Ch 22. A Concert Band
Ian, the retired dairy farmer I mentioned earlier and his wife Leon invited us to a school concert in Melbourne because two of their grandsons were performing. It was a story that should have been a Hollywood feel-good movie. The school was in a down-town area. There had been the usual youth problems, and these two boys with a single mother had been no strangers to trouble. A visionary music teacher at the school had the idea of starting a concert band. Just as one would expect in a movie, the band worked its magic. Kids lives, even whole families were transformed. The school itself was lifted by identification with this success story.
The bans was fund raising – I think for a tour. Sue and I thought God was saying to give what we had saved up from our tithes, which made quite a large donation. The band offered to send a group out to do a performance at Lang Lang as a 'thank you'. We thought God had an even bolder plan: to start our own concert band.
We and others with kids who might be candidates prayed. We came to the conclusion that we should go ahead. A meeting was arranged of interested families, and Ian and Leon's grandsons agreed to come and talk about their experiences with the school band.
I was gardening early afternoon of the day of the meeting. I looked up to see a couple of young toughs coming through the gate. It was one of those moments when you think “Oh ho! Here's trouble.” then the elder said “Hello we're your new band leaders!” They thought it was a good joke, but not surprising that, I had mistaken them for thugs. They were in fact the nicest young men you could wish for, and were exceedingly generous with their time helping get the band going.
So a youth band started. All total beginners at first. There was fund raising to buy instruments, the weekly lessons and practice. While the kids were practising, Rosalie led the mothers' group in their own informal meeting. As many of them were new Christians it served as their support group as well as the band auxiliary.
As we had come to expect – though always treasuring it as something special when it happened – God had reinforcements ready and waiting. One church family who lived at Bayles but worshipped at Koo-wee-rup joined it. John, the dad was a truck driver and also a really good trumpeter and general musician. He took over as band leader and wrote some really memorable arrangements of traditional hymns. My favourite was “Onward Christian Soldiers” which he turned into a fife-and-drum piece. Lyn, his wife was a teacher and played alto-sax. Their two daughters played flute and tenor-sax respectively.
God turned up a brilliant young drummer. Today they would probably label him as 'autistic'. He had been brought up from a baby by his grandparents, and was the drummer in the nearby Packenham town band. He had an absolute gift for rhythm, and made a really valuable contribution both to our youth band and later to the Bayles Fellowship music.
Our first public performance came three months after the band started. We were to play at the Lang Lang Community Christmas carols – which was organised by Rotary and drew a big crowd.
We fielded a 23 piece band! OK there were ring-in's too. The two boys from town. Sue had a patient who played sax. In a dance band and she came. John brought in a friend, also John and also a trumpeter. This John was a pentecostal Christian and became a regular at band play-outs and at Bayles Fellowship.
As well as the band playing at those carols, we had a vocal entrant. Rosalie wrote a very haunting and beautiful hymn, which was sung by one of the young women from the youth Bible study mentioned last chapter. Its opening lines were: “My Lord is the one who loves me, my Lord is the one who cares. ...”
Our band made quite an impact.
The following year we entered a float in the should-be-famous Koo-wee-rup Potato Festival. We named our entrant “heavenly music” and dressed the band as angels! We borrowed a tray truck, Rosalie's husband – another John – drove it. Ian and I painted up the simple set.
Once again great fun and a feeling of achievement for everyone involved, and the bonus of public awareness that we were Christians, but not “church” as they had walked or drifted away from it!
Another success tale from the band was Elizabeth. She was in her late teens but had Downs syndrome. She was in a confirmation class, I don't think she grasped any of the theoretical theology – but she knew she loved Jesus, and that Jesus loved her, far more profoundly than any of the other confirmees – and really what else matters! Elizabeth joined the band and played triangle.
Our band was a success in every way for several years. But the time came when the High school decided to start their own band. Most of our kids were at the high school and were under pressure to join. Naturally we all prayed about what to do. The answer was that our band had served its purpose. So we didn't try to compete, we closed.
The adults who were not already part of the Pakenham band transferred. We were worried about Elizabeth, for whom band had become important, but we need not have been, the Packenham people made her very welcome.