Sun Times staff
Gary Murphy bought a saxophone decades back with his first income tax receipt.
But he never went beyond basics until he set his sights on the Owen Sound City Band four years ago. He put in a year of scales and exercises, then called about openings.
“He didn’t even ask me what instrument I played,” Murphy said after the band’s first regular Monday night summer concert at Harrison Park.
From his first rehearsal, then a concert four days later where Murphy accidentally kicked over a music stand, he felt right at home with the band, and now so do his musical sons.
“It was just so welcoming that I stayed and kept coming back,” said Murphy, now the band’s baritone sax player.
Others have stayed and played much longer with this group, steeped as it is in community musical history and tradition.
Flute and piccolo player Dave Skelton has been a city band member since 1972, but for a few missed years.
First trumpet player Wayne Smith signed on more than 20 years ago.
Nancy Mashinter has played the baritone horn for almost six decades, regularly with the Owen Sound City Band since she moved to Hanover almost 20 years ago.
These longtime band musicians keep coming back for the music, mostly, and for the regular practise but also for the company and to be part of the band’s long tradition, they said.
“It’s just like the teenie boppers with their music, right? That’s the way I feel with mine,” Mashinter said. “I just want it to keep going. The foot’s going and I’m right into it. Right into it. I just love it.”
Mashinter, who lives in Hanover and makes the weekly drive to rehearse, has recruited her granddaughter Jessica Gore to play trumpet. The 16-year-old said she’s not always keen on going to band – not until she’s sitting in the mix.
“Once I actually get here and start playing with everyone else and the sound’s everywhere all around, I get hyper,” she said. “I get happy and normally I can’t get the songs out of my head for, like, a few days. It’s amazing. I love all the sounds everywhere.”
Like Mashinter, Murphy has brought in a new generation of musicians; sons Kaelin, 11, a reed and brass player, and Nolan, 13, percussion, and Riordain, five, who sometimes contributes percussion and “considers himself a member of the band.”
“It’s very nice knowing that we’re making this great music for everyone who can hear it,” Nolan Murphy said after the Monday concert. “That’s the most fulfilling part for me.”
He’s one of three percussionists among some 25 band members, but in the 13-year-old’s three years there he has also played trombone and baritone horn and has his eye now on the tuba seat, if it comes open.
Kaelin Murphy started with clarinet, but has played bass clarinet and French horn lines using his flugelhorn, as well as trumpet and saxophone in school ensembles.
“I really like playing in this band because I get to work with professionals who know how to play the instrument,” he said. “So it really helps me learn how to play my instrument better.”
The new, younger members, along with the relatively recent addition of Rob Tite as band master a little more than three years ago has given the band new energy, some members said.
Skelton, who also plays flute with the Georgian Bay Symphony, said this band offers different music and a different approach. Instead of learning new repertoire for every concert, there’s a broad, interesting and varied selection from hundreds of band music gems stored in 10 filing cabinets dating back to the 1890s.
“We have a pile of stuff,” Skelton said. “We do some of it at this concert and another bunch of it at the next concert but we never let go of anything in there.”
He said some of the recently circulating repertoire adds a welcome new challenge, while the beauty of the band is offering something for musicians of all levels and all ages.
“Some of these players could play circles around anybody I’ve ever met and others had been playing for just months when they joined. And there’s a part that everybody can play.”
“It’s just a fun thing to do.” said Skelton. “I’ve played a lot of this music over the years but with a new leader and new people, it’s different. It keeps it fresh.”
Tite took over in 2008 from longtime band leader Bob Bell, who directed since 1986, now sits the tuba seat, and whose time with the city band dates back to the 1960s. Bell said he welcomes the young musician’s leadership and the new recruits.
This uninterrupted tradition began in 1925, led by William George Iles, who combined Legion, Salvation Army and the city regimental band to form he Owen Sound City Band.
The band now plays about 30 concerts and parades each year and is always recruiting, Tite said.
Interested band musicians are welcome to join the regular Monday night rehearsals, which function during the summer months also as community concerts at Harrison Park. During spring, fall and winter, the band rehearses at OSCVI at 7:30 on Monday nights.
Tite, who first joined the city band as a teenager, then took time off for post secondary studies in music, said he sees constant improvement and has been challenging the band recently with more difficult pieces.
“I’m really pleased with the attitude within the band,” he said. “Everybody seems very light and happy and seem to be enjoying themselves” which comes through in the music, he said.
Murphy, also a relative newcomer, said he sees a joy in making music within the group.
“Everybody here is here because they love it. When they start to play, you can hear it,” he said. “Where else can you play in an ensemble if you’re playing an instrument like this?”
His baritone sax, owned by the city band, languished in poor repair for many years. Making ensemble music with this venerable, bass-voiced instrument in the midst of two dozen players is “just a whole body experience.”
“You’re in the middle of all of this sound. Where it especially gets me is when we get into passages where, and we’re amateur players so it doesn’t happen all the time, but when we get into that groove and you can feel it. When things come into coherence and suddenly they get very sharp and powerful. When that happens and you’re sitting there in that row of horns and everything is just driving, you can’t get that out of a stereo system.”