Attending a small high school had advantages. I was a three-sport athlete, a member of the drama organization and an enthusiastic contributor to my school band. My coaches, teachers and mentors understood that I was busy, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to arrive late to softball practice because I was at a drama rehearsal, or to run off the floor during pregame basketball warm-ups to play the drum set.
I did my best to stay involved in various activities during those formative years, but one of my favorite things to do, and something I still miss every day, was playing in the high school band.
Kermit McGary, our band director, was a mentor and teacher for me from the time I sat in music class in elementary school to my final year as a senior member of the band. He taught me many things, from technical aspects of music — like how to form the proper embouchure to play the flute — to the more important parts of a music education — like how much the arts can contribute to a young person’s life.
I missed the activity so much after I graduated that I decided to participate in the Screamin’ Black Bears Pep Band while I was at the University of Maine, and although that was rather short-lived, I still remain a fierce proponent of the arts and music in schools and communities — because it’s important.
It’s so important.
Keeping children busy with music and arts programs is more than just an activity to pass time; it creates a lifelong dedication to the beautiful things in life — the things that make it worth living. It fosters imaginative minds and soulful hearts. It builds creative people and excellent problem solvers.
Participation in music and arts programs is more than what it seems on the surface, so it makes me happy to know that despite the cutting of programs all over the state, the band at Southern Aroostook Community High School is still going strong — and I’m convinced that it’s because of the tenacity and dedication of Kermit McGary.
That was how I came to seek out and find another musical organization to support in my new home of Bangor. I learned about the Bangor Band awhile ago, and finally had the opportunity to attend their first outdoor concert of the summer on Tuesday at the Bangor Waterfront.
By talking to Lori Wingo, president of the Bangor Band, I was reminded of the power and enduring qualities of community bands.
The Bangor Band has performed at various venues throughout the Bangor area every summer since its very first season in 1859.
“We are a community band. We range in age from 14 years old all the way up to folks in their 80s. We come from all walks of life. We have physicians, chiropractors, music educators, regular educators, retirees, college students, high school students,” Lori told me. “I think the band feels that it’s very important to continue the tradition that was left for us. We’re going into our 157th season and arguably we are one of the oldest community bands in the United States.”
From war to the Great Depression to fire to even something as complex as changing musical tastes, the Bangor Band has survived and continues to entertain today, which is exactly what they did on Tuesday night.
The band of French horns, trumpets, saxophones, flutes, percussion and more played songs ranging from selections from “Annie” to marches from John Philip Sousa and even pieces to honor big band man Glenn Miller.
An emcee announced each selection before the band started to play, and the lawn area beside the waterfront was filled with people who had brought down their lawn chairs to enjoy the music. Many of them tapped their toes, hummed along and clapped with the beat. Children ran around and played, men and women with their dogs walked by and stopped to listen and a great time seemed to be had by all.
I grabbed some ice cream from the Wild Cow Creamery food truck, which is usually not open on Tuesdays, but serves up ice cream specifically for the Bangor Band’s summer waterfront concerts, and brought my own lawn chair so I could sit and enjoy some tunes that reminded me how much I loved to play.
As for future concerts, there are plenty in store for Bangor this summer.
“We have prepared upwards of about 60 to 65 pieces,” Lori said. Their next show is for the 36th annual R.B. Hall Day at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at Peakes Auditorium in Bangor High School and another summer concert on the waterfront is coming up at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 28. The outdoor concerts on the waterfront will take place at 7 p.m. every Tuesday until the last performance on Aug. 9. The band also plays other concerts throughout the year, including a Harvest Concert in November and a Christmas Concert in December, among others.
I told Lori about my previous involvement in my high school band, and just like any good president should do, she asked me why I wasn’t participating in the Bangor Band. My reason was simple: I don’t have my own baritone saxophone. I used one that belonged to my high school, and due to the expense, never purchased one myself. While in college my parents helped me rent an alto saxophone (which I switched to so I could play in the pep band) from a local music store. But Lori offered to keep an eye out for a used instrument for me, so who knows, maybe I’ll be part of the Bangor Band in the future.
Regardless, I’ll keep holding on to the love of music that began in my high school classroom with a wonderful teacher. That’s really all it takes — one person dedicated to keeping the music alive.
As for the Bangor Band, residents of the Queen City can expect it to be around for a long time yet.
“It’s not going to go down on our watch,” Lori said.
Editor’s Note: The Bangor Band’s next performance is part of a statewide band festival, R.B. Hall Day, that begins at 8:45 a.m. and continues until dusk on Saturday, June 25. It’s being held at Peakes Auditorium, Bangor High School.