Lessons from the Circus: 2013

One of the great joys which I have been able to experience in the many years since my retirement from the good, old, Newark Fire Department is the ability to travel when I want to and not when a vacation spot or personal day is open. Thanks to this...


One of the great joys which I have been able to experience in the many years since my retirement from the good, old, Newark Fire Department is the ability to travel when I want to and not when a vacation spot or personal day is open. Thanks to this freedom I have been able to become an active a member of a real special organization, the Windjammers Unlimited, Inc. We fill a real small and special niche in the world at large. Ours is an organization dedicated to the preservation of old-time circus music, the type not often seen anymore among the various circuses which travel across our nation to the accompaniment of canned music and an occasional drummer. 

Our little band of merry musicians come together twice a year to return to the days of yesteryear and play a type of music little seen in the world today. We play an array of marches, waltzes, novelty numbers, gallops, and period pieces. This is the sort of music you would have heard had you attended a circus back in the 1930's, 40's, 50's, 60's. or early 1970's. The beat is fast and the notes come at us very quickly. 

Circuses were a part of my youth. I can recall the small circus which came to Freehold every year when I was a little kid. They would set up their tents on the parking lot at the Freehold Raceway out on State Highway 33. The sights, sounds, and smells are still with me. The mix consisted on unequal parts of popcorn, peanuts, hay, and horse poop. To this day I can still recall the driving beat of the circus music and the wide variety of acts which entertained us year after year. 

Back in the day, the music played by a circus band was designed to support the circus acts, excite the crowd, and enhance their entertainment value. The waltzes helped us to melodically enjoy the trapeze artists as they flew back and forth in their death-defying acts. The same held true for the high-wire acts, the horses, and elephants.

Heck, there was even a designated "disaster" march to alert the circus performers to the need to quickly hustle the crowd out of the tent Oddly enough it was entitled Stars and Stripes Forever, which is now our national march. Though rarely used, this march is credited with saving scores of circus patrons during the Great Hartford Circus Fire in 1944 which killed 144 people. .
One thing which would never have occurred to me as a child watching the elephants was the set of organizational and logistical skills which I now know to be so necessary in bringing the circus to town, setting up the circus tents and infrastructure, holding their performance, and then breaking down the show, loading it up on the trucks or train and then moving it to the next town for the next show. Please bear in mind that in the old days, a circus might play 30 towns in 30 days on some of the show circuits.

Let me suggest that each year I get to relive a little bit of my youth when I travel to Sarasota, FL, for the annual Winter Meet of the Windjammers Unlimited, Inc. We meet and play our special music for five special days in January. We play and record each day, in addition to rehearsing for our concerts. Over the course of a week the group's two recording bands will play 60 or more different pieces of music. Our final day is spent at the Sailor Circus facility in Sarasota. We perform an old time Center Ring circus concert and then watch as our association's circus band provides the music for the student performers of the Sailor Circus. .

It has been a number of years since I was able to write one of my "lessons learned at the circus" commentaries. For one reason or another, I have not attended a performance of the Sailor Circus in Sarasota, Florida since 2010. One year I had to leave early because of bad weather up north, another year I did not have the funds to make the trip south, and in another, there were just no lessons to be learned.

This content continues onto the next page...