OAKLAND — On the eve of the R.B. Hall Memorial Band’s 50th year, the group almost went extinct. With just six players left in the Waterville-area summer band, there weren’t enough musicians to play all of the necessary parts.

We had six players and no leader,” said Kristy Spears, 43, a tuba player with the band. “We can have all the heart in the world to want to play the music, but we need someone to be up in front of us to direct us and guide us and organize us.”

Kristy Spears rehearses on the tuba Tuesday with the R.B. Hall Memorial Band at Williams Elementary School in Oakland on Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Spears, of Sidney, emailed just about every band director she could think of to turn the situation around. Eventually, Ben Clark, the band director for Winslow’s school system, agreed to take on the role. Clark recruited students from Messalonskee, Winslow and Lawrence high schools, Erskine Academy and Maine Arts Academy in Sidney — along with his two daughters — to help fill the seats. Still, he plays the saxophone as he conducts in order to complete the band. Now, they are nearly 20 members strong.

For people like Selma Pulsifer and Wendy Frost, who have been with the band 50 and 49 years, respectively, the news was quite literally music to their ears.

“It feels good to have a few people in the band now, playing,” said Pulsifer, a 91-year-old trombonist from Oakland. As the band’s longest-standing member, Pulsifer feared calling it quits. 

Frost, 62, of Waterville, said that the last time she took a break from her clarinet — after high school —she felt “kind of down.”

“I realized that not having music in my life leaves a great big huge gap, and it’s a downer for me, so I have to be involved with music,” explained Frost. “It’s required by my life.”

Pulsifer and Frost have traveled all across the state — and to Massachusetts — to perform with the group. On Tuesday at 6 p.m., they will also play in the band’s 50th anniversary concert, which will be held at the Oakland Waterfront Park and will feature memorabilia from the band’s history as well as ice cream to benefit the town’s historical society.

The two women can each recall when the band grew from an experiment by the Waterville Parks and Recreation Department. It turned into a family-oriented activity, led by Fred Dotton.

 

“Some of the band members would have their whole family in the band,” Frost said. “If the Martins weren’t going to be available or the Beacons were not going to be available because they were going away for a weekend or whatever, we couldn’t schedule anything because that would be like five or seven people missing out of the band.”

Today, the band is experiencing a slight revival of the family nature. Spears plays tuba alongside her clarinetist relatives — her father, Rick Marriner, and her daughter, Kimberley Spears. And then there are, of course, Clark and his daughters, Grace and Ella.

“There are no age (requirements), which I think is nice,” Pulsifer said. “We have the young kids now and the older people and I think it’s a nice experience for both of us.”

Rick Marriner holds up the sheet music for “The Sentinel” during R.B. Hall Memorial Band rehearsal at Williams Elementary School in Oakland on Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The R.B. Hall Memorial Band uses copies of the original music of Maine’s famed composer and coronet player, Robert Browne Hall, for whom the group is named. Several of the original march books are kept in the Waterville Historical Society’s Redington Museum. Each book contains the notes for just one instrument, which Clark said has been a bit of a challenge for him to navigate as director.

“Most conductors now have a full score where they have all the parts and what every part is playing at one time, so for me this year coming in as a conductor, it was like, ‘Oh, well, somebody’s supposed to come in there, but I don’t know who it is, because you don’t have the full picture. A conductor I’ve worked with talks about it like studying to take a test, but only having 10% of the information that is going to be on the test.”

Hall himself is internationally known as a contemporary of John Philip Sousa. The Bowdoinham-born composer wrote over 100 marches and two-steps in his lifetime, which spanned from 1858-1907. His “Funeral March” was one of the pieces performed by the U.S. Navy Band as former president John F. Kennedy was carried to his final resting place.

“Most famously, (Hall) would go from town to town all over the state of Maine, and he would pull together different bands in each town,” said Bryan Finnemore, curator and caretaker at the Redington Museum. “I liken him to the Music Man.”

The Waterville Military Band was among his better-known bands. The group played when the cornerstone was laid for Waterville’s new city hall and opera house and was the first to perform on the stage for its grand opening, according to Finnemore and the Waterville Creates! website.

The state honors Hall on the last Saturday in June each year, which the Legislature deemed R.B. Hall Day.

Though the Oakland-based memorial band is now nearly 20 members strong, Kristy Spears said she hopes to get even more interest next year.

“We welcome new players in no matter what their skill levels are,” she said.

The group, which practices Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 at Williams Elementary School, is active from late April through the weekend of the Clinton fair in early September.


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