Chatham Band Director Tells The Story Of A 'Little Town Band'

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local authors , Chatham Band

The Chatham Band is a beloved 87-year-old Chatham summertime tradition. 

Now, from Tom Jahnke, the band’s director since 2014, comes a children’s book about town bands. He has just published “Little Town Band: A Musical Tale,” a charming picture book illustrated by Deb Hart-Chase of Centerville.

It must be said that “Little Town Band” both is and isn’t about the Chatham Band.

“It’s really about the joy that all town bands bring to their communities,” Jahnke said during an email interview last week. And that is a joy that Jahnke knows well as a member of three different town bands. He has been attending Chatham Band concerts since he was 3, when his grandparents brought him to concerts in Kate Gould Park. When Jahnke moved to Harwich in 2005 he joined the Chatham Band as a trombonist. He eventually moved up to the positions of band librarian, assistant conductor and then conductor. At the same time, he sings and plays trombone with the Harwich Town Band and the Sandwich Town Band.

“The story idea and illustrations are a combination of all three of those bands as well as the Brewster Town Band,” he says. “The beginning of the story is based on how the Harwich Town Band actually got started more than 40 years ago.”

Now, let’s talk about that unusual beginning. In the book, residents of a small town put out a call in the local paper for musicians. Musicians came. “They gathered their music and took to the street.” Trouble was, “the band sounded frightful, the crowd wasn’t cheering.” It was, in fact, jeering.

Then, as the story progresses, “certain aspects of many town bands are incorporated,” Jahnke says. “The story ultimately ends up as a nod to the Chatham Band as pictured from their uniforms and a Friday night summer concert at Kate Gould Park.” The moral of the story is this: “kudos is something that’s learned.” In other words, practice makes perfect. And the story of the little town band ends on a happy note.

The idea for “Little Town Band” came to Jahnke back in 2016. “The initial script took quite a bit of time, about six months or so, before I was happy with it,” he says. “I used to go to bed thinking of words that rhyme.”

You can’t create a book for young children without an illustrator, and Jahnke had no idea where to begin looking. It turned out that the wife of a new baritone saxophone player, Don Chase, was a visual arts teacher who had retired from the Barnstable School system after 36 years. Jahnke told Hart-Chase about his book, “and next thing you know, I had an amazing illustrator.”

Hart-Chase worked on the illustrations for about six months, then the pair edited the text and illustrations. “We gave prototypes to friends and family for feedback,” he says. “It took another six months to find the right printer and have it printed. It’s been about two and a half years in the making.”

The illustrations in the book feature people of other races, nationalities and even a child in a wheelchair. This was a deliberate choice on the part of Jahnke and Hart-Chase. They want to make the book universally appealing to kids of all ages, races, ethnicities and abilities.

“We wanted to show how music crosses all barriers as well as have characters in the book that every child can relate to,” he says. “Music really is a universal language.”

The child in the wheelchair is a nod to Jahnke’s mother Jean, who was wheelchair-bound for the final 10 years of her life. Also in the book is Chatham Charlie, a golden retriever who served as Chatham’s unofficial mascot until his premature death last summer. Hart-Chase’s husband appears in the book as the saxophone player. “All of the people are actual friends, family or town band musicians,” Jahnke says. Even the cat is a likeness of Jahnke’s childhood pet.

This is Jahnke’s first book and the first in what he plans as a series of Little Town Books. He is currently working on “Little Town Christmas” and is making notes on “Little Town Choir,” which is loosely based on the Outer Cape Chorale, of which he is a member.

Jahnke dedicates the book to Jean Jahnke, who died in July 2017. Jahnke wrote the book while sitting next to his mother as she napped. “I finished writing and read the text shortly before she passed away.” Jean encouraged Jahnke to “do something with that lovely story,” he recalls. “Having it illustrated and published was to honor one of her last wishes.” Jahnke’s father, Gunther, may be Jahnke’s biggest fan. Last summer he attended 43 musical events—every appearance by Jahnke. This summer is shaping up to be even busier.

The first book signing and reading of “Little Town Band” will be held on Saturday, April 6 at 1 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 697 Main St., (corner of Routes 39 and 124), Harwich Center. Jahnke’s musical friends will play along as he reads. A book signing reception with dessert and beverages will follow in the Parish H