Come and join the oom-pa-pa band!
THERE'S something about the sound of a big band that lifts people's spirits.
Going up the steps of the Conservatorium for Monday night's rehearsal of the Lismore City Concert Band, the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark grew louder as I approached the rehearsal room.
Inside, it was loud. The enthusiasm of the players and the energy of bandleader Ben van Kleef were infectious.
Ben tells me the band is undergoing a renaissance.
"New members are always welcome to join the band - at any age from eight to 80," he says.
"There was a time when the band was 100 players strong - there must be some former members still around."
Meeting every Monday night in term time at the Conservatorium, the Lismore City Concert Band is also on the lookout for a new home - a place to call their own, with a safe instrument lock-up and storage for music and band paraphernalia.
"The band has quite a bit of equipment - 800 or so musical scores, music stands, instruments and costumes," Ben says.
In 1979, when the band boasted 100 players and was known as the Northern Rivers Concert Band, it was conducted by its founder John Allen, who was recently awarded an Order of Australia medal for his services to music.
The players marched proudly under their Northern Rivers banner at the World Expo in Brisbane in 1988.
"When I took over in 2008, the numbers had dwindled to just four players," Ben recalls.
"Now there are around 17 and we're hoping to swell our numbers again."
Ben says there's a great atmosphere when the band gets together.
"It's a nice bunch of people. We all get along really well in a very supportive environment," he says.
"There's no audition. Anyone at any age can join, as long as they want to play a concert band instrument - brass, woodwind, or percussion. The level of pieces we play are from Grade 1 to Grade 3."
He says they urgently need a percussionist with some ability to read music.
"And we have several brass instruments available for free rental for people who join the band."
There was a time when a town's brass band was a fixture at all major civic occasions. The Lismore band features, either marching or sitting, at Anzac Day services, the Lismore Lantern Parade, Beef Week (though not this year), and Carols by Candlelight.
"Less experienced players find marching more difficult, because they have to know the music really well," Ben explains. "But it would be great to get back to doing the old concert band marches.
"They're called 'Sousa' marches, named after John Sousa of sousaphone fame, who wrote the theme Liberty Belle that the Monty Python people used as their theme tune."
The Lismore City Concert Band's repertoire includes polkas, pop songs, TV and movie themes, Australian pieces and - of course - traditional oom-pa-pa tunes.
They rehearse at the Conservatorium from 5-6.30pm every Monday in term time, and play a concert each term.
Anyone wanting to join the band, suggest a new home for it, or just find out more about it, can phone or text Ben on 0432 575 911.
Ben van Kleef
New members are always welcome to join the band - at any age from eight to 80.