June 24, 2018
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Southern Aroostook high school band bridges generational gap

Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
The Hodgdon High School band has enjoyed musical support from members of the community in recent years. Helping out with the trumpet section during a recent tournament game in Bangor are Penny Nevers (left), Gerry Riley, Janice Lovely and Ellen Williams.
By Joseph Cyr, Houlton Pioneer Times

HODGDON, Maine — Those who took a look at the Hodgdon High School band during basketball games this season may have noticed some of the musicians were a bit more experienced than the rest.

No, the southern Aroostook school has not changed its admissions policy to allow adults back into classes. For the past three years, the high school has invited members of the community to join student musicians as a way to help fill out sections of the band and to also have students gain valuable experience by interacting with adults in a more relaxed environment.

“As is the case in a lot of small schools, the same kids usually do everything,” band director Kelly Ellis said. “We lose our entire trumpet section when the boys play their games. I knew we needed to find someone to fill in.”

So Judy Howard, a teacher in SAD 70, recruited some of her friends from McGill’s Community Band. Ellis also looked to family members for help.

Tim Humphrey, a retired teacher from Hodgdon, said Ellis asked him if he would consider joining the pep band to play bass guitar. Ellis is Humphrey’s niece.

“I told her I’d be glad to give it a try,” Humphrey said. “Learning the band tunes was a bit of a challenge, since most were played in a key not comfortable for an old rock ‘n’ roller. Keys like E-flat and B-flat took a bit of adjustment.”

The learning curve came quickly, he said, and he was amazed at the musicianship and spirit of the high school students.

“Eventually I grew to like the challenge, but mainly liked playing with a fine group of high school students,” he said. “I think they liked me there too. So, it became more and more fun to play at the games. Having taught at SAD 70 for more than 26 years, I found it really nice to interact with students without having to wear my ‘teacher face.’ I found I could relax and have a great time with these talented, thoughtful young people.”

When Humphrey first started there was only one other adult, Judy Howard. Five more community members now participate — Ellen Williams, Gerry Riley, Janice Lovely and Penny Nevers, along with Ellis, playing musical selections.

“Obviously the boys can’t be in two places, so some of us decided to help them out,” Williams said. “Back in the 1990s, when my kids were in school, I played occasionally with the band. That’s when it started for me.”

Lovely, an alum of Hodgdon, said she was recruited by Howard through their connection with McGill’s Community Band.

“I think we all just happened to be willing and available,” Nevers said during the band’s recent appearance at a playoff game at Bangor Auditorium. “I graduated in 1961 from Houlton and actually played here in Bangor with that band. So it was really neat to be back here again.”

Riley said he was impressed with the dynamics the adults and students share.

“The kids are just wonderful and they are really great musicians,” he said.

Ellis added the students have enjoyed having the adults in the band.

“I think the students realize there would be some big holes in our band without their help,” she said. “They really appreciate and love having them.”

“The community spirit of having adults in a high school band is what I find most satisfying,” Humphrey said. “I also love the dedication of both athletic teams involved with the band. When the girls’ team plays, the boys’ team band members play in the band and vice-versa. I once observed the girls’ basketball team members finish a hard-played game and return to play in the band after that game. With the small enrollment, it’s heartwarming to watch everyone at HHS work together to make sure all things get done.”

Humphrey added that at the Bangor Auditorium during tournament week, one of the event staff commented on how nice it was to have such a community-spirited band.

“He really liked seeing the adults and students enjoying playing music together,” he said.

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