There’s a general understanding in contemporary American culture about playing a musical instrument. You do it when you’re a kid. Whether you like it or not. You take some piano lessons or you sign up for band or you sing in the choir. Until you don’t have to anymore. Except for the really talented kids—they might go on to music school and pursue a life of concertizing. But in Bloomington, Indiana, home of one of the nation’s premier conservatories, some people making music are on an entirely different trajectory. They’re neither children, nor virtuosi, but every Monday night, they get together just a few blocks down the street from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music to pick up where they left off.
“My saxophone was in the attic for 30 years. I just got [it] out and I think I remembered how to put it together. There are only three pieces so you can’t go that wrong. It took me a while to remember how to play it.”
–St. Charles Parent Band saxophonist Steve Perry
Every Monday evening, The St. Charles Parent Band gets together in the music room at the parochial K-8 school to rehearse for one of its half-a-dozen annual appearances. They tend to headline at school festivals and nursing homes. Members of the band all have dayjobs, and some hadn’t played in decades before joining the group. Describing itself as “an eclectic ensemble of musician parents who wish to embarrass their kids and cover some rock, jazz, country and blues tunes,” the band takes a humble, yet determined approach to music-making. Founded by former St. Charles School music director Josh Lehigh in 2009, the band has served as a welcoming incubator of musicianship for its members.
“I’m not sure I’d be playing if it wasn’t such an easy entrance into a band.”
–St. Charles Parent Band bassist Mark McConahay
The band accepts musicians at all levels, from those who’ve never taken a lesson to those who haven’t picked up their instrument since high school, to those who mostly fool around at home. Although the atmosphere is welcoming, and the players self-deprecating, the attitude is serious when it comes to learning. As the bandmates joke and bond, they tackle musical territory beyond their comfort zone, that nudges them on to the next level of playing.
“I just would play rock at home, or blues. Those are just standard time signatures, where now we’re playing a lot of Latin rhythms, a lot of jazz that has crazy changes, so it gets me out to do things I wouldn’t normally do.”
–St. Charles Parent Band guitarist John Fox
Members of the band cite numerous motivations for playing with the group, from the camaraderie, to the “glamour,” as one jokes. It’s an opportunity for “me time,” a way to model lifelong learning for the kids, and an opportunity to express oneself musically and feel the joy that comes with it, others suggest. Despite the unassuming culture of the Parent Band–or possibly because of it–the members agree that the band has been a place to grow as musicians.
“I played a lot before, but to actually come in here and learn things that I didn’t know. That’s been one of those things that’s really a lot of fun–to say, yeah, I can actually do something that I couldn’t before. It is a growth thing, and I really do enjoy that.”