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The Chatham Community Band made its performing debut 40 years ago this year at the Fishawack Festival on June 9, 1984, with a repertoire including three Sousa marches, excerpts from “The Sound of Music,” and “Even Now,” by Barry Manilow. 

The initial inspiration was the brainstorm of then-Chatham High School band director, Charles (Chic) Hansen, who was on the Fishawack planning committee and wanted to put together a town band to add to the celebration.  The committee chairs encouraged him and the idea took flight.  The very first band member Chic recruited was Kathy Rex, who worked for the Chatham Library and had also worked with Chic on high school band activities.  He asked Kathy if she would initiate all the publicity and organization.  She agreed, on the condition she could be the bells player.  Following Kathy, Fran Drew, then-owner of Café Beethoven and in charge of Festival food vendors, volunteered her services, if Chic would allow her to play the bass drum.  The band was born.


Word of the new ensemble traveled quickly, and the band became a family affair, with local mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who shared a love of music coming together for rehearsals.  Some who joined were a bit “rusty,” not having played their instruments since they were in school many years before, but anyone with a basic knowledge of music was welcome.  Then-CHS principal, Art Ebeling, joined the band to play baritone.  He was followed by then-CMS choral teacher, Robin Holder, on clarinet, and then-Chatham Borough business administrator, Ken Hetrick, on French horn.  CHS alums followed, many who had been students of director Hansen.  


Riding the wave of the Fishawack success, the band arranged for a flatbed truck and wangled an invitation to play in the 1984 Fourth of July parade.  In the fall, a joint venture with instruments and vocals was presented in Café Beethoven’s parking lot, and a stirring rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was performed.  By 1985, the band had become official, and it became affiliated with The Adult School of The Chathams, Madison, and Florham Park.  Fran Drew spearheaded a fundraising project to construct a Chatham Community Gazebo, primarily to provide a spot for outdoor Community Band concerts, which was dedicated at a later Fishawack concert.  Band members “bought” railing posts to contribute to the structure.  (Today, our membership has grown to the point that only our percussion section would fit on the gazebo platform!)


The ensuing years brought more community members to our organization and spurred the creation of smaller ensembles within the band.  We’ve had a Dixieland band, a jazz band, a brass quintet, a saxophone ensemble, and a flute ensemble that currently plays at the Chatham Farmers’ Market and many local assisted living communities.


For four decades, the Chatham Community Band has now played in almost every Chatham Fourth of July Parade; parades in Madison, Mendham, Millburn and New Providence; summer concerts in Chatham, as well as Morristown, Scotch Plains, New Providence, Westfield, Maplewood and West Orange; the malls at Short Hills and Livingston; at dedications of local fields and parks and playgrounds and gazebos and buildings; at memorials, centennials, and sesquicentennials; at Runnells Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare, the former King James Care Center, Morris View Healthcare Center, Juniper Village, and VA facilities; at fundraisers and Christmas events – and, in 1992, for President George H. W. Bush, at his campaign rally at the Madison train station.  In June of 2009, the band traveled to Washington D.C. and participated in a national community band conference and we performed on the National Mall.  


The last 40 years has seen consistent growth in membership – even surviving a 2-year pandemic (sometimes  rehearsing outdoors – in specially designed “musician masks”) and has flourished under the distinguished leadership of four music directors:   Chic Hansen, Stan West, Laurie DeBiasse, and the current Brian Conti, who has led and inspired us since 2001.


We are proud of our history and grateful for the support of all those who have helped us to succeed.  We look forward to continuing to grow our music family and to bringing live music to our community for many, many years to come.


Lucy Deutsch

April, 2024

Written with special thanks to Kathy Rex and The Chatham Courier  

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