Marching through History
June 9, 2020
Almost every human activity can be affected by the weather. Baseball, gardening, picnicking, star gazing, you name it—they all can be at the mercy of Mother Nature at some point. Musical events are no exception, and the Municipal Band over the years has had its share of weather-related adventures. Here are a few examples.
For any band that plays outdoors wind can be a significant problem. Any stiff breeze or unexpected gust of air can easily send sheet music scattering. This is bad enough anytime, but if a musician is playing at the time and can’t catch his or her loose part, the result becomes chaos. And if the wind is strong enough, it can blow over the player’s entire music stand, creating even more of a catastrophe. Players learn early on to use plenty of clothes pins or music clips to hold their music to their stands—and when necessary to keep a leg wrapped around the stand itself to keep it from blowing away. Some players even use sheets of Plexiglas to hold down their music during windy conditions. All of these measures, however, also make it hard to turn pages.
One notably windy occasion in the Band’s history occurred in August 1953, when the Band had gone to Virginia Beach to accompany local fire department personnel to their annual convention. Hurricane Barbara was imminent and flooded roads made it difficult even to get to Virginia Beach. As soon as possible after the band competition had ended, the men clambered back on their bus to head for home. They managed to catch the last ferry back to the mainland as the winds picked up in intensity, but then another problem surfaced. The bus needed fuel but the high winds had knocked out much of the power in the area. No power meant that gas station pumps wouldn’t work. What to do? Some enterprising Band members noticed a tanker truck heading towards them. They flagged the truck down and persuaded its driver to part with enough gasoline to fill up their bus, after which they made it home safely.
Not surprisingly, wind and rain often go together, and the Band has had its share of precipitation problems, too. Until fairly recently in its history the Band played mostly outdoors, so rain or just the threat of rain could wreak havoc on a concert or parade. Once, during Jim Simmons’ tenure as Conductor and Music Director, summer thunderstorms cancelled or postponed several concerts. Frustrated by the run of bad weather, Simmons was determined that the next concert would go on as planned, so even though skies were threatening on concert night, the Band set up as usual at the Central Place on the Downtown Mall and began playing. About two-thirds of the way through the opening overture, a deluge struck, drenching the Band and whatever audience hadn’t already scurried for home. Music and instruments were soaked and ever thereafter a humbled Jim Simmons did not try to cross the weather gods again.
Another notable rain event occurred shortly after Steve Layman became Music Director of the Band. The date was June 12, 2007 and the event was Mr. Layman’s first summer concert as Music Director. Throughout the concert skies darkened and thunder grumbled. The Band’s concluding number was a medley of tunes from the hit movie Pirates of the Caribbean, for which Band members donned pirate regalia, much to the audience’s amusement. Moments after the Band started to play, wind and rain began to pummel the Sprint Pavilion. Fortunately, the big tent kept both Band members and audience mostly dry, but the wind, water, lightning and thunder provided a fittingly “piratical” backdrop for the music.
As an aside it could be noted that 2003 was one of the wettest on record for Charlottesville. No fewer than five outdoor Band events had to be moved indoors. Another was cancelled altogether due to bad weather and the Band’s two holiday concerts in December experienced snow and slushy conditions.
Speaking of snow, everyone knows that it always “snows” at every Municipal Band holiday concert. For a number of years the Band was fortunate to have among its members trombonist Clayton Stiver, who was also a local television meteorologist. At the appropriate time during each holiday concert, he would appear in his Storm Team 29 weather jacket to “warn” the Band and audience that a major snowstorm was imminent, after which the Band would play White Christmas complete with theatrical snow on stage. All great fun, of course, but there have been times when real snow has impacted Band performances. Some of these date back to the Band’s earliest years, when they would actually perform outdoors during the holiday season. Most recently, the Band’s December 9, 2018 holiday concert had to be cancelled altogether due to a major snowstorm. Fortunately, that concert was able to be rescheduled for later the same week.
Finally, cold weather isn’t the only temperature problem for the Band. Heat can be just as problematic for any band that regularly plays outdoors during the summer. For the first seventy years or so of the Municipal Band’s existence problems with summer heat were made even worse because the uniforms the Band wore were often made from wool or other heavy fabrics. Music Director Sharon Hoose relaxed the heavy uniform requirement somewhat, but he still insisted that Band members wear wool trousers and long-sleeved shirts and ties for summer concerts. This finally caught up with him the evening of June 17, 1979 at a concert the Band gave at the Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts near Vienna, VA. During that event Hoose himself became faint during one number, probably from dehydration in addition to the hot, sultry evening. Assistant Director Jim Simmons quickly took over for the ailing Hoose, who was taken backstage to recover. But any Band member who has ever played a summer concert outdoors in Charlottesville can sympathize with Mr. Hoose. From 1976 until late July 1996 the Band’s summer concerts were held at the Central Place on the Downtown Mall. This area is completely bricked over and is surrounded by tall buildings that block most breezes. The sun heats the bricks all day, and even though the site was in shade by concert time, those heated bricks re-radiated their heat throughout the concert. It was always a hot time in the old town! Even after concerts were moved to the old amphitheater which eventually became the Sprint Pavilion, summer concerts were almost always uncomfortably hot for Band members and audience members alike. It would not be until well into the Jim Simmons era that the Band finally gave up heavy trousers and long-sleeved shirts. Finally, in the summer of 2008 all of the Band’s summer concerts were moved indoors for the safety and comfort of all concerned.
So the next time you attend a Municipal Band summer concert—or any other band’s outdoor performance for that matter—think about those players of former days and all they went through, and in some cases still go through, to bring you the great music you enjoy hearing and they enjoy playing. And be sure to keep an eye on the sky—you never know when a storm may be brewing!