Town Bands Stay Tuned For Future Concerts

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Blankets and chairs await an audience and the bandstand stands ready for the band in Kate Gould Park.  ANITA HARRIS PHOTO

What did you miss the most during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020?”
Someday in the future, someone will ask you this question. For many Cape Codders, the answer will be easy. We missed warm, breezy evenings spent gathered with our friends, families and neighbors on blankets or in beach chairs. We missed the sound of laughter, the sight of suntanned children chasing each other across the green grass of our favorite town park, bright uniforms and glossy instruments being raised for the first tune of the summer. We missed the Bunny Hop and the March-Around.
We miss our band concerts.
Way back in the days before social distancing, the
Chatham Band started rehearsals at the end of February and the Harwich Town Band started at the beginning of March. Both bands had two rehearsals before schools and the community centers were closed, leaving the musicians without rehearsal spaces. 
“At the time, we were uncertain of the severity of the pandemic or if we would be able to return to rehearsals or how many we would have,” said Tom Jahnke, music director for both the Chatham Band and the Harwich Town Band. “I wasn't thinking that in four months, concert seasons might be canceled. At first it was sort of a shock as well as a disappointment.  As the person who finds new music, organizes folders, and puts together concert formats, all of this work was done before rehearsals even began.  As hard as it was, the safety of the musicians was the most important factor to consider.”
As the COVID-19 situation developed, the Chatham board of selectmen decided to cancel the entire Chatham Band summer concert season. As for the Harwich Town Band, according to town administrator Joe Powers, Harwich is still under the governor's order banning gatherings of more than 10 people.
“Which means we cannot proceed with concerts at this time,” Jahnke said. “Though Joe Powers did not expect that the town will have guidance this summer that would support concerts of any sort, he said he would keep the band posted should he hear anything differently.”
The public response to concert cancellations, Jahnke said, has simply been sadness.  It's hard when traditions need to be postponed or canceled like the Boston Marathon and the Boston Pops, he explained. Both the Chatham and Harwich bands are saddened, but everyone understands the need for communities to work together and do what is best for all. 
Has the band been able to rehearse together for a time when outdoor concerts are no longer considered a health risk?
“We initially had considered a form of online rehearsals,” Jahnke said. “After doing some research, we found that none of the platforms really worked for our groups of between 30 to 40 musicians.  My church choir tried it, but the technology hasn't been perfected yet.” 
The idea of performing a concert online for an audience, even if it were technologically possible, hasn’t been one that appeals to Jahnke.
“To be honest, a town band concert is really about a live performance.  It's not just the music,” Jahnke said. “It's about getting together, having a picnic, sitting in a park on a warm summer evening, and of course, doing the march-around with your children and grandchildren.  Even if we were allowed to have (socially distanced) concerts, they wouldn't be the same.  Can you imagine a Chatham Band concert without a Bunny Hop?”
 The members of the Chatham Band hope that Oktoberfest may be an opportunity to play, which they do every year. The band also hopes to perform its annual holiday concert. The Harwich Town Band hopes that the band’s 45th annual holiday performance will be allowed. Whenever the Chatham Band and Harwich Town Bands next dust off the sheet music and strike up the brass, audiences will be ready and waiting.
“I have been overwhelmed by everyone's kind words when they found out that nearly all concerts have been canceled or postponed,” Jahnke said. “Nearly everyone has said they are looking forward to next summer when band concerts will be even more special!”