Our History

The Beginning of the Noank-Mystic Community Band 1978

by Barbara Shiffer


The Noank-Mystic Community Band was born from an idea of two musicians, Karen Shultzman of Noank and Matt Kimball of Mystic. In reminiscing at Carson’s Store in Noank of their high school band days, they lamented that there was no place for adult musicians to play band music. So they decided to form a band. They advertised in the newspaper, asking any interested musicians “to bring their instruments and their music”. They hadn’t even thought of a conductor. Conductor? What did they need a conductor for? Somebody could get up and wave their arms around. One of these interested musicians, Gloria Shaefer, told Karen that she knew of someone who would be interested in conducting the new band. That someone was Robert Brule, Director of Cadet Bands at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Music was borrowed, and the first rehearsal was held on a snowy night in January 1978 at Cutler Junior High in Mystic. Fifteen musicians showed up that first night, and they struggled to play through the “American Eagle” march. In fact, they couldn’t even get through the first three measures without stopping. But they kept trying. Bob Brule liked to tell the story later that he wondered what he had gotten himself into after that night - he felt like jumping off the Gold Star Bridge on his way home!

The size of the band continued to grow as word got around about the fledgling organization. Arthur Booth, Fitch Sr. High band director, became an ardent supporter, offering the use of the Fitch band facilities and music, as the NMCB did not have a music library of its own. It was a welcome offer, as the band had outgrown the smaller Cutler band room.

Finances were a problem, since meager amounts of money were available at first. Brule was often “paid “ for his services by means of a cord of wood, a dinner at the Seahorse Restaurant and other such creative means of payment. This was soon solved as “The Friends of the Band “, a fundraising support group from the community was formed and quickly began work on raising money by holding bake sales, dinner dances, and suppers. One of their projects was to raise money for the purchase of uniform jackets, although this never came to fruition. Unfortunately, the Friends of the Band lasted only a few years. Today the band relies on concert sponsorships, grants, patrons’ funds, and nominal membership dues to fund our budget, which includes paying conductor’s and librarian’s stipends, and purchasing new music, equipment, and insurance.

The band’s first performance was for the dedication of the Mystic Depot Railway Station in April 1978. Over the years the NMCB has performed throughout the southeastern Connecticut area. We have also performed at Battleship Cove in Fall River MA, the Berkshire Band Fest in Pittsfield MA, and several times at Quincy Market in Boston. The first “Holiday in Sound” was presented in December 1978 and became a holiday tradition. The band now spreads holiday cheer by performing at area nursing homes, churches, and senior living centers during the Christmas season.

Our defining concert of the year has always been on Independence Day on Main Street in Noank. In 1979, Karen Shultzman, drew on the old tradition of the 19th century Noank Brass Band’s lunchtime concerts at the Noank Shipyard. Back then, Jane Carson, of Carson’s Store, provided refreshments for the concertgoers on the 4th of July as the band set up in front of the store and performed. Today’s band sets up in Noank Park next to Carson's Store and provides free lemonade and cookies, continuing the tradition from 1979 to the present day. For several years, a chicken barbeque was held as a fundraiser in conjunction with the July 4th concert.

The Noank-Mystic Community Band has always looked for new and fun ways to bring our music to the public. A small group of band members play for the Noank Memorial Day parade; for some years they rode aboard the Mystic trolley. Children’s concerts have been a popular event. The band has hosted a community band from Germany who was on tour in the area. And in 2001, the band hosted an exchange concert with the Bloomfield Civic Band from New Jersey. We have also had joint concerts with the local Waterford Community Band and The Old Lyme Town Band. The band also provides music for graduation ceremonies for Grasso Tech and Three Rivers College.

Summer SoundsOne of the most popular events that the band hosts is the Summer Sounds concert series held in Mystic River Park in Mystic on Tuesday evenings in July and August. The series, which began in 1996, showcases all the local community bands in the perfect setting for a band concert.

The Noank-Mystic Community Band has had six conductors since it began; Robert Brule (1978-1985), Gregg Thaller (1986-1990), then Director of Music at Norwich Free Academy, Brian Sparks (1991-1992), principal alto saxophonist in the U.S. Coast Guard Band, , Adam Williamson (2007–2009), tenor saxophonist with the U.S. Coast Guard Band who was promoted to Director of the U.S.Coast Guard Band in 2013, Susan Johnston (1992-2007 and 2009 - 2017), Band Director at East Lyme High School, and Chris Howard (2017 - present), clarinetist with the U.S. Coast Guard Band. Recently Chris and Sue Johnston began an arrangement that accommodates both of their busy schedules by sharing the conductor role. Chris conducts for the Spring and Summer season while Sue conducts during the winter season.

The Noank-Mystic Community Band is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the enjoyment of traditional band music for audience and band members alike. Our goal is to provide quality performances at no cost to the concertgoer.

The band welcomes new members of all ages and abilities without an audition. Rehearsals are held Wednesday evenings from 7-9:00 PM at the Noank Firehouse, Ward Avenue, Noank. For more information, call Barbara at 860-572-0308.