To the editor:
Besides the timeless granite of Cape Ann that precedes human habitation, a handful of places and organizations symbolize our enduring heritage. In Rockport, these include Motif No. 1 and the Rockport Legion Band. Both have weathered many storms. For the band, the most recent was on Sunday, July 21, as a heavy downpour began just before the start of its Tribute Concert to the band’s charter members, a long-anticipated event planned with guest conductor Paul Niemisto. The rain soon abated, however, the audience (if somewhat soggy) returned from temporary shelter, and the resulting show became one of the highlights of the Cape Ann summer.
The crowd of about 275 first applauded greetings from Debbie Walter for the Legion band and Rob Ranta for the Cape Ann Finns, co-sponsors. Dr. Niemisto then led the band in a spirited performance featuring a rich selection of pieces by Finnish-American immigrant composers, traditional and contemporary pieces from Finland, and the American classics “Anchors Aweigh” and “God Bless America.” Jason Howard’s special rendition of “Trumpeter’s Lullaby” honored both Cape Ann’s outstanding Finnish-American trumpeter, Sylvester Ahola, and Massachusetts’ favorite Swedish-American composer, Leroy Anderson.
Joining the strong Legion band for the concert, in addition to Niemisto, were guest musicians Erik Aho (Ohio, euphonium), John D. Hopkins (Finland, trumpet), and Martina Gallo (Gloucester High School, percussion), as well as veteran band member Walter McGrath.
We were reminded in sound and speech that the Legion Band formed in 1932 when 32 Rockport men, about two-thirds of them from Finnish homes, stepped up to form a band on a shoestring and hope. Their memory was honored in the musical selections, in Dr. Niemisto’s historical narration, and in reminiscences by third-generation band members Steve Niemi and Wally McGrath. A colorful 32-page program that detailed the band’s history also contained a roster of original members, with photographs when these were available.
Happily, Studio 1623’s digital video production should soon allow the concert and festivities to reach an even wider audience. Overall, many hands joined on July 21 to celebrate the rich cultural history of Rockport and Cape Ann and many must continue to do so to ensure future free concerts on our beautiful Back Beach bandstand. I, for one, hope that our outstanding 2019 “Finn program” can become an annual event. Kiitoksia kaikkille! Thanks to all involved!