The picture above is one of the first ever taken of the Sag Harbor Community Band. It is 1958. Dwight D. Eisenhower is President. The Second World War has ended and so has the Korean Conflict. But the United States remains on a war footing.
In Sag Harbor, there are many veterans from these two wars, all of them happy to be alive and happy to have a job in one of the many factories that were in town then. They also remember among many other things, all the military songs that were sung and played in those war years. Many have their military uniforms. And many have played in a band.
Why not form a Sag Harbor Community Band? Grand old military marches can be played. National anthems and songs of America can be played. John Phillip Sousa marches can be played. We can have identical uniforms for those in the band, and we can play in Sag Harbor on summer evenings in front of the American Legion Hall on Bay Street and entertain the citizenry and the visitors and just enjoy being here.
Helping to organize this band in 1957 and now serving as master of ceremonies is David Lee, an Englishman who served in the British Army during the Second World War as a radar technician in the Royal Electricity and Mechanical Engineers. After the war, he moved to Sag Harbor and was then and for many subsequent years the owner of a store on Main Street.
And so, with 53 members strong, headed up by conductor “Pop” Mazzeo, the music teacher at Pierson High School, it began.
The concerts were held every Tuesday evening in the summer between 8 and 9 p.m. from the first Tuesday after the Fourth of July to the last Tuesday in August.
Today, as every year, they still are.
“Only now,” David Lee, the co-founder and still the master of ceremonies, tells me, “we are under the direction of David Brandenberg, an Amagansett resident who runs the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival in Montauk and also the Choral Society of the Hamptons. David has a great knowledge of music and has expanded the repertoire. We now also do Broadway Show songs, and we also do suites, such as the ones by George and Ira Gershwin.”
David Lee, sitting with me at our offices at Dan’s Papers, points himself out in that long-ago picture. “I’m the one with the hat on a little cockeyed, in front of the tuba. We don’t wear wool military style uniforms anymore. They were really itchy anyway. We wear red pants and white shirts. But we’re still pretty spiffy.”
How in the world, I wondered, could a community band in Sag Harbor survive for 55 years? I asked him.
“In those early years, we would get donations from the citizenry. Also, in those years, Ted Conklin of the American Hotel would invite us to his hotel in the side rooms off the main dining room there, and he would feed us all a great dinner. But then, we got this accidental donation of more than a quarter-million dollars. So we’ve used that as an endowment.
I asked how that came about.
“One day a bunch of us were sitting around in the back of my store—we had a pot-bellied stove in those days—and we were talking about donations. With us was a local man and charter member of the band, Ralph Springer, who had just retired as a teacher, and for some reason the talk went from making donations to leaving the band something in your will. Springer said he didn’t have a will and didn’t want to go to the expense to have one because he didn’t have anything and didn’t have any kids or anybody else to leave anything to, except for his future wife, who’d get it anyway.
“So I just said ‘well, you should make a will and leave us something.’ And he said ‘Okay, I will.’ What do you think of that? And I said,
‘Well that’s great.’
“A few years later, he married. Later, his wife went into the hospital and died. Two weeks later Ralph died before her will was read. Because she pre-deceased him, he inherited her large estate. He never knew it but he died a rich man.
“He willed 30% to the Sag Harbor Community Band. He also named the Sag Harbor American Legion Post, the Old Whalers’ Church and the Salvation Army as the recipients of his wealth. We received $300,000. That’s what we’ve been using over the years. We have given over $100,000 in scholarships to East End students, and we helped buy a beautiful grand piano for Pierson High School.”
David Lee thinks he’s one of the only original members. He’s now the M. C., and Joan Feehan comes up from Florida and plays clarinet as she has done for 56 years. Dave feels the band has played a big part in his life, and the life of many members and the village.
“We’ve stuck together,” he said. “We practice almost every Tuesday night off-season, and are like a family. We keep in touch by email, and if someone is sick we visit and support them. We have a holiday dinner at the American Hotel a week after our annual concert at the Old Whalers’ Church. We always welcome new members and visiting ‘sit-ins.’
“During our first decade, we used to play and march, but as we got older we had to decide PLAY or MARCH. We chose to play.”
This summer, the band will play not only on their regular Tuesday night concert series, but also for the Southampton 4th of July parade at the finish line of the parade, and at the Harborfest in Sag Harbor in the fall and the American Musical Festival in Sag Harbor on September 27 and 28. They also play four holiday concerts at the Sag Harbor Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church with the Sweet Adelines chorus.
Come hear them. And meet Dave Lee and all the others. And when you hear them play “America the Beautiful” or one of the others, sing along.