Band Concert in the Park — When an Experience Elicits Memories and Exploration
Hundreds of people in lawn chairs and on blankets at El Dorado Park West waited for the music to begin. Many had brought picnic dinners and were enjoying them with family and friends. A traditional band concert in the park had brought them there on this beautiful July evening to relax and enjoy.
The Long Beach Municipal Band played Broadway music — Gershwin, Oscar and Hammerstein, Meredith Willson, Jerry Bock and more — with skill and enthusiasm. The second half of the concert featured a jazz ensemble from the band with vocalist Crystal Lewis. An accomplished musician with 20 albums to her credit as well as two Grammy nominations, she performed a combination of standards and original compositions which were enthusiastically received.
Music, Memories and Legacy
After 2–1/2 years of attending only a couple of such public events, I felt peace and delight. As I sat back and listened, often nodding or tapping to the rhythm, memories of past band concerts in other places were triggered.
I thought of band concerts in my hometown that featured the community band led by a past high school band director of mine. And a variety of concerts in the band shell at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis with the community bands and orchestras being my favorites. I remembered taking my two toddler grandchildren to their first band concert in a Nashville park, and another time attending an orchestra concert with a group from my church there. And most poignant for me, I recalled the quintessential small town band concerts in Friesland, Wisconsin that featured the local band for many decades. And that memory led me on a journey.
I attended a few of those concerts in Friesland with my mother and cousin as an adult. They were always like stepping into the past with pie and ice cream for sale (2019 prices: $1.75 for pie, $0.75 for ice cream). Thinking of them launched me back to thoughts of my Mom who played in that band for years when she was in her twenties. The Cambria-Friesland Band was a huge thing back in the 1920s and 1930s Mom played clarinet and saxophone and her sister played trombone.
During intermission at the concert, I googled the band and found an article on the Cambria-Friesland Historical Society’s Facebook page! The article was published in the Mid-County Times on February 23, 1961 and included historical information including the debut of new — very fancy — uniforms donated to the band in 1929. The best part was a photo of the band at that time, including my Mom and my Aunt!
This was a busy band. They performed concerts of semi-classical music and lots of marches in concerts, 3 times a week in the summer at 3 different locations, and events like county and state fairs.
I realized through these memories and research that my enduring love of band music and concerts came from my Mom. Her deep affection for them were shared with me and she supported my participation in bands from junior high school through two years of college. I played clarinet as she had. And beyond my own participation, the love of the music and the experience of attending these unique community events persisted.
The Long History of Band Concerts in Parks
Band concerts such as this have been staple summer activities in towns and neighborhoods across the country for a century or more, in some cases nearly 200 years!
The New York City Parks Department notes that Castle Garden Park was the site of regular military band concerts from 1824 to 1855. The first free Saturday afternoon concerts in Central Park were in 1859. The tradition grew from there at various sites and continues to this day.
The State Capital Band of Helena, Montana is celebrating its 120th continuous year of presenting weekly outdoor free summer concerts in 2022, debuting in 1903.
In fact, this is the Long Beach Municipal Band’s 113th season! These are not isolated examples. There are hundreds — probably thousands — more across the country.
These days, a wide variety of music is featured in free outdoor concerts, attracting different demographics. My favorite will always be the community bands with their unique mix of music and instrumentation. There’s nothing quite like a band concert in the park! They are enjoyable in the moment, elicit precious memories and connect me to the legacy left by my Mom.
This was first published on my blog, https://carolbrusegar.com/band-concert-in-the-park/
I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives — regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age — the next stage of their lives — to be the best it can be.