Students at St. Augustine's School in Troy are keeping history alive. About 20 of them are in the current incarnation of the Father Flanigan Marching Band, created by a beloved priest in Cohoes more than half a century ago.
Though St. Augustine's is the band's fourth home base, the group still embodies its founder's goals. Just ask Jason Macey, a fifth-grade saxophonist: "The band's taught me to be in a group and how a group can work together," he told The Evangelist. "When it sounds good, you know everybody's playing their part."
The band also teaches its third- through sixth-grade musicians discipline and responsibility, said Bryan Bee, current director.
"I can't play the instrument for them," said Mr. Bee, who asks his charges to practice at least one hour a week in addition to their half-hour music lesson and hour-long band rehearsal.
The Father Flanigan Marching Band was an extension of the marching band started at the former Keveny Academy in Cohoes in the 1960s by Rev. Thomas K. Flanigan, then-pastor of St. Bernard's parish in Cohoes.
When Keveny closed in the late 1980s, Father Flanigan revived the band at St. Peter's School and later St. Patrick's School in Troy. Father Flanigan died in 2001, and the band moved to St. Augustine's soon afterward because of St. Patrick's closure.
The group marches in Uncle Sam Day and Flag Day parades in Troy and in Memorial Day parades in Waterford and Lansingburgh. They play two songs, usually "When the Saints Go Marching In" and another tune.
Last month, St. Augustine's parishioners lined the parade route to cheer. "I was impressed," said Beth Macey, Jason's mother. "They were in tune."
When Mr. Bee became the band's director last year, he added concert performances to its repertoire. The band plays at school concerts and Troy's annual Victorian Stroll.
The Father Flanigan Marching Band is the only elementary school marching band in the Albany Diocese and perhaps the only in the region.
Learning to play an instrument, fall in sync with bandmates and follow the commands of a drum major can be difficult for young children to master, but "the students here are really resilient and they picked it up really quickly," Mr. Bee said. "Just because they're young doesn't mean they have to sound like they're from an elementary school."
If they do squirm during a rehearsal, "you'll see a sixth-grader give somebody a nudge," he said.
Next year, the director may implement a grading system and appoint older students as drum majors. He'd like to recruit more students into the band and says it's a good marketing tool for St. Augustine's School.
Also a music teacher at Minerva Central School, Mr. Bee hadn't heard of elementary school marching bands until last year.
"This was a new adventure for me," he said. Young kids "almost always are just really excited to learn."
Band member Jason finds it "pretty cool [that] they can teach us young. When I'm in middle school or high school, I'll have that head start."
For five years, St. Augustine's parishioner Donna Megan has run a bingo program that benefits the band and provides tuition assistance for St. Augustine's students. It brings in close to $80,000 a year.
"The band was his life," she said of Father Flanigan, her former employer. "He was a true believer that religious education and music touched the soul of every child. I burst out crying every time I see his face [on the banner] go down the street."
St. Augustine's sixth-grader Nore-Onna Thomas carried that banner in the first grade. She has played trumpet and clarinet in the band for three years.
"Father Flanigan was really important," she said. "The band is very important - not just to the people in it."
Nore-Onna plans to join a band in high school and has been invited back to play at St. Augustine's after she graduates. She said she's learned a lot through the Father Flanigan Marching Band: "It will help me carry on in life. I learned to take care of my things, [because] those instruments cost a lot...and also confidence."