Citizens’ Hose Company strikes up at the band at Smyrna Opera House

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The Citizens Hose Co. Band of Smyrna will present a program Saturday night at the Smyrna Opera House. The show, which will include marches, patriotic songs and show tunes, starts at 7 p.m. (Submitted photo)

The Citizens’ Hose Company Band of Smyrna gets a break this weekend as it performs sitting down in the cozy confines of the Smyrna Opera House.

Known throughout the Delmarva region and beyond for its marching prowess in about 40 events a year, Saturday night’s show presents a bit of a change for the group in its 69th year.

“We do one of these every few years,” said band chairman Robert Merrill.

“There are events such as Clayton’s Railroad Days where we’ll march and then sit down and perform and people will stop and listen. But as far as a formal stage concert is concerned, we don’t do too many. We’re looking forward to it.”

Attendees at Saturday’s 7 p.m. show can expect to hear familiar marches, military songs with veterans honored as each branch’s theme is played, show tunes and a few surprises.

“We want to make the show fun for the audience. We’ll be providing song sheets so they can sing along. And if they can’t sing, they can clap along to the beat of the music,” Mr. Merrill said.

Best Bets logo CLEAR copyThese days, the band totals 87 members, from 15 to 79 years of age, including color guard and bagpipe players. About 45 will perform Saturday.

Of that 87, 13 are fire company members.

Mr. Merrill said the number of musicians involved in the band are good right now. He’s the best person to look back on its history, having been with the ensemble for 55 years, longer than any other member.

“There are those in the band older than I am but no one has been in it longer than I have,” he said.

A snare drum player, Mr. Merrill joined the band when he was 15 years old. His school director, Rodney Daniels, also led the Citizens Hose band and asked him to join.

“Little did I know that all these years later, I’d be the chairman,” he joked.

The strong numbers the band enjoys these days are a far cry from yesteryear.

“I can remember in the early days 13 or 14 people would show up at an event,” he recalled.

“They were all very good musicians so they could sound like 30 or 40. But it’s not the numbers that are so important. It’s getting that right mix. You can have a 40-piece band but if 28 clarinet players and 12 drummers show up, that’s not going to work.”

Organized in 1947 to provide music for the fire company marching unit in parades throughout the area, the Citizens Hose Company Band has marched in hundreds of parades throughout Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and performed in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New Jersey, Baltimore and New York City.

They have performed for three U.S. presidents (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) and in 2001 marched in Dublin, Ireland, on St. Patrick’s Day.

But the real prized accomplishment for the band, Mr. Merrill says, is winning 35 Governor’s Cups for the Best Appearing Fire Company with Music at the annual Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association Parade every September in Dover.

“Every event we play is a dress rehearsal for that. We make sure we are marching right, that our instruments are all together and that our music is right for that parade in September,” Mr. Merrill said.

“We are the only fire company in Delaware that has its own band so other companies will hire bands to compete with us. We make it possible to compete in that category but it’s the guys at the fire company who will clean the fire trucks for weeks who work very hard to win that award.

“They have it down to using Q-Tips at the end to clean the wax out of the nooks and crannies of the engines. It’s not just the band that wins that award.”

Take away the accolades and the places the band has been over the years, Mr. Merrill says it’s “just plain fun”.

“It’s the camaraderie that draws us all together. I can be having a bad day but when we line up and the drum majors blow that whistle, all of those problems just go away. I think that’s what brings most of us out. We’re all good friends, too,” he said.

As much pride as the members have in the band, the town of Smyrna has even more.

“You can see it in our marching practices when we go through town,” Mr. Merrill said.

“People come out on their porches and critique us as we go by. They’ll say ‘The clarinet player should stand a little straighter. Someone was out of line.’ And they’ll cheer as we go by.”

For the Smyrna-Clayton Fourth of July Parade, Citizens Hose is often joined by a foreign band. Past years have seen groups from Dublin and near London fly over. This year a fire company band from Germany will perform.

Mr. Merrill said they often will be amazed at the support the Smyrna band gets from the community.

“We’ll march together in practice and they can’t get over it. We’ll march right down the center of the street and traffic just stops until we go by. No one beeps their horn and seems upset,” he said.

“We’re just part of the tradition of Smyrna. I’ve been really happy to be a part of it.”

Tickets for Saturday night’s show, under the direction of Alvin Pope, are $10 general admission, $8 for Smyrna Opera House members, senior citizens and military, and $5 for children younger than 12.

To purchase, visit www.smyrnaoperahouse.org, call 653-4236 or stop by the box office at 7 W. South St.

Classical piano concert

Sunday at the Smyrna Opera House, University of Delaware piano majors Christian Johnson, Tristan Leung and Samantha Owen will perform works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Prokofiev, Thomson and Copland at 2 p.m. Doors will open at 1:15.

Tickets are $8-$16. To purchase them, visit www.smyrnaoperahouse.org, call 653-4236 or visit the box office at 7 W. South St.

Poetry Out Loud

Staying at the Smyrna Opera House, students from 18 Delaware high schools will compete in the Poetry Out Loud state finals at the opera house at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The event is free and the public is welcome to attend.

Paul Weagraff, director of the Delaware Division of the Arts, will greet contestants and give opening remarks. He will be followed by J. Mack Wathen, chairman of Delaware State Arts Council, who will conclude by recognizing the panel of adjudicators.

Each of the participants will recite three poems they have selected, studied and practiced, representing more than 40 different poets including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Langston Hughes, William Ernest Henley, Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.

The winner will receive $200 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national championship May 2-4, where $50,000 in cash prizes and school stipends are awarded.

Nnamdi O. Chukwuocha and Al Mills, the current Delaware poets laureate, will serve as the masters of ceremonies. Adjudicators include Jim Bourey, Sophia Hanson, Lucas Amillion Mayfield, Maggie Rowe, Marcia Reed and Jeffrey Santoro.

Amillion at the movies

Speaking of Mr. Mayfield, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday the Dover native, aka Amillion The Poet, will hit the big screen as Carmike Cinemas in the Dover Mall will show his concert film “Welcome Home.”

Last year, the concert sold out the World Café Live in Wilmington but was filmed by Redd Pen Media, the company behind his first national music video, “Air It Out,” which was shown on MTV.

The show was part of a concert tour that took him as far away as the United Kingdom.

The movie originally was supposed to premiere Dec. 22 but an overflow crowd forced the screening to the largest theater in the complex. However, a technical difficulty there prevented the film from being shown at all that night.

All those at the first showing were accommodated by Carmike’s staff with two free tickets to see any other movie and a free ticket to Amillion’s next showing set for next week.

The hip-hop artist, award-winning poet, author and community activist still maintains several Poetry in Motion workshops and performs throughout the state in school districts, juvenile facilities, public libraries and with the Inner City Cultural League in Dover.

Going for Baroque

At 7 tonight, Brandywine Baroque will give a one-hour program at Wesley College.

Founded by harpsichordist and music scholar Karen Flint, Brandywine Baroque includes world-class musicians who specialize in the performance of baroque music. This program will feature a mixture of vocal and instrumental works, with soprano Laura Heimes and baritone Dr. James Wilson.

The concert will take place at Bennett Chapel at the corners of Division and North Bradford streets

Tickets are $10 with students admitted free. They will be available at the door or for advanced sales, contact Dr. Wilson at wilson@wesley.edu or (302) 736-2466.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is the Jesse Owens biopic “Race,” the biblical drama “Risen” and the horror film “The Witch.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the critically acclaimed “Spotlight,” the family film “The Good Dinosaur” and Julia Roberts in the suspense film “Secret in Their Eyes.”

To share news of your entertainment event, venue or group, contact Craig Horleman at 741-8224 or chorl@newszap.com.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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