Summer dusk in the Catskills. The shadows lengthened under the park's lush trees, and the fireflies winked in time to the march's beat as my sixth-grade teacher's daughter played the clarinet in time with her tapping toes. The piccolo pierced the darkening air, and behind me, my mother laughed. She adored band music. My father loved to watch my teacher's daughter's tapping toes. I loved the Neapolitan ice cream served at these summer ice cream socials.
The community band provided the background music for the soft summer evenings of vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate ice cream melted together in a paper cup. There were show tunes, kids dancing around the musicians or imitating the band director on the podium, and grandparents bouncing toddlers on their laps. People brought together by music. Anyone who was anybody attended the ice cream socials. If I wanted to find out any news or where someone was, someone at the social would know. We mixed and mingled, caught up on the latest gossip, or grabbed seconds on the ice cream. Teens flirted, young boys fought. I don't remember mosquitoes, but I'm sure they were there. I only remember the fireflies, their eerie winking, and the occasional cawing crow. And the music, of course.
Amateur musicians drawn from the town's residents, local businesses, the colleges, and the high school—brass, woodwinds, and percussion—played in our community band. The band director taught music in the junior high school and led the school's marching band. I never played in the community band, but my older brother, when he was in high school, played trombone. My father played the clarinet but never believed he was good enough to join the community band.
During the summer, our community band performed outdoors in one of two parks in town: Neewah Park next to the town's baseball stadium, or Wilbur Park next to the high school. Neither park's facilities included a roofed pavilion, so the band played in the open air, the musicians' chairs in semi-circle rows. The audience sat wherever there was empty space. Some people brought lawn chairs or blankets, and kids played on the playground equipment nearby. The band concert's sponsor provided the ice cream. You brought your own bug spray.
Our community band director possessed a genius for programming the summer ice cream socials with music that started toes tapping, then people singing and humming as they climbed into their cars. Besides Sousa marches, the band played show tunes like "76 Trombones" from The Music Man (my brother and the trombones usually received wild applause), popular tunes like The Flight of the Bumblebee if one of the trumpet players that summer had the lips and tongue for it, and swing band numbers. My father requested Pete Fountain Dixieland jazz. The band director often slipped in band arrangements of symphonic music by Morton Gould, Paul Hindemith, Howard Hanson, Gustav Holst ("Jupiter" from The Planets was a favorite), Johann Strauss's Viennese marches, and maybe a waltz or two.
As darkness filled in the shadows and car headlights blinked on to illuminate the band and toddlers whimpered from being tired, the band director gave the downbeat for the big finale: "The Stars and Stripes Forever." My mother giggled in delight behind me. I tapped my toes. Did my stomach have room for another cup of Neapolitan ice cream?
Cinda Yager writes essays, fiction, and two blogs in Minneapolis. She loves classical music and has just published an e-book novel set in the classical music world, Perceval's Secret.
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