Wearing sandals and shorts, hauling saxophones, trumpets and flutes, a swarm of musicians filled the band room at Sentinel High School on a recent hot Monday night.
The “world’s largest swamp cooler,” so named by the musicians, whirled at full tilt, cooling the room filled with enthusiasm and later, big sound.
This was practice night for the Missoula City Band.
A summer tradition that reaches back more than 100 years, the band attracts attracts 80 musicians of all ages to practice at the weekly Monday rehearsal and to perform at the weekly Wednesday night concert in Bonner Park.
At the core of the band are musicians of a certain age.
Having long since graduated from high school, these musicians bring years of life experience to the program, along with a well-cured love for performing.
They are the boomers of the band.
Leading the way of both the band and the boomers are Gary Gillett, 59, and his good pal, band announcer and sax player Bill Roche, 58.
The dynamic duo are responsible for reconfiguring the works of old composers and modernizing the scores for today’s audience.
It’s a labor of love and a weekly Sunday of laughter when the two put their heads together.
For band members and audience alike, the musical experience must be enjoyable, Gillett insists.
“We are an amateur band,” he said. “We don’t have any professionals – most of these people have day jobs who enjoying making music.”
The music, then, has to be carefully chosen. It has to be engaging, even challenging, but it can’t be too difficult to play.
“It has to be recreational,” Gillett explained.
And it has to be fun, Roche insisted.
“Our leader (Gillett) makes it fun. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “Gary has a way of blending the technical difficulty in a way that isn’t overwhelming us and yet is going to give us something we can dig into.
“It’s quite a balancing act.”
The boomers in the band come to play for many different reasons, they say.
It’s good company.
It’s a time to play.
“For a lot of the boomers, during the summer this is only chance to play in a band,” Gillett noted. “And for a lot of us, we play because we can. Many of us have raised our kids and we can come back to the things we enjoyed when we were younger. We went to schools, we chose a career, we did all that adult stuff, and now we have time to return to the things that interested us, that sparked us as kids.”
The multigenerational aspect of the band adds to the enjoyment – and the performance venue is outstanding, Roche chimed in.
“It’s outside. We blow and bang things. It’s loud – it’s a blast,” Roche said. “We play the old war horses, the marches, the overtures, the waltzes, and there’s something for everyone.”
As a band – and as a band proudly filled out with boomers – Roche says, “I like to think we are part of the whole thing that makes Missoula Missoula.”
Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.