Shearstown Brass Band still go­ing strong

Mem­bers speak on how they com­bat the dis­si­pat­ing tra­di­tion of brass bands in New­found­land

The Compass - - Front page - BY CHRIS LEWIS

On the heels of the group’s re­cent Box­ing Day pa­rade, some mem­bers of the Shearstown Brass Band dis­cuss how it man­ages to remain ac­tive in the com­mu­nity.

The Shearstown Brass Band re­cently brought some hol­i­day cheer to the com­mu­nity through its an­nual Box­ing Day pa­rade.

Be­tween that sea­sonal tra­di­tion and nu­mer­ous per­for­mances through­out the year, the group has built up some­thing of a rep­u­ta­tion for them­selves.

It’s one long-stand­ing mem­ber Paul Somer­ton be­lieves will pro­vide them with a solid fu­ture as a group.

“Things have al­ways been good for us. I don’t see that chang­ing any time soon,” he said, pride in his years as a mem­ber clear in his words.

In the face of a dy­ing tra­di­tion, the Shearstown Brass Band shares the se­cret to keep­ing the mem­ory of brass bands alive and well.

As years go by and gen­er­a­tions pass, the brass band tra­di­tion is slowly dis­si­pat­ing across New­found­land.

“There are bands out there now who only have maybe eight or so peo­ple left,” said Somer­ton.

This is not the case in Shearstown. With ap­prox­i­mately 30 mem­bers rang­ing from young chil­dren to sea­soned vet­er­ans, the Shearstown Brass Band con­tin­ues to hold strong to a val­ued tra­di­tion.

“It’s a pop­u­lar tra­di­tion, to watch the brass band this time of year, but a lot of bands out there now just don’t have the num­bers like they used to,” said Somer­ton, 55, who has been a part of the band since he was 11.

The Com­pass sat down with var­i­ous mem­bers of the band – each of them don­ning a red jacket adorned with the band’s logo – to speak on the group’s suc­cess and how they con­tinue to thrive in a tra­di­tion that is slowly los­ing its foothold in other parts of the prov­ince.

Youth in­volve­ment Although num­bers have fluc­tu­ated over the years, the Shearstown band’s mem­ber­ship has stayed rel­a­tively solid as the years go by, de­spite the hard­ships other groups are fac­ing.

The se­cret? Somer­ton says it all comes down to the youth.

“Get the kids in­volved. Get them out there when they’re re­ally young, at eight-year­sold or some­thing. That’s when they’ll be most ex­cited about play­ing, and as they grow older, they’ll come to love it,” he said, not­ing that this is one of the main rea­sons his group has man­aged to avoid the dwin­dling play­ers prob­lem. “Peo­ple might see (the chil­dren) out there and think ‘Well, they don’t re­ally know how to play, do they?’ But that’s al­right. The other mem­bers can pick up for them.

“As long as they’re hav­ing fun, they’ll keep an in­ter­est in be­ing a part of the band. In a cou­ple years, they’ll know more of what they’re do­ing and be able to carry on the tra­di­tion on their own.”

Fam­ily tra­di­tion

Main­tain­ing a fa­mil­ial tie has also played a ma­jor role in the band’s con­tin­u­ing pres­ence in the com­mu­nity.

Two of its younger mem­bers, Ri­ley Vokey and Ryan But­ler, both told The Com­pass their de­ci­sion to join was strongly in­flu­enced by their fam­ily’s in­volve­ment in the band.

“It’s a fam­ily thing,” But­ler said. “My fam­ily was al­ways in­volved, and now so am I. Now, my neph­ews are go­ing to be join­ing too, so fam­ily ties are def­i­nitely a big fac­tor here.”

“It’s re­ally an old tra­di­tion that’s been around here for so many gen­er­a­tions – a lot of peo­ple im­me­di­ately think of the brass bands when they think of Christ­mas. Now, if we want it to be around a while, it’s got to be ap­peal­ing to the younger gen­er­a­tions too, and that’s what’s hap­pen­ing here,” said mem­ber Tony Vokey, who is also Ri­ley’s fa­ther. Ri­ley’s mother, An­gela, was also one of the first women to ever play with the Shearstown band.

“The band lets them have fun, brings them out to a bunch of places to play, and just keeps it in­ter­est­ing for the younger ones.”

Somer­ton says the ded­i­ca­tion to the group shown by all mem­bers, new and old, has ul­ti­mately been one of the big­gest con­trib­u­tors to the group’s suc­cess.


Mem­bers, both new and old, of the Shearstown Brass Band, from left, seated, Ri­ley Vokey, Hed­ley Brad­bury, Ryan But­ler; stand­ing, Paul Somer­ton and Tony Vokey.

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