Celebrating 40 years: Noank-Mystic Community Band members look back
The Noank-Mystic Community Band started 40 years ago simply as an idea born out of conversation at Carson’s Store in Mystic. The band’s founders, Karen Schultzman (who has since died) and Matt Kimball played in the Fitch High School concert band together as teenagers. But it was during their conversations at Carson’s four decades ago when both realized they still yearned for long-gone years in the high school band.
As an extension of those passions, they formally created the Noank-Mystic Community Band in 1978, bringing together musicians with similar interests from throughout the community. What they perhaps did not realize then, however, was how the band would continue to resonate in the Mystic community for decades to come.
Today, the NMCB is highly active and has branched out to include a 20-member swing band as well as a 15-member beginners' band, aside from its core concert band. Consisting of 40 to 50 permanent members, the NMCB fluctuates in size over seasons, seeing higher participation in the summer with college students taking part, a hodgepodge of members from varying generations and experience levels. But the core of the band consists mostly of its dedicated group of older members, some of whom are retired, and all of whom converge once a week at the Noank Firehouse for one thing: to play great music.
“That’s why the band has kept going all these years, I think,” said band President Ron Reeves, 74, of Mystic, who plays baritone saxophone and has been a member for over a decade. “For me personally, I love that we play challenging pieces, ones that really require a lot of skill and talent.”
Putting on approximately 16 concerts a year, the NMCB annually plays for the Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades in Noank, as well as Christmas and ’40s-style prom performances at local nursing homes, among other concerts. But for Reeves, the annual fall and spring concerts are always a highlight, with programs that typically feature diverse and varied selections ranging from Broadway musical numbers to swing classics, as well as more nuanced and contemporary selections.
This year, in celebration of its 40th anniversary, the NMCB will hold its fall concert at the Groton Municipal building — one of the band’s more exciting fall concerts to date, Reeves said. On the program, the band is set to perform 12 pieces including Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide” and Toshio Mashima’s “Breezin,’” with a special duet featuring U.S. Coast Guard flutist Laura Pirrucello and clarinetist Chris Howard. The show will be directed by longtime conductor Sue Johnston.
Johnston, who oversees the band during the fall season, conducts the NMCB opposite of Howard, a former U.S. Coast Guard Band clarinet player who takes over throughout the rest of the year.
“It’s been their influence that’s really helped us grow,” Reeves said. “They are so great because they can sit there and tell you how to improve. They can hear every individual instrument. That’s really made a difference.”
For Gary Peterson, 75, a longtime trombonist who originally joined in 1978 shortly after the band's first performance at the Mystic Train Depot, the band has grown and improved in various ways since.
He remembers the band starting out as a 15- or 20-member group in those early years, unsure of how to make things work but passionate about seeing the group grow.
“It was something local, right in town,” Peterson said, explaining that he’d also played in the Fitch High School band, as well as military bands while serving in the Army as a young man. “I found out there would be a concert band right in town, so I decided to join up.”
“It’s definitely gotten better over the years,” Peterson said. “And that’s largely because of the dedication of the members and the leadership we’ve had.”
Reeves agreed, saying that an influence from the U.S. Coast Guard band significantly has shaped the NMCB as various Coast Guard conductors, such as Adam Williamson, as well as musicians, have particpated with the band over recent decades.
But for Reeves, as well as for the band’s longtime members, the group has become more than a source of public entertainment and great music. It acts as a special community, offering a rare camaraderie — one that’s difficult to find elsewhere, according to both Reeves and Peterson.
“People keep asking us when we are going to move to Florida but I don’t think we will ever move there because we want to stay in this band. Really nothing compares to it,” Reeves said, while also explaining that since joining the band 13 years ago, it has enriched his retired life with his wife, Sue, a bass clarinetist.
“We come every week and we love it. It’s great being a part of a group, making great music, and the people in this band really love what we do,” Reeves said. “It really is a special place, and we love playing for our community.”
If you go
WHAT: The Noank-Mystic Community Band Fall Concert
WHERE: Groton Municipal Building, Meridian Street, Groton
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9
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