New Hampshire's Exeter Brass Band Returns With Summer Concerts

8 hours ago
Originally published on July 18, 2017 12:30 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Exeter Brass Band in New Hampshire is one of the oldest continuously performing bands in the country. They've been around since 1847. This summer, they're back at it doing their usual Monday night run of free concerts from the Exeter Bandstand. New Hampshire Public Radio's Todd Bookman stopped by a show and sent this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXETER BRASS BAND MUSIC)

TODD BOOKMAN, BYLINE: This scene is straight Norman Rockwell.

DAVE EMANUEL: My name is Dave Emanuel. I am one of the trumpet players for the Exeter Brass Band.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXETER BRASS BAND MUSIC)

BOOKMAN: Emanuel and the 30-odd members of the group cram into a bandstand draped with red, white and blue bunting, surrounding them the well-worn buildings of historic downtown Exeter.

EMANUEL: There's bricks. There's clapboards. There's the old town hall. There's the town offices. And we close Front Street for our performances, and people break out the lawn chairs, and the kids sing and dance, and everybody taps their feet and blinks their lights and honks their horns when they like us.

BOOKMAN: One hundred and seventy years in, and what's not to like? The band moves crisply through marches, polkas, overtures and Broadway medleys. Michele Boulanger is the first female conductor of the Exeter Brass Band.

MICHELE BOULANGER: Well, technically, we're not a brass band. They still keep the name of it, but we now have woodwinds in it as well, so we're just a regular concert band. But back in the day, it went off to the Civil War as a brass band with the backward-facing bugles 'cause the band would march in front of the regiment. So they were the first ones to get shot, too.

BOOKMAN: For visitors to Exeter like Jan Orange, it's less about the band's history and more the simple pleasure of being outside on a New England night.

JAN ORANGE: We're from the Dallas area. And they do this in the summertime also, but it's 95 degrees, so it's not nearly as enjoyable. I don't care what's playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXETER BRASS BAND MUSIC)

BOOKMAN: The percussion section is tight tonight, thanks in large part to Chick MacDougall, age 85. His first gig in 1956 started with a frantic call from the band leader.

CHICK MACDOUGALL: He said, would you come down and fill in for one night? I said, geez, I don't think I'm good enough, you know, Joe (ph)? I did come down. That's 61 years ago (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXETER BRASS BAND MUSIC)

BOOKMAN: There have lots of memorable nights since then for both band and audience. Katherine Tomlinson, who's here with her husband Clive, can still recall her favorite performance.

KATHERINE TOMLINSON: Our very first date came and said, hey, there's a band playing downtown. You want to go? And I said, hey, sure. And he asked me out, and we've been married for the last 24 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXETER BRASS BAND MUSIC)

BOOKMAN: The evening ends just after dark not with the most romantic time but rather the most patriotic.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXETER BRASS BAND PERFORMANCE OF JOHN PHILIP SOUSA'S "THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER")

BOOKMAN: Lights bounce off the polished horns. The crowd comes to its feet. And the Exeter Brass Band has another show in the books. For NPR News, I'm Todd Bookman.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXETER BRASS BAND PERFORMANCE OF JOHN PHILIP SOUSA'S "THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.