, when I visited him and his wife in a nursing home, unless you count his wake last year.
A chair was left empty in the baritone horn section for Bill M., who was buried earlier today. He was a mainstay in the band, having been a high school band director at one point. Mind you, that job is not a prerequisite for being in the Cressona Band; but we can boast a good number of band directors, as they like to preserve their chops and introduce the next generation to good music. We played a somewhat obscure Sousa march for Bill ("The Golden Jubilee"), which his son (in attendance with wife and daughter) very much appreciated.
I have to give it to the Borough of St. Clair, who co-sponsored the concert and saw us through the windy evening. Retired veterans (always reverenced in our town) had the nation's colors on display until dusk. Along with equally-reverenced first responders (police, fire, EMS), they received our thanks for their service. St. Clair has been generous to host the band again in recent years, although I recalled a concert sometime in the mid-1990s when some hoodlums pelted the band with eggs, ruining Howard's clarinet and the rest of the concert besides. Tonight, no harm, no fowl.
I'll have another chance or two to play this season. Maybe by summer's end my stamina will have improved some. If anything, I certainly will have exercised my memory by recalling the dozens of fine musicians who over the past 20 years have occupied those chairs to good effect.