Thursday, June 25, 2009
Question: How to turn a frown upside down?
Answer: Oshkosh Area Community Band
My Mom, Gramma and I arrived five or so minutes late to the first summer series performance by the Oshkosh Area Community Band. We commented on how full the parking lot was, wondering whether the cars belonged to fans of a good march or families beating the heat at the water park across the road. My bets were on the water park, but when we entered the dark auditorium of Oshkosh West High School, and after our eyes adjusted, which took a minute because the first thing I saw upon entering was the greeter's led-bright computer screen [playing solitaire no less], it stood to prove better turnout for the community band.
Three weeks ago a friend of my brother-in-law debriefed me on the current demographics of Oshkosh. He, like my brother-in-law and the majority of my 'mom's side' grew up in Oshkosh, and like most young people, left. I didn't buy into it, I mean, there is a state university in the city, but sure as heck, my new BFFs are the post-aarp, post-ssc, pre-assisted living citizens of Oshkosh. I don't have any beef with the situation, it is a relief to be out of Williamsburg, but I suppose this serves as a 'heads up' to those of you readers of future posts, there will be a common theme.
Oshkosh West, my mom's high school alma matter, is your standard boring two-floor beige-colored brick school house. The kind that have an addition built every twenty years or so to accommodate the growing number of children and grandchildren. And for the babies to come, a complete reconstruction of the auditorium's interior. There were two sections of seating available to choose from and we were stuck with limited view from the far left of the orchestra left section.
The baby-blue polo-clad community band was diverse in age and gender, probably due to ease of entry. To join, you must own and be able to play a band instrument, own a pair of black pants, socks and shoes, and be of at least 18 years of age, except during the summer months, which is when they open doors to young-adults. Well, actually, only one door, on Mondays around 7pm. "The outside door on the other side of that door [pointing stage left]," the announcer stressed, "No audition necessary." Although the addendum was uttered in all seriousness, the announcer was the source of more conspicuous comedic relief through-out the program.
First up, a rhapsody on an air of John Williams. D'oh. I guarantee the hardcore community band crowd of five years ago is still the same crowd today, so...I guess the thunderous themes a la Star Wars, E.T. and Jaws were a special treat for me? Which begs to question, why were there no 20-60 year olds in attendance? Too busy listening to the new Dave Matthew Band mp3s on repeat? And more importantly, where are the friends and family to support the younger folks performing? Tough going here.
Next on the program, which was not offered in print, was a march for drum and trumpet. Sure, trumpets solo tastefully in Mariachi or Jazz, but a snare drum? A colonial battle is not ensuing, we have access to better, more dynamic, instruments. To add insult to injury, the accompaniment was so far out of reach for the rest of the band, especially for the clarinetists. Between them and the french horns I thought the stage was melting. And to top it off, the announcer followed the performance with a quip of, "Now I bet everyone is wondering, does their music look the same? [pause, no laugh offered] No!" Dear, Lord, quit trying to make me look like an asshole.
The majority of the program featured traditional marches, exactly what the audience came for. My grandfather used to make my sister and I flip his march LPs on the record player when we visited; all he would listen to. So since the age of six or so I associated 'march' with 'old'. Now at the age of 28 I associate 'band' with 'marching'. They have to go together. Separate, there is too much open for critical review.
The program really came to an end for me when the band went into a medley of 'I've Got Rhythm.' When not playing, the entire band was clapping, the left side of the stage in syncopation with the right. Some had rhythm but some clearly didn't, which made me wonder how the rest of the music came off sounding as good as it did. Most it seemed didn't want to be clapping, but it was a definite high point for the audience. When the song ended, instead of a meager applause, everyone stood with enthusiasm! I'm not kidding. There is a lot of good going on around here, a lot I need to pick-up on.
When all was done and finished, we filed out of the auditorium, got into the warm hybrid car and drove off to Leon's Drive-In for ice cream sundaes.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Sometimes it just takes a moment alone with a polka band to unwind. Jerry Voelker and the Jolly Gents played at half mast for thirty odd retired folks passing a humid afternoon out of the sun. We all sat under a large white tent which probably could have housed 1,000 persons. The difference in actual attendance made quite the effect. The band was seated on a one step riser above the cement floor with a ridiculously large Bud Light banner suspended above. Who the heck at Budweiser decided it was a great marketing effort to sponsor St Jude's annual church fair? Beyond me.
I was parked on a lousy metal folding chair four extended card tables back from the stage. I had a twenty seater all to myself. Besides the occasional rubbernecking in my direction, and one man's mosey to the empty portable bar for a cup of beer, it was a very still and quiet event. No one seemed interested in the person seated next to them; wife, husband, guy he used to work with at the fire house or neighbor. I thought about getting a beer for myself, but decided against it when I thought it could disappoint the grammas and grampas seated around me. It was only Noon.
When the band went into a waltz a couple got up to dance. I would have guessed they had been married for nearly sixty years. The silver haired slim jim towered above his wife. She was what my gramma would call 'chunky' and wore a matching navy blue short sleeved top and slacks fitted just a little too small. She died her hair dark brown and probably had it permed and cut the day before; it had that 'tight' look. They managed to make their way across the available floor space, twirls and all; she with very concentrated and deliberate small steps from the knee down, and him with a half shuffle half skate. Even when the music ended twenty minutes later they continued to dance side by side, hand in hand, all the way to their seats.
It reminded me of how important it is to connect with people you enjoy to be around. I can't say I thought about much else.