Lessons from the Circus: Volume III

It was really great fun for me to once again be allowed the privilege of enjoying the music of a bygone era. Our group plays music not often seen in the libraries of community bands in the United States and Canada.

My second lesson this year is somewhat mundane, but involves matters which are frequently overlooked in the fire service. We need to make planning and logistics a greater priority within our organizations. We have to stop leaving things to chance. That type of haphazard behavior rarely works.

For most of my fire service career, logistics was considered to be something which was done by the "other person." The same was true with planning. No one wanted to go to the planning division or the special service and supply division. Yet without a plan and resources to accomplish that plan, little of any good can come about within a fire department.

Let me take just one aspect of the logistics operation as an example of the hard work involved in making the Windjammer's meets a success. What good is a band without music? Then imagine how difficult it must be assembling the necessary music for a band conference. Let me share another critical logistical matter with you; people. The Windjammer's had more than two hundred and twenty musicians in attendance at the Sarasota Hotel and Marina. Each person needed music. Our individual performance packages included 60 different pieces of music for each player.

Fortunately for our group, much of the music we perform is so old that it is well out of copyright protection. The makes the creation of a performance library somewhat easier. We do not need permission to reproduce the music and neither are we required to pay royalties to the composers. However, the music we use must still be found and reproduced in sufficient quantities for our band.

This is the responsibility of Don Albright, the Assistant Director of the Famous Allentown Band; the oldest community band in America. I have been told on good authority that his home looks like a branch office for Fed-Ex/Kinko's. In order to hold down the expenses and make the task a bit easier, not every musician gets their own set of music, which we call a "deck". For example, there will be two flutes or two trumpets playing off of one deck and so it goes for all of the normal instruments in the band. Every organization needs hard-working, dedicated people to make things work. I should also point out that there would be nothing for Don to reproduce were it not for the hard work of our band librarian Doug McLeod. He selects the pieces we will play and forwards them to Don.

By the way, guess who gets their own personal decks? That would be the members of the most important part of the band. That would, of course, be the tuba section my friends. Our instruments are just too big and un-wieldy to allow us to sit closely together. For the record we had eighteen tuba players in attendance at this year's meet.

Beyond the logistics of providing the music you have the problems of ensuring that each player has a sufficient amount of playing time. That can be tough. However the people running the show did a yeoman service in scheduling plenty of opportunities to play. One day our band played in the afternoon, and on another we played in the morning. However, my favorite day was Friday where we played not only in the morning and afternoon sessions we also had a two hour center-ring band rehearsal session with a total of 158 musicians.

People played well together, even though many grew tired as our week went on. We also had a number of communal meals which had to be planned, arranged, and paid for. It is difficult to believe that in this day and age the total for of the extras was only $60. Our host for the week was Mike Montgomery and his skill at making this all come together is truly astounding. The front end work of planning and preparing paid off well. Fortunately his wife Nada pitched in to lighten the load. This is yet another example of teamwork my friends.

All of these things led up to the Sunday afternoon performances at the Sailor Circus facility near Sarasota High School. We presented a one-hour, ten-selection center-ring circus band concert. The hard work in the various rehearsal bands paid off. It is extremely difficult for the conductor of a large musical ensemble, such as our 158-member group, to keep everyone marching to the same beat. The attention to detail which our conductors displayed led to the best show I have seen in my years as a Windjammer.