AUBURN, Maine — Marching in summer heat wearing a gray and maroon wool suit was the easy part. The painful part of playing in the Montagnard Band arose at the first rehearsal, Duncan Webster said.
Lots of other bands played standards such as “Stars and Stripes Forever,” by John Philip Sousa. But the Montagnard Band — made up of farmers, textile workers, clerks and even a dentist or two — discarded the simpler versions played by most amateur bands
“It was brutal,” said Webster, who joined when he was in high school. The harmonies were tighter. The crescendos were steeper. The cut-offs were sharper. And there were many more notes.
“They threw themselves into it,” said Webster, now 71, a retired engineer from Auburn.
And now, more than 50 years later, he is throwing himself back into it.
He and another Montagnard alumnus, Roger Renaud, rediscovered the sheet music after decades of storage, and presented it to another band.
The Standish-based Fanfare Concert Band plans to begin rehearsals on several pieces from the Montagnard library this spring and perform them next summer during Thursday night concerts at the Poland Spring Inn.
“This is a band that can play this music,” said Webster, who plays the tuba for Fanfare and also with the Kora Temple Band, the Auburn Community Band, the Bath Municipal Band and the Westbrook City Band.
Fanfare’s members are particularly talented, pulling in some of the best musicians in the region, Webster said.
They will have to work hard to match Montagnard’s sound.
That group was formed after World War II at the Le Montagnard Club, a snowshoe club headquartered on Maple Street. In the 1940s and 1950s, the band became known for its Sunday night concerts in a park gazebo.
Marching, however, gave them a lasting place in Maine history.
In the late 1950s, they were the only marching band in the state that also belonged to a labor union. That status and their musical skill led them to be cast in the 1957 movie “Peyton Place.”
The soapy story of small-town scandal, filmed mostly in Camden, became a classic. And the Montagnard Band is seen plainly in the film for about six seconds.
Webster is not in the movie — he hadn’t yet joined the band — but he remembers the camaraderie and politeness within the band when he signed up a few years later.
He began nervously. At Lewiston High School, he’d been a “hotshot” trumpeter who had reached the coveted spot at first chair, Webster said.
But here were men whose average age was about 50. His dad, Shirley, was one of them. He played tuba in the band.
“I couldn’t go in there and have people say, ‘You’re only here because of your father,'” he said.
He worked. And he never felt like an outsider, even though band members were all Francophones.
“My father and I were the only ones who didn’t speak French,” Webster said. When they’d walk in, the men would automatically switch from French to English.
They all seemed to know music.
“They were the best of the best,” Webster said. “They had musical lives. They had musical families. Music was their thing.”
The band broke up in the early 1980s. Renaud, who had begun playing with the band when he was 14 (he later joined the Moon Dawgs and formed Vintage), took possession of Montagnard’s marching books. They were packed in cardboard and forgotten.
Now, those books rest with John Hyman, Fanfare’s director.
“He’s digesting it and picking out his favorites,” Webster said.
For more information on Fanfare and their schedule, go to www.fanfareconcertband.com.