The Always Write Blog challenges users to post art found in public places. Here is another submittal for the PPAC Challenge #61.
You can find this colorful artwork in the lobby of the Guinness Open Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland. Truth be told, this sculpture is technically just beyond turnstiles of the facility so I shouldn’t submit it because the rules say that the art should be free. You can see this from the lobby without paying if you really want to, but seriously, pay to go in. You’ll find lots of great artistic exhibits including sculptures, advertising campaigns, educational material, and of course beer!
Did you play a brass, woodwind, or percussion instrument in high school? If so, this may be a new fun hobby for you.
Firemen’s Bands and Community Groups
Summertime is here (if you live in the northern hemisphere) and with the warmer weather comes many community events. Hopefully Covid won’t ruin them for us this year!
In the U.S. we have several national holidays during the summer like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Small towns also usually have local holidays. Often these events are commemorated with parades and festivals. Parades may look a different in various parts of the world, but I bet most of them feature music. So, if you’re looking for a new hobby, there is a good chance you can adapt what I say here to fit your local culture.
There are several different community groups that take part in parades such as drum & pipe corps, fireman’s bands, and high school marching bands that fill up the rosters. Unless you’re a person of a certain age, you’re not going to be in the high school marching band. (However, you may be able to volunteer to support them. Perhaps I’ll write another post about that. In the meantime, consider reaching out to your school’s band director to see how you can support them.) Luckily, you may be able to join a drum and pipe corps or a fireman’s band. I’m sure that the process for joining these groups will be different based on where you live, but when I played trumpet in fireman’s bands about 20 years ago it was easy.
Will You Fit In? Do You Have the Skills?
Fireman’s bands, despite the name, are not usually composed of firefighters. The band is usually local volunteers who march with the firefighters to show support and bring extra energy to the parade. These bands usually play patriotic standards like John Philip Sousa marches, most of which you’re probably already familiar with. The people in the bands I played with were of all ages from high school on up to their 70s. If you could walk and play an instrument you could join. Occasionally we even played on the back of a flatbed truck to allow the elderly and less mobile founders of the band to play. I think they were in their 80s, so it was very inclusive.
The skill levels of band members varied considerably, but I don’t remember there being any real superstar players. Some folks could play well, but there were Miles Davis caliber players there. If I had to guess, most folks would have sat in the middle of the section of their high school bands. Players of most skill levels were welcome.
We tried hard to sound good, but enthusiasm was valued more than perfection. If you could play a familiar song like “The Stars and Stripes Forever” reasonably well with just a few rehearsals, you were in. I don’t recall having to play an audition, so it was pretty low pressure.
Being able to sight read was a helpful skill, but I think a player who plays by ear could have easily gotten by, especially since the music was mostly standards. However, occasionally the band leader would throw a less familiar piece into the mix with little notice, so it really is best if you are a competent reader of music.
I believe we rehearsed about once a week during parade season and the few weeks preceding. Of course, you were encouraged to attend them all but it was a volunteer organization so they understood if you couldn’t make it. I believe there was an expectation that you’d come to rehearsal before each parade, but once they knew that you could play even that was a flexible requirement.
I grew up in Upstate New York, where it’s frozen half of the year so we stay inside mostly. The rest of the year is party time, so the parades tend to fall between the end of May and early September. This meant there were parades most weekends during that time. Of course, band members had lives outside of the band, so we didn’t expect you to be there every week. If I had to guess I might have made it to half of the parades, maybe even less.
The band leaders were flexible about attendance. That sometimes meant we were challenged to put a full band together for parade day. Occasionally the band leaders had to resort to gentle “arm twisting” to get enough people there, but I think most weeks we got by with whomever was available. I can remember a few parades where we only had a handful of people. Surprisingly, it didn’t stop us from participating, we just played louder, and we had just as much fun.
What Kind of Equipment Do You Need?
You had to bring your own instrument and a lyre to hold your music. The bands provided the uniform and the sheet music.
I recommend choosing your instrument carefully. I used to own two trumpets, my fancy expensive silver Bach Stradivarius, and my modest student model horn. If you have the choice, I recommend using a less expensive instrument for marching. There can be a lot of people bumping into each other, at the end of parades or in the fairground, especially if you or your bandmates like to get a little tipsy in the beer tent. You won’t carry your case with you when you march, and you may have to leave at the beginning of the parade. Then you’ll have to carry your horn around at the end until you get back to the case. (PRO TIP: Park at the end of the parade route and walk to the rally point. That way it’s easy to throw your horn in the trunk and you’ll be able to enjoy the festivities without worrying about it.) Some folks were trusting enough to leave their horns unattended on a picnic table. I can’t say I recommend that, but if you do you run a bigger risk of theft with an expensive horn so be wise. (Check eBay and Reverb.com for inexpensive or used instruments).
We traveled around the surrounding counties, so transportation was something you had to consider. We never went more than an hour from home for a parade. Some members carpooled to reduce emissions and travel costs.
Benefits of Playing in Community Bands
This hobby is a fun way to show your support for your community, show your patriotism, honor veterans and first responders, support your local chamber of commerce, and connect with your neighbors. It’s low commitment and more likely than not, you’ll be familiar with most of the songs you’ll be asked to play so unless you’re in a particularly ambitious band, you probably have the skills you need.
The band that I played in paid small stipends for each parade that you played. As I recall, it was about $19 a parade (that’s what it was in 1997-1999). This money came from prize money and from the parade organizers. That was enough to cover the gas to get there, but not much more. It certainly wasn’t the sort of thing you did to get rich; it was a fun way to keep up my chops over the summer.
One of the best perks was that we usually got into the beer tent for free. Sometimes that meant free admission, sometimes it meant free beer. I was not of legal drinking age at the time, so the admission bracelet was highly coveted by my friends.
Admittedly, my experience with marching bands is fairly dated, so if you’re thinking about exploring this idea, I strongly recommend reaching out to your local fire department. Do NOT call 911 for this, please find the non-emergency number or email. Even better yet, use google to find the community groups in your area and contact them directly. Alternatively, next time you’re at the parade you can usually meet up with the band at the end of the parade and ask them in real life. Often there is a bonus concert at the end of the parade near the beer tent. If you’re not sure where to find them, I recommend looking there.
One last bit of advice: Beware of horses! Always keep one eye on the ground in front of you and make sure to choose appropriate footwear. You may even want to keep an extra pair of shoes in the car. Other than that, have fun… and thanks for supporting the community!