At Owen Park, in down town Vineyard Haven, a little red trailer is hitched to the back of a Chilmark Spring Water van. On the side of the trailer, painted in expansive gold script, it says: The Vineyard Haven Band Est. 1868.
Frank Dunkl, owner of Chilmark Springwater with his brother and sister, serves as the band’s board president, french horn player and passionate historian. Mr. Dunkl has performed with the all-volunteer band since 1984.
“You never know when you do a concert who is going to show up,” he said. He remembered a Fourth of July concert at the Whaling Church in Edgartown. “No trumpets showed up. I played trumpet and a nine-year-old played trumpet. In show business there’s an old saying, the show must go on.”
One-hundred-and-forty-five years after the band was formed, the show does still go on. Each season the band begins practicing during the first week in June, hoping to have two to three rehearsals before their first concert. Then they practice every Monday night until August 12. They play shows in Owen Park and Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs, at the fireworks, the July Fourth parade and Illumination Night. Or, as Mr. Dunkl calls it, “the big hoopla.”
In addition to their regular performances, this summer the band will play a special concert on Sunday, August 11, at the Tabernacle in memory of Dr. Gary Lee Zwicky. During his working retirement Dr. Zwicky was director of the Vineyard Haven Band from 1994 to 2005. He died on April 8, 2012.
Mr. Dunkl described Dr. Zwicky saying, “He was a mild-mannered man, a perfect gentleman. His one fault was a voice that didn’t carry very well. But man, that fella really knew music. He was able to get more out of the band than I’ve ever seen, before or since.”
Dr. Zwicky received his doctorate of music arts in organ from the University of Illinois at Champaign, which is where he met his wife, Elaine Holmes. Mrs. Zwicky, who died just 13 days after her husband, was also an accomplished musician. Together, the two shared a deep joy for music, a joy that they both expressed in their work with the Vineyard Haven Band.
Martha Child has performed with the band for over 45 years. She plays the piccolo and the flute.
“We play a little bit of everything,” she said. “Songs from movies, show tunes — both old and new — major works and symphonic band music.”
At the Owen Park concert on August 4, the band’s “little bit of everything” rose from the gazebo and meandered down Main street. As the sun set over the harbor, flashes of lightning sparked above the gazebo’s weathervane. The rain stayed away.
Julie Schilling, the band’s current director, rose onto her tiptoes as she led the band. Between songs, the group of musicians laughed and chatted like old friends.
Many of the musicians are old friends who, like Ms. Child, have been playing in the band for many years. Other musicians are college students on summer vacation, newcomers to the Island or even high school students.
“The Vineyard Haven Band does not discriminate on any basis whatsoever,” said Mr. Dunkl. “A musician can be seven or 84. If they can read music and are willing to try then we’re happy.”
Mr. Dunkl is keenly aware of how the band’s history threads through its present and proudly shares the story of the band’s origins. A group of Civil War veterans founded the Silver Cornet Brass Band in the year commemorated on that little red trailer, 1868. The group of veterans represented both the Union and the Confederacy.
“These men who were enemies were friends in music,” Mr. Dunkl said.
Today’s band continues this tradition of uniting a diverse group through a common love for music. When Dr. Zwicki directed the band, Mr. Dunkl said the doctor understood what each musician could and couldn’t do. He arranged many songs specifically for the band, using his knowledge of the musicians to both highlight their strengths and stretch their abilities.
“He had an impish personality and it came out when he arranged music,” said Mr. Dunkl.
At the end of America the Beautiful, Mr. Dunkl said musicians are tired from long, complex measures. In Dr. Zwicky’s arrangement he takes that moment to bring the musicians right to the very top of their range. Above the notes Dr. Zwicky wrote, “Zwicky’s revenge.”
Ms. Child said that it always impressed her that Dr. Zwicky chose challenging music for the band and created these arrangements specifically for them. At the memorial concert Mr. Dunkl said that the group will perform four pieces arranged by Dr. Zwicky: The Star-Spangled Banner, Armed Forces Medley, America the Beautiful and Vineyard Haven. This last piece was composed by a local musician and dedicated to the band. Mr. Dunkl said that Dr. Zwicky created his own arrangements of these popular songs so that they could be performed in a key that listeners can easily sing along to.
“You could not stop him.” Mr. Dunkl said about Dr. Zwicky, who died of Parkinson’s disease. “He created music up until the end.”
The band will honor Dr. and Mrs. Zwicky at their concert at the Tabernacle on Sunday, August 11 at 8 p.m. Bob Cleasby, Director of Programs for the Camp Meeting Association, will read a brief history of Dr. and Mrs. Zwicky’s lives and work. Their son, Fred Zwicky, a photographer, created a photo slideshow that will play during the concert. The Island’s brass band, Vineyard Classic Brass, will also perform. Admission is by donation.