Turning Back the Clock

Right before we went on to play.
Right before we went on to play.

I wanted to write this while it was still fresh in my mind but it’s likely it won’t be posted for a couple weeks depending on how well I get things set up (UPDATE: The concert was actually back on June 24th).  I just came home from a wonderful event playing a reunion with old and new friends from my old high school as part of a tribute to our old band director, Raymond J. Dombrowski.  Mr “D” was the band director at Bel Air High School in MD from 1956 until 1985 and he touched a lot of lives (including mine) with his knowledge, attention to detail, musicality and calm demeanor.  He worked tirelessly for all of those years conducting the school concert and stage bands, and orchestra.  He also taught music theory and jazz improvisation classes, wrote music (including the Bel Air Bobcat fight song) and acted as a role model to all of us.  Whatever I have achieved as a musician was molded by his instruction and inspiration.


We have done four of these reunions over the last 12 years and it’s likely that this was the last one at least in its current form.  The idea that there won’t be any more of them is very sad for me but I will cherish the ones we have played and this one most of all even though the first two were actually conducted by Mr. D himself.  He passed away a few months after the second one.

The weekend is always hectic with lots of rehearsal and a ton of catching up.  Usually we rehearse on Friday evening for 2 hours, on Saturday for four (with a two-hour lunch break in the middle), and then a one-hour dress rehearsal on Sunday before the concert…usually outside at the Bel Air Bandshell.  In addition to the fun of hanging out and catching up I find the reunions interesting and somewhat challenging because it’s very different from the type of playing I do these days.  It is concert band music so it’s much more classically oriented and it’s a much larger group to blend and interact with than anything else I do.  It’s the usual concert you would see from any number of community bands throughout the country…marches, original concert band music, pop medleys, and some nostalgic stuff like our high school fight song.  It’s not the most challenging music because many of the people don’t play that much anymore so we have to be kind and gentle with their chops but this one was more challenging and interesting than the others had been.  Even though the music was not super technically challenging I appreciated the challenge of listening and blending and really working on the pieces to make music with them even with so little time together.

Notably, we played two original pieces that had been commissioned either by Mr. D or in his memory.  The first was “Bel Air Blue and White” (our school colors) by James William “Buzz” Jones from Gettysburg.  This piece was commissioned by Mr. D and dedicated to his wife Esther who was the librarian at the school and the leader of the marching band’s color guard.  It is an interesting take on a march that alternates between being in 2/4 and 6/8.  The second piece was commissioned by the Bel Air Community Band in honor of Mr. D.  It’s called Anthem and was written by Patrick Burns.  It’s a beautiful theme and variation on the Polish national anthem (in case you couldn’t tell by his name, Mr. Dombrowski was Polish).

For some of these people, the reunion is the only chance I get to see them so it’s highly likely I may never see them again and that’s very sad.  What’s amazing, though, is how easily we become comfortable and friendly with each other even though most of us did not attend high school together.  We are simply united by our affection for Mr. and Mrs. D (who is still alive and kicking as I write this and was in attendance at the concert) and a love for each other and music.  We never really get enough time to spend together but it seems we cherish every moment – I know I do.  As Mr. D used to say at the end of every concert, football game, or parade…”Good Job, Bel Air!”

Categorized as Events

By Barry

I've been playing the saxophone professionally for over 30 years mostly in the Baltimore/Washington DC area. I've been through a lot of trials and tribulations trying to learn and play this wonderful instrument and my hope is to pass some knowledge along to others and maybe save them some of the trouble. At the very least I want to give you some things to think about even if you do something different or disregard what I say completely.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *