WESTFIELD, NJ - Underneath the gazebo's light the Westfield Community Concert Band illuminated Mindowaskin Park Thursday evening: children danced and families dined as roughly 400 gathered to listen to their mix of melodies.
“We come every year because it’s a great place to enjoy our sushi with a backdrop of wonderful music,” said Rita Klemp, who had set up an elaborate picnic on the edge of the park with her husband Don.
The Westfield Community Concert Band performs four free concerts each summer at Mindowaskin Park in Westfield. A tradition that started in 1912, the ensemble has become one of the oldest bands in the country as well as a rich part of the town’s history.
“I’ve been playing in the band for 40 years,” said Westfield resident and the ensemble's percussionist Diana Taylor. “It makes me feel good, to be a part of the town's history and to give something back. But, for me, the greatest gift is when the children dance.”
On Thursday, Abigail Shiles wiggled her left hand in the air and loosely held a piece of her blue flower-printed skirt in the right while her mother, Erin, sat nearby on a blanket. The three-year watched its ruffles rise as her tiny feet spun in circles, moving her this way and that to the sound of the music.
“We were walking through the park when we saw the concert and she just started dancing,” Erin Shiles said. “She especially loves classical music - she dances to the Nutcracker all the time at home - so we stayed and she got to see her first live concert.”
For an hour and a half the 60 musicians that encompass the band played a variety of upbeat melodies as dusk settled around the park. Included in the performance was Frank Ticheli’s Sun Dance, Percy Grainger’s Children’s March and Salute to Spike Jones by Calvin Custer.
“We have a wide variety of musicians and attract an equally versatile crowd with our musical selections,” said conductor Dr. Thomas N. Connors. “I try to mix standard band literature with Broadway musicals and contemporary music. Traditional band music, like marches, keeps up with the tradition of the band while the other stuff expands the audience’s concept of what band music is.”
But, Dr. Connors' true design for the performance was announced right before intermission as a few children joined Abigail Shiles dancing on the grass. “I said last night, ‘if we get some kids marching around and dancing I know we’re doing ok, and it looks like we’re doing just fine’.”