“Music gives a soul to the universe. Wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to Everything…” –Plato
I was sitting on the beach the other day looking out over Vineyard Sound reminiscing about the long-ago summers when I was a kid. Swimming lessons at Surf Drive beach. Early evening bike rides to the Herring Run, laden down with buckets and nets hoping to fill them with crabs and minnows. Trips to the aquarium in Woods Hole to see the seals, and when we were on really good behavior, we got to go to Trahan’s (now Ben & Bill’s) to fill little white paper bags with our favorite candies.
Another highlight of summer weeks were the Thursday night band concerts at the Scranton Avenue bandshell. We would have dinner, gather blankets to sit on, put on our sweatshirts and walk from Clinton Avenue. On occasion, my mom would drive if there was a chance of rain. You would always want to get there early to get a good spot. People would come with beach chairs, deck chairs, a whole array of seating. You would always see many familiar faces, townspeople as well as tourists who would find their way there to enjoy a great old-fashioned band concert!
There could be hundreds of people on any given Thursday evening. Boats would also pull up, people dressed in their nautical attire having cocktails waiting for the band to begin.
With great anticipation everyone would wait as the musicians made their way to their chairs holding onto their sheet music in case the wind began to blow. You would hear them warming up on their instruments, then, like magic, the conductor would raise the baton and off they would go! At the end of each song the audience would vigorously clap, the people in the cars would blow their horns, the boats would join in with their horns and many times the Island Queen would pass by on her last day trip home and the captain would blow her loud whistle!
This year would have been the 60th anniversary of the band playing its Thursday night concerts, but because of COVID-19 this year was canceled.
During the 1900s town bands became very popular; towns built bandshells, usually on their greens. The first known picture of the Falmouth Town Band was taken in the early 1900s. They would play parades and special celebrations such as the Fourth of July. It was Americana. As with the present-day band, most members were amateur musicians from many different backgrounds and professions. They range in age from 12 to into their 90s. They all have one thing in common: they love music! There are no auditions for the band: if you play, they will fit you in. In researching this article I spoke at length with Linda Whitehead, who joined the band in 1972. Ms. Whitehead was head of the music department for the Falmouth schools as well as the music teacher at Mullen-Hall. She had been the conductor for the Falmouth Town Band for 30 years. Her husband John also performed with the band as did her granddaughter Kaylee. She was instrumental in getting the present beautiful bandshell built. It took nine years of nonstop meetings and hard work to get the approval of the town and secure the funds. As Peter S. Hopewood of Emmons Road was quoted as saying back in 2006, “The town band is a slice of American Pie. Thursday night in summer is town band night and everybody knows it.”
The original bandshell 60 years ago was a trailer that was set up for the musicians to perform on. In 1972 a bandshell was built; by 2000 the band had 75 to 80 members. The new bandshell that was finished by 2009 was enlarged to fit the growing band. I asked Ms. Whitehead who picks the songs that will be played. She said, “The conductor, and they never play the same song twice over the summer.” They have nine band practices starting in late April, and the summer concert series consists of 10 concerts. Their biggest audiences are from hundreds to as many as 1,500 people. The oldest member of the band was Peter Perry. He played until he was 92. For many years the emcee was Ray Hall, who started in 1972. He was loved by all, and everyone knew him in town.
There were so many endearing stories I learned about our amazing town band, so many I could write a book. However, now more than ever it is a poignant tale of friendships, life lessons, love of community, family and how music is the universal language. Late last night Lavada Studley texted me after Ms. Whitehead suggested I speak to her and her husband, Joe Studley. This is what she wrote: ”Joe joined the band in 1963 at 12 years old. I joined a couple of years later at 15. The band gave students like ourselves a wonderful opportunity to improve their skills and learn from veteran players who they sat next to. As a teenager you may have sat next to a doctor, a scientist, a nurse or a mother that continued to find joy in making music in their adult lives. They all became mentors and friends to us.” The two went on to be married, and Joe became the Falmouth High School band director. Joe sadly lost his hearing and thought he would have to retire after 21 years in the schools. He felt honored to bring music to his students. Ms. Whitehead, being the department head, would not let him retire from the school or the town band. Knowing how great he was at computers, she got him a job in administration. Because he could no longer play an instrument and knowing how great he was at reading music, she insisted he be made the new bass drummer of the band. Lavada ended her email to me with this: “We were honored to be part of the band; summer after summer it brought us such joy. Music unites us no matter our backgrounds. Falmouth is a beautiful place, and the Falmouth Town Band gave Joe and me a wonderful place to share our mutual love of music.”