Salisbury Community Band values its local support

Smith and Snow2

Four summers ago, conductor Charles F. Smith Jr. handed the baton to Howard Snow, who since has been leading the Salisbury Community Band, Salisbury’s crowning jewel for nearly 80 years.

His fourth year wielding the baton continues this summer as the Salisbury Community Band kicks off its 2015 summer season of concerts in the park beginning Sunday June 28th.

Snow is not new to the community band, as assistant director for years and a musician in the band since 1970 when director Wallace Duyer came to James M. Bennett High School recruiting talented students to participate in the community band.

A band teacher at Salisbury Middle School, Snow has taught high school and middle school band music for more than 35 years.

A reserved interviewee, politely answering questions and deferring to Charles Smith who also participated, Snow emerged from that reserve and grew passionate when discussing what the community band and music in general means to the educator.

He, as every community band director and manager before him, knows the challenges of bringing a quality concert band to residents every summer. Weather, lack of funds, planning around ever-changing participant schedules, the need for band equipment and sheet music, fretting over the condition of a historic bandstand that weathers the elements in the ten months when not in use — all conspire to threaten the demise of Salisbury’s most proud possession.

There was a time when musicians were paid a small stipend for participating — nothing enough to build a bank account, but a tiny amount that might help defray the cost of maintaining their instruments and buy a cup of coffee. More importantly it was a token of appreciation for their talent and their participation in a valued part of the community.

That small luxury ended years ago. For the past several years, the band has had to accept performance venues outside of Salisbury which pay a small amount that can help cover a few of the basic necessities of keeping the band alive.

It’s not that the concerts are not popular. Audience members and band participants come from near and far to enjoy the Sunday evening performances in the park. Community members and their children are exposed to the beauty of music whether they sit with their lawn chairs or blankets, or spend time at the adjacent playground, or take strolls along the river and across the historic pedestrian bridge.

But from the standpoint of the whole city, “sometimes we feel like the red-headed stepchild,” says Snow.  “If we didn’t play, we’d hear about it.  But when we do play, we don’t hear anything. It’s like it’s understood we’re going to do it.”

Yet the audiences and band members freely enjoy the community band and Snow would like to see Salisbury commit to expanding this historic resource.

“It has always bothered me that they’re trying to get people to Salisbury, yet for years we’ve had this large group of people come listen to us. If they would just take another step,” says Snow, and build the events with other activities like a small fair or allow vendors, then the band might survive and contribute to the growth of the community.

Over a decade ago, the number of performances of the Salisbury concert series has been reduced to five a year, and the band has not been invited to perform at other events in Salisbury. But Snow thinks more can be done if the community lends a hand.

 “Band music around here is a dying art,” says Snow, because of competing activities in the school systems. And learning a band instrument takes practice. “Let’s face it,” he says, “most of the learning time is in your bedroom playing and making noise,” which parents don’t want to hear.  So students are told to be quiet and they lose interest.

Snow feels that because of changes in the community and music education, there is a real danger of the community band dying.

“My biggest concern for the community band is that we don’t have a feeder system like the Salisbury Symphony has,” with its youth orchestra that contributes to the future of the adult symphony.

What Snow would like to see is the development of a middle school community band, from all the schools, to have something that can continue over the summer, a place to nurture budding musicians and create a pool of skilled musicians who would want to participate in the adult community band. And that takes a community commitment of resources.

Asked why he still does this, given the challenges of keeping the community band going, Snow says, “Part of it is the tradition. I hate to see something die, it’s been here for so long. It’s part of Salisbury, whether we’re recognized by the town or not.  It’s part of people’s lives. People have been coming to hear the band play ever since they’ve been little kids, they expect it. And somebody’s got to keep it going.  If it were to die, it would never come back.”

“There’s something about playing in the band,” added Charlie Smith — the camaraderie of playing with others, the thrill of creating music together, and the exchange between the novices and the experienced musicians who have learned the discipline of their craft through educators.

Learning to play an instrument sharpens reading and communication skills, but it does so much more.

“Music for music’s sake is important,” says Snow, “It’s something that human beings need.” We need to hear and make music. It is an outlet far more important than many realize.

So whether you sing in the shower, whistle while you drive, strum a guitar, or master an orchestral or concert band instrument, you are exercising a human need and carrying on tradition. Remember this next time you go down to the park to listen to the talented musicians who are part of your community.

Contact Linda Duyer at lindaduyer1@yahoo.com. 

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