One Tuesday night last summer, Sag Harbor Community Band president Dave Lee watched as a third generation of hopeful band members scampered through a crowd in front of the band’s home base at the Sag Harbor American Legion.
“Seeing that – it is good, a wonderful thing for the Harbor,” said Lee. “There are very few bands like ours around, just doing it for the sake of doing and because we like to be with each other.”
For a band so steeped in family, and community, this summer season comes with unprecedented change, as the Sag Harbor Community Band is without a leader after 30 years with the retirement of Fred Hines, Jr.
Hines, a longtime Sag Harbor resident, came to the village a music teacher and trombone player serving as band director at Pierson High School. Lee approached him, asking him to come down for one of the band’s rehearsals.
“They got a taste of what I did and ultimately, they wanted me,” remembered Hines. “It was sort of like an audition and I think that is a good way to audition. During a performance, you can’t get away with anything.”
A graduate of the University of Kentucky, where he was a member of the marching band, Hines played the brass and tinkling the ivories professionally in a number of groups around Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati, as well as in the 2nd Division Army Band, directing that unit’s dance band. It was coming to Sag Harbor to teach that brought him into the Sag Harbor Community Band fold, although Hines admits, he could never quite put down the trombone.
“I did get to play some,” he said of moving from musician to conductor. “I liked to feature some trombone pieces. I used to have a mighty good time getting up with the horn section.”
Ultimately, it was not 30-years of “Stars and Stripes Forever” or the band’s closing number, “Now is the Hour,” that led Hines to retire, but rather a calling to be with his children and grandchildren back in Kentucky where he and his wife Janice plan to move. However, Hines said he has every intention of sneaking back to Sag Harbor to watch the Community Band each and every time he can.
According to Lee, the band has already formed a search committee for their new herald and will hopefully make its choice before the end of March when rehearsals for the summer season traditionally commence.
Technique, and above all, patience, said Hines, are key qualities the band should look for in his replacement.
“I think it pays off because it makes what you are telling the band clearer,” said Hines of training as a conductor. “One of the oldest tricks in the book is you have to do everything one beat ahead, but there are people who can do this without training. As long as it works, it works.”
“I just enjoyed it,” he continued. “And if you enjoy something, I think everyone has a great time.”
As president of the board for close to 20 years, Lee said replacing Hines will undoubtedly pose a challenge, but that the Sag Harbor Community Band has had a 50-year history of the chips falling in its favor.
In 1957, remembered Lee, a celebration was planned for the village and residents discovered there was no community band to speak of for several years, but the village did have $600 in funding it had left to the previous band.
“We used that to buy some music, some uniforms and we have been going ever since,” said Lee. “It has always worked out very well and gone smoothly even though we don’t know what the hell we are doing.”
A percussionist in the British Army Band, Lee is one of a handful of original members who still play or serve the band, although he described it similarly to Hines, as a family that continues to grow and support each other, even boasting cameo performances by musicians visiting Sag Harbor – a trend Lee embraces.
“I am the MC because I have the biggest mouth and I always ask if there are musicians out there or if anyone has any friends, please don’t hesitate to sit with us,” said Lee. “We have a number of accomplished musicians that sit with us, and we draw some nice big crowds.”
According to Lee, the band’s search committee has found four people they want to interview and audition in front of the band.
“I think they really have a great head start on things down there,” said Hines. “A lot of people fall in love, coming down there on a Tuesday night. This is a very unique thing we have here, I think.”