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Sixty-five musicians of every stripe and shape assembled on the circular brick pad framed by eight large cedar trees in the center of Salem Square in the historic district of Old Salem. Hopes were high that the weather would finally allow the summer season to begin after two previous rain-outs. Children chased fireflies while their parents set up lawn chairs and ate cups of gelato from the vendor on the edge of the square. And in quiet moments one could hear the cooing of mourning doves and the tinny bell of Home Moravian Church ringing the half hours.
Usually referred to as "Old Salem," Salem was established in 1766 by Moravian settlers who brought with them their love of music, especially brass instruments. Formed in 1771, the Salem Band proudly proclaims itself to be the oldest continuous band in the nation. The music director and conductor of the band for the last seven years is Eileen Young, the band's first female conductor, and known regionally for her fine clarinet and sax playing. Under her leadership, the band has grown in size and number of concerts. Concerts are always free for audiences.
The title of tonight's concert was "School of Rock," a long stretch for a Moravian connection, but hugely popular with the hundred-fifty listeners who snapped fingers, tapped toes and sang words sotto voce. A senior citizen made her silent political statement of solidarity by dropping to one knee through the National Anthem which opened the evening's program. Courting couples danced barefoot on the grass to the Glenn Miller medley which helped situate the precursors of Elvis, the Beatles, and Journey.
This was a comprehensive sampling of pop music from the 1930's jazz through the disco era, from "Splish, Splash" (Bobby Darin) to "Any Way You Want It" (Journey). One of the highlights of the evening was the band's performance of "Yesterday" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (band arrangement by Zane van Auken).
"YMCA" had the audience doing calisthenics in their chairs and wishing the version played were longer. An insider joke allowed the band to play a transcription of an Italian polka by Rachmaninoff ("Rocky Maninoff"), which featured some of the best playing of the evening. Also touchingly played was "Carry On My Wayward Son" originally by Kansas (band arrangement by Paul Murtha). The closing march, "Song of America," got off to a rocky start but featured some fine tuba playing.
The inclusion of two hymns from the Moravian hymn book was a nod to Moravian tradition and permitted the passing of a collection basket for donations to the band.
The next performance of the Salem Band will be in the same location, on Tuesday night June 12 at 7:30 pm and will feature Music Educators' Choice repertory with guest conductors.