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Swampscott band targets former high school players

Swampscott's Blue Big Band members Amy Camire, Tia Estey, Kerin Wlash Don McElroy and Valerie Sweeney on Trumpet, rehearse at Swampscott High School. (Owen O'Rourke)

If you played an instrument in high school and miss the rush, Swampscott has a band just for you.

Organized by Joe Douillette and directed by musical composer Timo Shanko, Swampscott has its own Blue Big Band, named to differentiate from the high school’s Big Blue Band, according to Douillette. The musical project started thanks to Douillette’s vision and a $600 grant from the Swampscott Cultural Council.

“I wanted a situation where we had a professional director and the people in the band were not looking to play professionally, but wanted a community band to play with weekly,” said Douillette.

The swing band has held two rehearsals, every Tuesday at the high school at 7 p.m., and is preparing for a community concert sometime in April. Shanko said he chose to work with scores by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie.

So far, four trumpet players, two trombone players, one saxophone player, four flute players, one drummer, and one base player have settled in.

Amy Camire, a flute player and town resident, joined the band after seeing a post about it on Facebook. The 42-year-old said everyone in the band is trying to catch back up on their rusty skills.

“Being in band and music in high school brought me so much joy and I haven’t really played since then,” she said. “I thought this could be two hours to myself every week that I deserved.”

Camire said her band members are supportive of each other and they all share the same doubts or fears of not having picked up an instrument for so long. They were surprised at how quickly it all came rushing back to them, she said.

“I think we hide in our holes and houses and don’t take a lot of opportunities to come together for a particular reason,” said Camire. “Music brings people together. Why not have something that is planned as this big community celebration and just keep adding to it?”

The band will be in better shape with the addition of more saxophone players, according to Douillette. In partnership with the town’s Senior Center, Douillette said 100 of the senior members will be brought to the April performance with donated transportation costs from the center.

“It benefits the community because it is open to people who want to play and it benefits the seniors because it’s a performance for them,” said Douillette.

All participants are required to pay a one time fee of $50 to help with costs, specifically for paying Shanko and insurance for the performance. The cash from the grant and donations, such as rehearsal space from the high school and a performance venue at The First Church in Swampscott, also help.

Tickets for the show will be free for any town seniors and sold to the general public for $10 or $15, depending on how much more needs to be raised to cover costs, according to Douillette.

“Everyone has been having a great time and it’s always a fun evening of rehearsal,” said Douillette. “Then, there’s the opportunity to play with Timo, who is such a phenomenal musician, and he is having a great time. We are just having fun with it.”

Shanko said music is all he knows, having dedicated most of his life to it. When Douillette asked him to direct the band, Shanko said he didn’t hesitate, especially since the rehearsal space is around the corner from him.  

“The turnout has been really good,” said Shanko. “It’s an opportunity for people to get together and have fun. There are probably a lot of people whose identities were forged in high school when they were playing in a band and now they get to play again.”

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