One More Thing

One More Thing

Anyone want to band together?

A week or so ago in nearby Connecticut, the East Woodstock Cornet Band held a benefit concert for the Thompson Congregational Church, which is working to restore its 163-year-old building after a fire in 2016.

A half hour or so out Route 44, the event in Pomfret drew upward of 80 people. The 44-member, 126-year-old band was superb, and contrary to expectations based on its name, the ensemble featured everything from flutes to clarinets, trumpets, French horns, bassoons, drums, and so on. In fact, according to the director, there was only one cornet. Whatever the constituent parts, the group made some great music for an afternoon of much delight.

It left me wondering out loud. Why doesn’t Smithfield have something like this? After all, back in 1890 Greenville had its own cornet band. You can see a photo of the group in the “Images of America” series 2008 photo book on Smithfield written and compiled by Ken Brown Sr., Jim Ignasher, and Bill Pilkington.

In East Woodstock, their band still flourishes. Among its numerous public offerings for the year it is set to play at the regional highly popular Woodstock Fair on Sept. 2. Meanwhile, Greenville’s band is merely a wisp of memory. What is the difference?

Perhaps, it’s the nature of the two communities. Smithfield takes a back seat to none when it comes to sports facilities and opportunities to participate in athletic and recreational activities. The school sports teams excel. Deerfield Park is first rate. The town has an ice rink that offers all manner of skating events and hockey programs. Little League, youth basketball, youth soccer, girls’ softball, tennis, and such all thrive here.

Yet, the performing arts seem to have a decidedly lower profile. Warwick has a symphony orchestra. Admittedly, it is a city and is four times larger than our town. Ironically, though, a former conductor of the WSO was a Smithfield resident.

Smithfield has certainly produced a number of accomplished individual performers like classical music standouts Diana McVey and Kathryn Mueller, the bluesy Sarah Potenza, and harpist Mary King, as well as some groups – think Steve Smith and the Nakeds.

However, widely based community ensembles such as the East Woodstock Cornet Band or the Concert Choir of Northeastern Connecticut, a large troupe which accepts singers without auditions and offers exceptional programs such as Handel’s Messiah, don’t seem to have counterparts in this area.

Capable and accomplished Smithfield musicians who aren’t career professionals but who want to keep experiencing the fulfilment they find in performing and maintain the skill levels they attained with practice and perseverance probably have to go to Providence or Warwick or apparently Connecticut to find an outlet and an audience.

We don’t have a community theater company in Smithfield either. Foster, with a quarter of the population (4,600), has had the Swamp Meadow Community Theatre since 2002. Its webpage says: “Our goal is to draw together the many talented and wonderful people of Central and Northwest Rhode Island, Northeast Connecticut, and South Central Massachusetts to produce quality, community-celebratory, family-oriented entertainment.”

As if to make the point, the company will present “The Realistic Joneses” at Greenville Public Library August 23-25. It is described as “a funny, tragic play in which two suburban couples try in vain to live the simple lives they feel they were promised. Equal parts hilarious and devastating, ‘The Realistic Joneses’ is a play about loneliness, connection, and life’s tendency to just get away from us.” Sounds worth looking into.

If anyone ventured out to Foster for their annual Old Home Days at the end of last month they also could witness a wide variety of musical groups and solo performers playing throughout the weekend on various stages and scattered among the crowds.

So, what might it take for a homegrown initiative to take root here? Well, Bob Cleasby, the retired founding choral director at Smithfield High School, who was inducted into the SHS Hall of Fame for his lifetime achievements last year, has some ideas, and he knows whereof he speaks.

At the high school, among his many accomplishments, he produced, directed, and conducted 28 fully staged Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Also, from 1991 to 2017 he was Director of Programs for the Martha’s Vineyard Camp-Meeting Association, and currently is serving as director of music.

There he develops the sixty day series of programs, concerts, and church services held in the island’s famous Tabernacle each summer. Performers have included the Boston Pops, Arlo Guthrie, Denise Graves, Audra MacDonald, David McCullough, and many others.

Basically, Cleasby’s take is if you build it they will come. Citing the noted Oak Bluffs Band Stand on Martha’s Vineyard, he says, “the first thing would be to build some kind of a band stand or band shell.” He mentions Deerfield Park as a possible location.

A venue like that would, he believes, encourage use by many groups that will emerge and want to stage events. They wouldn’t all have to be musical, but choral groups and bands would be naturals.

Cleasby also emphasizes the need for leadership. “You could found a nonprofit organization to seek funding and contributions. People have to step forward, though, and say ‘this is what we want to do here.’ There has to be a driving force that wants it.”

So, what do you say, Smithfield? Any takers? (Send me your thoughts. We will publish a few next time.)Contact me at smithpublarry@gmail.com)

Bottom Lines

Pop Quiz answer: Tom Gabriele was the first to name the art teacher who helped establish the Jamboree at William Winsor School in Greenville. It was Marjorie Jaswell. He wrote: “I had her for art at Winsor 45 years ago. What a wonderful teacher she was.”

Another world, another time: Remember the 1990s TV show “Northern Exposure”? It doesn’t seem to appear in rerun form anywhere, but it can be obtained on DVD at a reasonable price. I recommend it. IMHO, if you liked it the first time around, you will be doubly delighted to re-enter the mystical world it creates and the characters who inhabit it.