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Path Bands Emerging Spring 2007
by Charles Keil
Submitted 3/10/07

The times are changing and Path minded brass bands are springing up in Olympia, Washington and Boston, Mass.  I think we’ll have a good turnout of horns in NYC on a Sunday, March 18th –  weather permitting.  People are talking about a band in Seattle. The Berkshire Stompers couldn’t be assembled for a midday gig at the high school lunch room for a variety of reasons, but we were offered a reasonable amount of money – and that is news! – so there was some real demand for a brass band to celebrate Mardi Gras in Connecticut.   I think it is a combination of the peace movement gathering momentum since the November election, the New Orleans traditions under threat, spring in the air,  more musicians realizing that live music (as something more mysterious than enter-tainment) is an endangered species like ourselves. Maybe we have turned a corner, turned it over, turned around, hung a U-ee, and more people are looking and listening for an opportunity to make music together.   
It’s also a matter of me waking up from an idealistic dream of amateurs, children, retired people, all loving the idea of a brass band so much that they would make time for it, rehearse a little each week, or come to weekly demonstrations and gradually get better at making music together. The past 6 years have taught me that being in a brass band is not a high priority for most people, even if they have an instrument to play.  The grass roots need watering, inspiration, encouragment, and what I’ve learned recently is that musicians meeting high standards and improvizing well is what will inspire people to dance, inspire others to want to play with us.
we have to inspire
right at the start
for the blown & beaten
to be taken to heart
we have to motivate
or recruits drift away
in the land of the free

Becky invited people over and we had expert drummers (very light and tight), three outstanding trumpet players, strong baritone sax getting every bass part and counterline exactly right, and everyone willing to play at the peace demonstration weekly.  I get reports from Olympia that the band is answering requests, adding tunes, growing steadily, 6 horns and 6 drummers at the last demo, a parent and two children playing.  And I would guess that the family likes the idea of playing with a band that sounds good! Come to think of it, the origial Buffalo band that put me on the Path has had some outstanding players that make it sparkle from year to year. That’s what inspires a few people to pay for it – those all-important paying gigs. And quality will inspire others to join the band, keep it going another 17 years (we started in 1990 if I remember right.)  I think this Olympia crew will keep going, because there are lots of drummers, veterans of the local Samba Olywa to draw upon, plenty of excellent horn players, and a regular event to keep the band in shape.

Dave, a trumpet playing friend, expressed an interest in getting a band started, so I called on him when another friend was getting married in the Boston area.  Why not give my old friend a strolling brass band as a wedding present? By word of mouth I found a very experienced snare drummer, flexible, plenty of flair on the snare, and my bass drumming gave him something to riff-off-of.   Dave located a grad student trombone player at Boston U, who found a tenor sax and a sousaphone player – all young, energetic, improvising, wonderful  players; Reebee and Debbie were able to come at the last minute to handle small percussion, get the “2nd line” started – roles they knew a bit about from other Boston start-ups, and from scholarly convention jam sessions some years ago . So, with 4 drummers and 4 horns never having played together before, we got better and better with every tune and soon had the whole wedding party dancing and doing conga-lines with us around the Town Hall in Bedford, Mass.  We took a break, did another short set, climaxing with The Saints Go Marching In, and a great time was had by all.  The very thoughtful ceremony that put everyone in a joyfull mood, the responsive crowd, the paid professionals, and now I know that you need a good budget and a meaningful event, a rite of passage, to get a Path band started with a bang.  
Last summer the Biocentrics played a memorial service in Guilford, Ct.; we worked well as a 4 piece brass band at the service, and then as a dance band at the party following the service. 3 horns and snare drum can evoke New Orleans, play hymns slow and fast, give life to the memories people had of a woman who loved to play piano and sax, and sang, went to concerts, lived for the musical high points of her life.  My father’s memorial service included all the Berkshire Stompers I could find and we played on the porch September 23rd, the equinox. It felt so good to celebrate my father’s life in style, with horns and gongs and Tibetan cymbals.    
These succesful recent start-ups in Olympia and Boston, the importance of live music during rites of passage to make the event memorable, the magic of two trombones at the big NY peace demo last fall – it’s all echoing in my mind in March of 2007 and I think this is the summer when we get on the Path to world peace with the blown & beaten sound – in earnest, and with Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy (Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book) spelling out what we have lost that needs reclaiming.   

Charlie Keil, Lakeville, Conn.

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