Practice and performance. Community connection. A feeling of family. There are myriad reasons why the 60-odd members of the Falmouth Town Band come together every summer in a bandshell by the sea. What they all share is a love of music and delight in the friendships that the band brings to life.Written by Lisa Cavanaugh | Photography by Derrick Zellmann
There is a soft breeze coming in from the adjacent harbor as the first few polo shirt-clad members of the Falmouth Town Band arrive at the bandshell in Marine Park on a beautiful August evening. Darrell Morey, the band manager, and Lori Spurling, the group’s librarian, begin unfolding chairs and setting out music as early-bird audience members stake out prime viewing locations on the grass in front. A popcorn man takes his position near the road, and cars nose into the spots closest to the bandshell. Once the music starts, drivers will applaud by honking their horns in approval.
“We get all ages at the concerts,” says Morey. “Families with little kids, folks from the nursing home nearby. It’s for residents, it’s for tourists, it’s for everybody.”
Morey, a social studies teacher and marching band volunteer at Falmouth High School, points out that like the audience, band members’ ages run the gamut. He has been part of the group for 20 years, first as a trombone player and then as manager. “It’s a multigenerational organization. Our younger members are sitting there with senior citizens, and everyone is playing and working together,” he says.
As librarian, Spurling has the hefty responsibility of cataloguing, repairing, organizing and distributing the music throughout the off season, spring rehearsal period and 10 weeks of summer concerts. She and her piccolo-stand partner are both nurses, at Falmouth and Cape Cod Hospitals, respectively.
“We can get here after a tough day, talk nursing and then get lost in the music,” says Spurling. Her own children have played in the band and now bring her grandchildren to join the fun. “Town band becomes like family.”
Two saxophone players illustrate this perfectly. Rene Francolini, an alto sax player in her 20s, joined the band last spring and was paired with stand partner Peter Butler, who is over 40 years her senior. Francolini is new to Falmouth, working in environmental toxicology at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, but has spent the past 15 summers on Cape Cod. “It’s such an intergenerational place. This band is a fun way to meet people that you wouldn’t have known otherwise,” she says.
Butler, a 10-year veteran of the band and longtime Falmouth resident, agrees. “I’ve made quite a few fascinating friends of all ages,” he says. “I always tell people we have members from eighth grade to 80 (years old),” says band director Tom Borning. Borning, who is the instrumental music director at Morse Pond School, began teaching music at Falmouth High School in 1998. He joined the town band as a trumpeter a year later, filling in occasionally as director until his predecessor, LaVada Studley, retired at the end of the 2016 season.
His challenge each year is sifting through over 200 pieces of music in the band’s library and choosing a repertoire for the summer that is both crowd-pleasing and musician-friendly. “As a music educator, I want people to be active lifelong musicians, even if they are not performers. Part of music education is being an appreciative listener.”
The Falmouth Town Band, which plays every Thursday evening in July and August (weather permitting), has existed in various incarnations since the early 20th century. Support for the band comes not only from the town recreation department, but also from organizations such as the Falmouth Cultural Council and Woods Hole Foundation. Audiences are also generous, handing donations to the “Bucket Brigade” volunteers who move through the crowd during each show—collections the band uses to replace equipment and buy new music.
Of all the band members, former director Lin Whitehead can be credited with possessing the most archival information. Whitehead joined the group with her husband in 1971, serving for 10 years as the first chair clarinetist and band librarian, and then became the conductor and directed the band for 30 years.
Whitehead, the music department head for Falmouth schools for three decades, played the key role in getting a new larger bandshell funded and constructed. It took years of effort, but the structure – which bears a plaque in her honor – was finally completed in 2009. “The best part is, now everyone fits!” she says.
Whitehead believes strongly that the band is a wonderful asset to the community. “Whole families play in it together,” she says. “The younger people help the older people, the older people teach the younger people. It’s timeless.”
Master of ceremonies Peter Cook, a former NPR radio host and current IT director for Falmouth Public Library, isn’t a musician himself, but his adult son plays clarinet in the band. He, too, feels that the concerts are something special for the town. “I love music, I love being outside, I love the audiences. I love being part of Falmouth,” he says.
It isn’t hard to find reasons for his passion on this summer night, as the musicians tune their instruments and the audience members find their places. Cook and Borning greet the crowd and the music begins. Between a medley of rock-and-roll hits, Disney songs and Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” happy beeps are heard from contented cars as the gentle harbor wind drifts across the bright and busy bandshell.