Strike Up the Band
Pleasures of making music, lucky 13 for Sanibel concert group
Iwrapped up the last “Stay Tuned” column with the statement that “as far as music is concerned, the word ‘retirement’ needs never apply.” Today I’d like to provide a fitting illustration of those words from our own back yard here in Southwest Florida. It begins in the middle of October, when more than 50 musicians hailing from 15 states, Canada, and Germany start to gather every week on Sanibel Island to rehearse as part of the BIG ARTS Concert Band. Many are snowbirds; and while some reside on the island, the majority drive down from Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, Pine Island or Cape Coral for the privilege and pleasure of making music with friends and colleagues.
The band turns a lucky 13 this year, having been founded in 2003. Since that time its reputation has steadily grown to the point that the band’s annual holiday and spring concerts have become fixtures on Sanibel. Under the leadership of current music director Mike Lamade, now entering his third season as conductor, the BIG ARTS Concert Band has more than doubled in size. As Lamade notes, “We have a few professionals, but most are everyday folks such as teachers, ministers, bricklayers, CEOs of big companies, doctors, nurses. Some have played 60 years, some haven’t played since high school and are even taking lessons as seniors.” Perhaps most remarkable? The average age of players in the band is around 76. Lamade, a professional percussionist and high school band director whose career led him to Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, now resides full time in Southw est
Florida. Lamade is clearly in his element as he leads the band’s rehearsals and performances, not only with discipline, but also an infectious enthusiasm. “I’m doing now what I did at age 21, sixty years ago―makin’ music and loving it,” says Lamade.
As to his fellow musicians whom he directs in the band, Lamade reflects, “These folks need no inspiration from me to perform their best. I do the best I can to motivate them to play well. I try to make it fun ... if my 89-year-old trumpet player is a little off-key, God bless him.”
For Lamade a particularly memorable moment occurred at the conclusion of last spring’s Pops Concert at Schein Hall on Sanibel. “It wasn’t the sold-out house last spring, the applause or the standing ovation,” Lamade recalls, “but the smiles on the faces of my musicians as the y stood and took their bows. They knew the hard work of practicing their parts and working together as a team had paid off.”
I asked Lamade to comment on the differences between conducting the BIG ARTS Concert Band and the numerous high school bands he has led in the past, especially given the 60-year gap in the average age of the players. His answer is perhaps as surprising as it is encouraging. “It’s the same,” he notes. “Music is the connecting factor, regardless of age, race, nationality or religion—music is the universal language.”
Pianist, instructor and musicologist Erik Entwistle received an undergraduate degree in music from Dartmouth College. He earned a post-graduate degree in piano performance at Washington University in St. Louis. He earned his doctorate in musicology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He teaches on Sanibel.
BIG ARTS CONCERT BAND UPCOMING PERFORMANCES Holiday Concert: Dec. 17, 2016 Spring Concert: March 3, 2017 (Schein Performance Hall at BIG ARTS on Sanibel Island)
I’M DOING NOW WHAT I DID AT AGE 21, SIXTY YEARS AGO— MAKIN’ MUSIC AND LOVING IT.” —MIKE LAMADE