“If You Want to Meet Men…”

Part III

I wanted to see how later generations of women fared in instrumental music.  I asked Diane Nichols, the first female director of the Eagles Band what her experiences were. Here’s her story:

Diane Nichols, clarinetist in the Eagles Band, shared this.

“I am fortunate to have lived in interesting times.   As an American Baby Boomer, I’ve witnessed incredible events and profound social change, not the least of which is the role of women in society.  When I came of age in the 1970’s, women were just beginning to assert their active role outside of the home, yet we remained conflicted. We wanted to have it all, career and family, and told the world to “hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore.”  As a young girl growing into band musicianship, I had no female role models as band directors. Although my male band directors supported what I was trying to do with my life, that is totally different than having a woman band director as a mentor.  Women band directors simply did not exist in my experience.  When I entered UMass as a freshman, I was one of two women majoring in clarinet (undergraduate or graduate level). By the time I left, there were several women in the department. My undergraduate class seemed to be split 60 percent men to 40 percent women.  The times were a’changing.      

 I joined the Eagles Band in May, 1975.  I was 19 years old and had just finished my college freshman year. I walked into rehearsal in the basement of the Fraternal Order of Eagles building on First Street, and guess what?  I was the only female in the room!  The only diversity was in the age range of the men in the room — college students who I knew from high school, to middle-agers, to elders who had been playing gigs since way before my parents were born.  Most of the men were kind and acted as mentors.  Some of them seemed a little unsure or uneasy with my presence in their domain.  Some called me “Little Girl,” which I chose to accept as a term of endearment rather than as a sexist slam.  The biggest challenge came two years later.

 Our conductor, Dr. Morton Wayne had called in his absence just before rehearsal.  The band manager stood in front of the group (we had maybe five women in the room at this point) and asked if one of us would volunteer to conduct the rehearsal.  Having just finished a year of conducting class, I sheepishly raised my hand.  For a second, you could hear a pin drop and then the murmuring started.  I stood in front of the band and rehearsed the first piece.  When I finished, the murmuring had settled down and the band was cooperative and kind for the rest of the evening.  Dr. Wayne appointed me Assistant Conductor for the rest of the season, and the following year he resigned and I was appointed Conductor/Music Director of the Eagles Band.  I was 22 years old, the first woman to be officially appointed to the position and the first woman to hold the directorship long-term.  Not everyone in the band was happy about it.  There were at least two men who quit the band because of it.  I believe the men who stayed were on the right side of history.

 I recently told a male colleague that women have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as a man doing the same exact thing with the same skill set.  It is amazing that in the 21st century, I found it necessary to utter those words yet again in my lifetime.  I know of a band in the state of Florida that still does not admit women to its ranks. It’s their loss.”

 I recently told a male colleague that women have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as a man doing the same exact thing with the same skill set.  It is amazing that in the 21st century, I found it necessary to utter those words yet again in my lifetime.  I know of a band in the state of Florida that still does not admit women to its ranks. It’s their loss.”

“If You Want to Meet Men, Join the Band.”

A Three Part Look at Women’s Struggle to become Accepted in the Band.

Part II

I recently heard some interesting reminiscences from a couple of ladies in music regarding their journey into the world of professional music. This is the second part of a three part look at the struggle of women in instrumental music from my point of view.

As a woman growing up in northern Vermont, I thought that some of the “experiences” I had in becoming a member of the music community and specifically the world of band and public music education were unique to my rural roots.  I entered that world in the 1960’s when becoming “free and equal” was in the air for everyone, or so I thought.

I began my career in music as the only female trombone player in my high school band.  My sister became the only female drummer a couple of years later.  Whereas, I had little trouble in moving to first chair (everyone ahead of me graduated), she found herself relegated to cymbals and triangle most of the time because the boys were assigned the snare and timpani parts by our male band director.

I went on to major in music.  I enjoyed being in the same classes as some of my former male Allstate Music Festival colleagues.  Then my college band director found a band piece featuring a trombone quartet.  I was one of only a handful of trombone majors so I was excited about having the opportunity to be part of the quartet.  He selected two of my fellow male trombone majors, selected another male trombone player not majoring in music from the band, and had our male tuba player, who also played trombone, perform.  I had ranked first or second each year at All State auditions alongside one of the male trombonists that he selected.  There was very little difference in our playing at that point. So, what was this about?

That same band director was my trombone teacher my freshmen year.  It seemed odd to me that he was always late for my lesson and always had a phone call during the lesson.  This was way before cell phones so the calls had to be transferred to the chapel where he scheduled the lesson.  This continued until I went to the Department Chair about it.  I thought things had improved until I was assigned a graduate student working for his masters in trombone.  The only thing I remember from his lessons was a criticism he had of my playing.  “Don’t play like a girl.”  Now, exactly what does that mean?

After graduation, I taught music in the public schools.  I was the first music teacher since the former music teacher had passed ten years before. He had the entire music program from elementary through high school. When he passed, his position had not been filled until I came along.  I was responsible for all aspects of the program in the high school including resurrecting the band.  I began the band program the best that I could.  There was no feeder program from the elementary schools at that time.  So my high school instrumental students were beginners with only a few exceptions of students who had transferred in from other school districts with a full-fledged music program.  The only advantage my “newbies” had over those who would have begun to play in the 4th or 5th grades was that some of them learned the intricacies of counting music faster.  But we persevered.

One day I overheard the headmaster telling another faculty member that the band sounded like an elementary band. I was devastated.  Of course, they would sound like an elementary band at that stage of their development.  A few days later, the headmaster said to me, “Would the band be better if you were a man?”  Now, what was I supposed to say to that?

I thought about my situation as compared to Doris’ and realized that it wasn’t difficult for me to join the concert or marching band; my difficulties came in being accepted as a worthwhile contributor to the world of instrumental music beyond high school.  I left teaching after only 8 years and entered the business world.  When I reentered the music world 20 years later, I found I was welcomed and encouraged to use my education to assist with the band. The Eagles Band has opened its arms to me. Now there are many well respected female contributors in the band and I enjoy being part of such a wonderful community band.

“If You Want to Meet Men, Join the Band.”

A Three Part Look at Women’s Struggle to become Accepted in the Band.

Part 1

I was talking with one of our band members, Doris McNabb, and she shared some interesting insights into what is was like to be a woman in a concert or marching band when she joined during the depression.  Here is her story.

Early experiences that Doris had as a child in the Midwest set the scene for the difficulties she would face later as a female instrumentalist.

“My grandfather McNabb in the early part of the 20th century before there was public school music in Indiana took the restless young men on the farms, secured instruments and taught them how to play.  He formed a band that marched on holidays and gave weekly band concerts in the summer in the gazebo in Auburn, Indiana.

Every year in my grade school in Michigan we had a penny social on Halloween.  There was a big parade in costumes with prizes.  I was five years old.  Mickey Mouse was fairly new.  Another girl and I were dressed as Mickey and Minnie.  We were chosen for first prize.  Minnie was handed a prize, but when I took off my mask, the woman was surprised and said, “Oh, this is a boy’s gift.”  She kept it and walked away.”

Doris grew up with an insatiable desire to play an instrument:

“Finally, I was able to study a band instrument.  My father was a fine trumpet performer, my mother a pianist.  However, with a larger family than most during the depression, I had to wait.

Off my father and I went to the high school to see the instruments.  In those days I had to choose a girl’s instrument; either a flute or clarinet.  One had to purchase the instrument as no rental program existed.  The salesman said, “The Germans have just marched into Paris.  It may be difficult to obtain reeds.”  I chose the flute.

When I arrived at the University of Michigan, the band was made up of mostly men.  The few women in the band were not allowed to march in the marching band.  All of the men were required to march in the marching band.

The men could walk in the front door of the Women’s League.  Women were required to use the side door of the Men’s Union.

In 1955, I walked into a building dressed very neatly in pedal pushers.  The Dean of Women approached me in the hall and said, “You may not be here unless you are wearing a dress or a skirt.”

All of my instrumental teachers were men.  It was rare for a young woman to be pursuing instrumental music education as a major.  The clarinet teacher felt strongly about this.  He refused to give me the grade I had earned; he also wrote in my instruction book, “To Irma”. (a reference to “My Friend, Irma” a dumb blonde in a 1940’s radio station comedy).  A blonde definitely could not have any brains.  There was no recourse in those days.”

Doris may be diminutive and was obviously a blonde, but her desire to be a music educator held her in good stead.  She continues to this day to play in the Eagles Band and to give private lessons.  Doris persevered and even in her 80’s returns to the University of Michigan each year to march in the marching band during their homecoming football game.  Good on ya, Doris.

To Assist and Honor Our Bravest

Free Concert on July 6th at the Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington, Vermont

My Uncle John, a native Vermonter from up near the Canadian border, was a resident of what we knew then as the Old Soldiers Home in Bennington, Vermont.  I was too naïve to understand why he was there or to be curious as to how he got there.  Unfortunately, I never visited him even though by the time he became a resident I had married into a family from Bennington and was aware of the Soldier’s Home.  I knew nothing of my uncle’s military career.  My father’s family was very private and it never came up.  How sad and how typical.
Now I live in Pittsfield, MA just down the road from Bennington and play in a wonderful community band…The Eagles.  (No, not that Eagles Band.)  One of our musicians not only comes from Bennington to be in the band but also works at what is now known as the Vermont Veteran’s Home.  It was through her that the Eagles Band was invited three years ago to play a concert for the veterans.  It has become an honor to do so.  We are no longer a marching band so our participation in the Memorial Day, 4th of July and Veteran’s Day parades in Pittsfield has come to an end.  Putting on a “sit-down” concert on the lawn of the Vermont Veteran’s Home fulfills that need to give back and to honor those who have fought to preserve our freedom and to entertain those who work so hard to take care of these precious and brave veterans.
The Vermont Veteran’s Home is a unique place with a long history. It was originally established in 1860 to help disabled veterans from the Civil War and continues today with new buildings and updated nursing and rehabilitation care.  It has a 5 Star rating from the Nursing Care Compare Awards and is equipped to provide extensive levels of care.
The grounds have always been a respite for Bennington residents and the traveling public.  The facility is located right next to Route 7, the main road through town.  There is a large lawn with shade trees and a treed park known as the Deer Park that houses fallow deer, a favorite place for children to experience the animals.  There is a lovely trout pond.  The memorial area with its monolithic white granite monuments is a beautiful and moving tribute to Vermont Medal of Honor winners, Gold Star Mothers, and Vermont Veterans.
The Vermont Veteran’s Home opens its grounds up to the public for concerts on the lawn and at the gazebo.  Come hear the Eagles Band from Pittsfield, MA play on Wednesday July 6th at 6:30pm.  It is free.  Bring a chair and enjoy a concert with tunes from Broadway to movies to marches and patriotic tunes.

To Band Stand or Not To Band Stand?

Eagles Band at the Common Tuesday June 21st at 7:00 pm.

For many years, the Eagles Band, the community band of Pittsfield, MA, lobbied for a band stand to be erected in Pittsfield.  We attended planning meetings, submitted ideas about what the band stand could look like and where it might be located.

Peoples Academy Band Stand

I even traveled to northern Vermont and took pictures of the band stand in my hometown, Morrisville, VT, (pictured on the left above) where I played in our summer band every year from seventh grade to graduation.  This particular band stand is located on the high school’s grounds across the girl’s field hockey field and just off the school’s parking lot.  A few townspeople would bring chairs and sit on the hockey field but most parked their cars facing the band stand and stayed in their cars with their windows open and tooted their horns and flashed their lights to indicate applause.

Chairs were stored under the elevated bandstand which was built atop a concrete foundation.  The playing floor was about 4 feet off the ground and accessed via two concrete sets of stairs on either side of the front of the “stage”.  It had lights and a roof; and with the audience in their cars and the band, most of it anyway, under cover, the concerts were rarely rained out. With its amazing acoustics, this band stand was touted as one of Vermont’s best. Seemed like a perfect design.

And, yet, no band stand was built in Pittsfield.

Then Deval Patrick was elected governor of Massachusetts. He had a vision designed to improve the quality of life in urban areas.  His focus was to redevelop urban parks within the 24 “gateway” cities in the state, Pittsfield being one of them.  With the help of a state grant, Pittsfield redesigned the Common located on First St. It is now a family friendly area right in the middle of downtown where kids can play basketball, enjoy the bubble park on a hot day, relax on the lawn, shop at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and much more.  The best news for the Eagles Band is that they built a band stand and gave it a fancy name…the Performance Pavilion where Shakespeare in the Parks performs in July and early August and bands and groups of all sizes perform.  The pavilion is designed with a large stage, half brick walls and a roof so the sound projects nicely.  It’s location toward the back of the park which helps to dampen traffic noise from First St.

The Eagles Band will play its first concert of its 2016 Concert-in-the-Park series on Tuesday June 21st at 7:00 pm..  This is the first time the Eagles Band has played any of its summer concerts in the band stand (oops! Performance Pavilion) located in the southeast corner of the park.  The concert is free and the music will appeal to everyone.  The program includes Disney tunes, Broadway arrangements and a very exciting arrangement of “Star Wars”.

Real American Idols

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Remembering …and They Are Pleased

A canopy sits on the grass beside the road reverently protecting the town’s war monument.  Forty folding chairs wait.  An American flag flutters in the breeze.  Birds chirp. A nearby stream gurgles as it flows placidly below.

One by one, musicians, carrying instruments and music stands, appear, walking up the steep grassy slope behind the neighboring church.  Slowly the band seats fill.  The quiet afternoon is interrupted by trumpets and flutes warming up.  Interspersed, can be heard conversation and hearty greetings as the last of the band arrives.

A small contingent of town officials, a state representative, the local minister, the guest speaker and the soloist trickle in.  A handful of town folk fill the remaining seats.  Late comers gather around the outside of the canopy being careful not to stand in the street that is so very close by.

The gentle cacophony is finally interrupted by the opening bars of a patriotic march.  The Eagles Band entertains the small crowd and gives notice to those not yet there that the ceremony is about to begin.  The audience, albeit small, reacts enthusiastically.

As the final notes of the last march fade away into the bright blue summer sky, a hush descends. The sweet voice of a young soprano timidly begins “The Star Spangled Banner” gaining confidence and strength as her initial nervousness recedes.  The American flag gently waves behind her and hangs in mid-air for a moment as she finishes.

The brother of a local war hero speaks softly, yet emotionally, about the bravery and sacrifice that his brother and the other men and women in the military demonstrated when asked to defend our freedom and way of life.  The band plays “God Bless America” and some of those standing outside the canopy sing along with a glint of a tear in their eye.

Two trumpeters slowly rise and walk away.  Soon “Taps” begins.   The crowd stands…some salute as they were taught to do in the service… others place their hands over their hearts… and others stand with their heads bowed. Then the echo begins and a shudder passes through the crowd.  The simple melody of “Taps” brings home the message of why we are there today better than anything else.

The benediction begins just as several motorcycles drive by and some of the words are lost.  The ceremony ends with the band playing “America, the Beautiful”

The town turns its attention to the parade that will begin shortly on the outskirts of town and the picnic planned for afterward.

The day, by some standards, is quiet, unimposing, simple.

So what is it about a Memorial Day in Savoy, MA that leaves a lasting impression?

The Eagles Band, the community band from nearby Pittsfield, MA, played under that canopy for many years.  Unfortunately, it no longer does.  Several band members have commented that they miss playing that gig.  Why?  Could it be the subtle, understated touch and the quiet dignity this small community displays on Memorial Day?  Is it the peacefulness that descends on the group gathered there among the Berkshire Hills or the sense that they who are there are doing something very special and that those remembered are pleased.

Tari Wheeler-Roosa – An Eagle with a Mission in the Community

Upcoming Benefit Concert

Tari Wheeler-Roosa, flautist with the Eagles Band in Pittsfield, MA, loves music and her community.  She is devoted to performing excellent music and donating it and her time to various causes. Her last public concert was to raise money for food banks in Berkshire County.  Now she is putting herself and her talent out there to help raise money for the beautiful newly acquired Baldwin Grand Piano – a 1990 walnut 6’3″grand – that her church, the United Congregational Church in Lee, MA. recently purchased.

 

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With Mother’s Day approaching, Tari is the epitome of a proud mom.  Joining her on Sunday May 15th is her eldest son, William Hack.  He will be playing the double bass to accompany his mom and Joshua Birns-Sprague as they present music by Mozart, Bolling, Eccles, Joplin and Imahori.

Tari is an accomplished flautist and music educator. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Lowell and a Master of Music in Music Ed. from the University of Colorado at Boulder with additional training in Early Childhood and Suzuki.She has taught music in Massachusetts, Vermont and Colorado.She also plays with the Eagles Band and in the Jovia Trio; a flute, violin and piano ensemble. Tari has been a Berkshire Music School faculty member since 1994.

The Best Cure for the “Winter-That-Wasn’t”

Steve Felix, Trumpet Soloist

The Eagles Band of Pittsfield, MA will present its annual free Spring Concert on Sunday April 24, 2016 at 3:00pm at the First United Methodist Church, 55 Fenn St., Pittsfield, MA.

Carl Jenkins, the Eagles Band conductor, talks about the challenging and interesting program he has chosen for this year’s Spring Concert.

“I always am challenged to find a program that balances selections that will excite and challenge the band and listeners.  After less than two years as the principal conductor, I can’t say that I’ve necessarily found the “perfect” program.  Knowing that we are performing at an indoor venue (F.U.M.C.) allows me the luxury of programming music that might not work outside at our summer series.  The concert we are performing on Sunday the 24th has a wide variety of styles and musical moods.


I have chosen two significant transcriptions for band, the first, a wild and exciting opener entitled “Festive Overture” by the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the second, an intense, powerful “March” by Paul Hindemith from a larger work “Symphonic Metamorphosis”.  I constantly try to introduce the audience to marches by composers other than John Philip Sousa 🙂  None-the-less I have also programmed a lesser known Sousa March entitled “Manhattan Beach”.  This march was written by Sousa at a time when his band performed regularly at Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, New York.   This destination was soon to become known as Coney Island!


Our program also includes a wonderful arrangement of the American Folk Song “Shenandoah” and a series of four Gypsy Folk Dances, called “Puszta” by the Belgian composer Jan Van der Roost. These dances have been popular with all sorts of performing groups.   I have spoken with numerous conductors from high schools, colleges and festivals – all have enjoyed bringing these dances to their audiences.

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to be bringing a former student and doctoral student, from the prestigious Eastman School of Music, back to the Berkshires to play with the Eagles Band.  Steven Felix, a 2007 graduate of Drury High School, will be performing the “Slavonic Fantasy” by Carl Hohne.  This work is a real tour d’ force for the trumpet, demonstrating the many capabilities of the instrument in a multi-mood gypsy/Slavonic style concerto.  What a thrill to bring this piece to our audience and to demonstrate the skills of a local alumni.  To learn more about Mr. Felix go to http://www.scfelix.com/about.html


The real newcomer to the program is “It Finds an Echo in My Soul” by Andrew Boysen.  Mr. Boysen, a resident of Northampton, was commissioned by the Drury High School Band in 2009 to compose a work for concert band based on the well-known Shaker Hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing”.  The outcome was this substantial work that at first only gives hints of the actual hymn.  As the work unfolds the hymn becomes more fully realized.  Some unconventional techniques are used to heighten the tension – referring to several of the verses of the hymn.  I deeply hope that audience and performers alike will find new and old favorites in the mix of selections being performed on the 24th.  It’s been challenging yet fun to prepare these compositions for our upcoming concert.  The band has accepted the challenge and is ready for a wonderful program on the 24th.  We’re hoping to get a large turnout.  Enjoy!!”

Meet the Eagles Community Band

Community Band

 Could a Community Band Fill the Hole in Your Soul?

How many of you played in your high school or college bands and then put the instrument away, or worse yet, sold it or gave it away along with your interest in performing band music?  Life gets in the way doesn’t it?  Many of us, however, find after a while that abandoning our instrument leaves a hole in our souls.  We find ourselves in our 50’s or 60’s or even older and we haven’t picked up our horns in 30 years.  What do we do now?
There is a unique group of musicians in many towns that get together and play band music just for the love of it.  This group is known as the town band or the city band.  A more apt description is the “community” band for this group invites and embraces musicians from the community at large.
The Eagles Band of Pittsfield, MA is one such band.  The Eagles Band is the oldest, continually operating community band in the Berkshires.  It was formed in 1936 and is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year (2016).  The band has undergone many changes over the years growing from a military style marching band to the concert band it is today. The Eagles was once a union band and, as a result, had a limited membership. As years passed, it became more and more difficult to find union players and in the early 1990’s, the Eagles Band nearly succumbed due to a very small membership. (The band numbered only 13 players at that time.)
A long-standing core of Eagles musicians decided to expand the membership to non-union players and to lean toward becoming a concert band rather than primarily a marching unit.  Their foresight saved the organization by drawing more musicians from the community.  Gradually the band increased its membership and attracted the type of instrumentation required for concert music.
Today the Eagles Band averages 55-65 active members playing year round throughout the Berkshires.  Members come from all walks of life…students, teachers, music educators, doctors, lawyers, postal workers, IT specialists, corporate employees, management, non-management, self-employed, architects, construction workers, firemen, policemen, professional musicians and more.  Members range from 12 years old to over 90…and it works!!
So, if you played a band instrument a long time ago and have a hole in your soul, think about dusting off that horn and joining a community band.  The Eagles Band is always looking for new members.  Think about sitting in on a rehearsal. (We rehearse every Monday night from 7-9pm at the First United Methodist Church at 55 Fenn St. in Pittsfield, MA.)  This is a team where you are never too old to belong.
Contact the Eagles Band at www.eaglescommunityband.org for more information.