Community bands serve important historical purpose
A community band concert, topped off with an ice cream social sponsored by a local church or organization, a few jokes tossed in, a cool breeze and a comfortable lawn chair all make for a good summer evening in a small town.
It’s really more than that, though. A community band is a cultural link in the important chain we call life. I thought about the importance of music in the life of a small town recently while reading Alexander McCall Smith’s “La’s Orchestra Saves the World.”
The novel itself is set in war-torn England, circa l939. La, short for Lavender, takes to the countryside not only to avoid German bombs, but to also escape a bad marriage. In the shelter of a small town she will find a way to restore herself to herself, she believes. If you’ve ever been lost in a psychological way, you understand the need for restoration.
In the midst of war, La undertakes to put together a community orchestra; a musician here, a horn player there, she finds enough people to complete her small, struggling orchestra. She expects few to attend the concerts, except for the orchestra members and is surprised by the turn out of villagers.
The orchestra plays on throughout the war — a link holding diverse villagers together, as music often does. The novel weaves the individual lives of the villagers through the fabric of the nation as it comes to terms with the devastation wrought by the war. And after the war, the orchestra is assembled once again for one final performance.
I couldn’t help but think about the orchestras pulled together by Jews in concentration camps during the war, orchestras that played for their captors. The music offered soul-saving grace in a graceless environment, beauty in a colorless, drab, hopeless world.
Music has that ability to lift one out of one’s circumstances and carry one off to another world, if only for a moment or an evening. It offers a universal language, spoken as much by the heart as by the mind. Music is able to criss cross time and generations to create a common ground.
There are generations of people who remember the music and dances at Lakewood Park in Bonner — an area now filled with houses and asphalt roads. Walk along there in an evening, and voices and songs from the past seem to call out, stoking the memory, lifting the spirit. A long ago experience often returns to one on hearing a long forgotten song, newly remembered.
The community band is more than an evening of toe tapping and hand clapping. It is the formation and continuation of a life long journey where , if we are fortunate, we find ourselves belonging to a town or village whose main ambition is to live life to the fullest, even in the toughest of times.