Through our lens: Banding together  

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  • Tom Murray, left, and Robyn O’Brien, both of Plainfield, dance in the driveway of Alex Porter, center, and her daughter Willoughby, 2, of Florence chatting with neighbor Ari Kriegsman while they listen to the Expandable Brass Band rehearsing across the street on Wednesday evening of last week. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Some of the members of the Expandable Brass Band gather around the vegetable garden of tuba player Dave Abbott, foreground, of Florence for a rehearsal Wednesday evening of last week. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chris Strom, left, of Strom Refrigeration in Florence, and Fred Gohr, co-owner of Fitzwilly’s restaurant and bar in Northampton, talk under a tent set up in a parking lot beside the restaurant last Thursday. Gohr said the space had been approved by the city earlier in the day and it opened on Saturday. It can seat 55 people and sidewalk space allows for 10 more. Strom said he has been busy, since refrigeration equipment is hard to get restarted when it has been shut down for 10 weeks. Monday, June 8, was the first day restaurants were allowed to reopen, for outdoor dining only, in accord with the second phase of Gov. Charlie Baker's reopening plan. Nonessential businesses were closed on March 23 to slow the spread of coronavirus pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hill Institute kindergartner Hazel Kelley-Bagg of Easthampton receives a card made by science and nature enrichment teacher Karen Sullivan, left, during a “drive-thru” graduation ceremony at the school in Florence last Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Left, Miguel Cruz, 18, Tabor Bowman, 17, and Serenity Perkins, 17, stand with others gathered at Amherst Regional High school during a yoga centering session before the crowd marched to Sweetser Park in the center of town as part of a Youth of BLM protest last Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Laurie and David Parlengas watch graduates receive their diplomas from the front row of the “drive-in”-style Granby Junior/Senior High School graduation on Saturday. Their daughter, Paige Parlengas, is the class president. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING 

  • A collared black bear startles a dove, right, while exploring the back yard of a home on Berkshire Terrace in Florence on Sunday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Photographer
Published: 6/18/2020 7:35:04 AM

During the coronavirus lockdown, people all over the world have been creating community by singing and playing music from their balconies, rooftops and porches. And my Florence neighborhood has been part of this phenomenon. Since early spring, with snow still on the ground, my neighbor Dave Abbott — one of two tuba players on my street — has been out on his porch several evenings a week playing a selection of spirituals and popular music from the American songbook.

During the short sets on his E-flat tuba (“just a giant kazoo, with three valves”), Abbott touches on songs from “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” to “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and, depending on his treatment, the low sweet tones can carry subtly through the air or act like a wakeup call. But Abbott is also an original member of the Expandable Brass Band, a street band with an eclectic repertoire of its own. If you’ve been to any of Northampton’s signature events like First Night, the Pride march or the Hot Chocolate Run, you’ve seen the band in its trademark bright yellow outfits energizing the crowds, marching in front and among them. 

The group usually plays about three times a month, often practicing at Maines Field in Florence. But since the pandemic that’s been impossible. “It’s always been complicated getting this group together,” Abbott says. “People all have three to four lives.” But in the 10 years since the founding of the group, with a membership of 20 or 25 musicians that ebbs and flows, they’ve never gone this long without a practice together.

So, three weeks ago, Abbott invited band members to come over to his place for a Wednesday evening practice, and a fledgling tradition began. A few responded that first Wednesday, bringing a variety of brass and percussion instruments that drew curious passersby as they played for about an hour. On the second Wednesday, seven players showed up, with Abbott and clarinetist Joel Saxe of Northampton occupying the porch and the rest taking up socially distanced positions around his vegetable garden. 

Running through a bouncy set including “Walking on Sunshine,” an upbeat “St. James Infirmary” and a mashup of the disco hit “Funkytown” and Gary Numan’s “Cars,” the group had neighbors and bystanders smiling and dancing. Several of the songs have breaks for short singalongs, and some in the ad hoc audience responded. Next door, Makayla Fydenkevez, 11, swung her brother, Matt, around in circles, celebrating his sixth birthday a day early. Across the street, Alex Porter and her 2-year-old daughter, Willoughby, were joined in their driveway by friends Robyn O’Brien and Tom Murray of Plainfield. “We’re contact dancers,” said Murray as he and O’Brien leapt exuberantly in the air, nearly bumping. “We’ve been fasting from dancing for months!”

On the rising hill of a small park across from Abbott’s house, several people gathered on the grass to listen, including Jack Sweeney-Taylor from down the street, who had run past the scene earlier and returned by bike with his sketchbook. A regional planning major at UMass, Sweeney-Taylor said he likes to sketch while listening to music. But after an hour and a half, with dusk settling in, the “positive scene,” as neighbor Ari Kriegsman characterized it, came to a close.

The members paused to toss around ideas for their next meeting — which would be Sunday afternoon — and then packed up their instruments and cases into their cars. All except for drummer and cyclist Marq Hoover of Florence, who fit his kit neatly onto a trailer and headed off into the night, lights blazing. And Abbott bid his farewell: “We’ll see and hear you around.”

Kevin Gutting can be reached at kgutting@gazettenet.com.


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