The sounds of a trombone and saxophone playing the bouncy tune "In the Good Old Summertime" on a July night in Northwood, Homeland or Pigtown mean the Municipal Concert Band is giving another performance.
The low-profile but marvelous musical ensemble is one of the little known joys of a Baltimore summer.
It plays the old songs, the ones that many Baltimoreans want to hear. Pieces by John Philip Sousa, Richard Rodgers and George M. Cohan get a nice, smooth ride here, with tubas pumping and cymbals crashing. For the Grateful Dead, Ice-T or Mozart, better look elsewhere.
Tonight, for example, what seems like the whole Mayfield neighborhood will assemble at Norman and Mayfield avenues in Northeast Baltimore for the neighborhood's annual summer party. Grandparents, children and grandchildren will sing along to "Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey" and "Oh! You Beautiful Doll." It's shamelessly sentimental and as homey as watermelon on the back porch.
The municipal band arrives in a 1967 metal trailer specially constructed for this purpose. It holds 37 musicians -- the maestro, 34 instrumentalists and two vocalists -- who perform on its tiered steps. The movable stage looks like some sort of musical Good Humor truck.
"It's served us well. We've gotten our money's worth from it," said Stephanie Sodaro Esworthy, municipal director of music, who writes contracts for the Parks Department in the off-season.
The unionized musicians make about $44 each on a very much non-air conditioned night.
"I remember as a child going to these concerts. The band set up in the Northwood Shopping Center. It was one of my most vivid childhood memories," Esworthy said.
Esworthy presides over two municipal musical groups, the Concert Band and Baltimore's Big Band, which is slated to make six appearances this summer. The Big Band, led by Gene Walker, features the music of Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton, while the Concert Band remains traditional.
Baltimore's outdoor music tradition dates to 1860, Esworthy said, when Druid Hill Park opened. Thereafter, the old Park Band serenaded generation after generation with marches, polkas and schottisches. The city's band music library, housed in an old Druid Hill Park bath house, numbers about 75,000 pieces of music, beginning with the "Aba Daba Honeymoon." Baltimore's municipal bands are thought to be the oldest of their kind in the county.
There was a time when a municipal band played in a park or neighborhood every night of the summer. The bands are seen as a service of City Hall, just like collecting garbage. In the days of racial segregation, there were separate white and black units.
Today, the municipal groups play a total of 18 concerts from Cherry Hill to the Village of Cross Keys.
George Gaylor, a music teacher at Roland Park public school, leads the Concert Band. This is his 30th season with the group and that does not give him the most seniority. Joe Girlando, who plays the euphonium, has logged 48 summers. Saxophonist Bob Spangler has 42 years. Trombonist Carl Dietrich arrived in 1954; tuba player Jacob Saulsbury has been sending music into the summer air since 1956.
"Weather is everything. A shower of rain at 6:30 will cut attendance by 50 per cent," said Esworthy.
"The thing that always charges me up is that the people keep coming out. There are hot summers and rainy summers and cold summers. It's a thrill that they still want to listen to the good stuff," said Marian Compello, the first clarinetist.
She and her husband Joe, both instrumental music teachers in )) the Baltimore County school system, met in the Concert Band.
"I was new to Baltimore and didn't know where Brooklyn was. I asked if I could ride with someone. Joe agreed. That was the beginning," Mrs. Compello said.