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Shearstown brass band on the secret to longevity

Members, both new and old, of the Shearstown Brass Band, from left, seated, Riley Vokey, Hedley Bradbury, Ryan Butler; standing, Paul Somerton and Tony Vokey.
Members, both new and old, of the Shearstown Brass Band, from left, seated, Riley Vokey, Hedley Bradbury, Ryan Butler; standing, Paul Somerton and Tony Vokey. - Chris Lewis

Members speak on how they combat the dissipating tradition of brass bands in Newfoundland

SHEARSTOWN, N.L.

The Shearstown Brass Band recently brought some holiday cheer to the community through its annual Boxing Day parade.

Between that seasonal tradition and numerous performances throughout the year, the group has built up something of a reputation for themselves.

It’s one long-standing member Paul Somerton believes will provide them with a solid future as a group.

“Things have always been good for us. I don’t see that changing any time soon,” he said, pride in his years as a member clear in his words.

In the face of a dying tradition, the Shearstown Brass Band shares the secret to keeping the memory of brass bands alive and well.

As years go by and generations pass, the brass band tradition is slowly dissipating across Newfoundland.

“There are bands out there now who only have maybe eight or so people left,” said Somerton.

This is not the case in Shearstown. With approximately 30 members ranging from young children to seasoned veterans, the Shearstown Brass Band continues to hold strong to a valued tradition.

“It’s a popular tradition, to watch the brass band this time of year, but a lot of bands out there now just don’t have the numbers like they used to,” said Somerton, 55, who has been a part of the band since he was 11.

The Compass sat down with various members of the band – each of them donning a red jacket adorned with the band’s logo – to speak on the group’s success and how they continue to thrive in a tradition that is slowly losing its foothold in other parts of the province.

Youth involvement

Although numbers have fluctuated over the years, the Shearstown band’s membership has stayed relatively solid as the years go by, despite the hardships other groups are facing.

The secret? Somerton says it all comes down to the youth.

“Get the kids involved. Get them out there when they’re really young, at eight-years-old or something. That’s when they’ll be most excited about playing, and as they grow older, they’ll come to love it,” he said, noting that this is one of the main reasons his group has managed to avoid the dwindling players problem. “People might see (the children) out there and think ‘Well, they don’t really know how to play, do they?’ But that’s alright. The other members can pick up for them.

“As long as they’re having fun, they’ll keep an interest in being a part of the band. In a couple years, they’ll know more of what they’re doing and be able to carry on the tradition on their own.”

Family tradition

Maintaining a familial tie has also played a major role in the band’s continuing presence in the community.

Two of its younger members, Riley Vokey and Ryan Butler, both told The Compass their decision to join was strongly influenced by their family’s involvement in the band.

“It’s a family thing,” Butler said. “My family was always involved, and now so am I. Now, my nephews are going to be joining too, so family ties are definitely a big factor here.”

“It’s really an old tradition that’s been around here for so many generations – a lot of people immediately think of the brass bands when they think of Christmas. Now, if we want it to be around a while, it’s got to be appealing to the younger generations too, and that’s what’s happening here,” said member Tony Vokey, who is also Riley’s father. Riley’s mother, Angela, was also one of the first women to ever play with the Shearstown band.

“The band lets them have fun, brings them out to a bunch of places to play, and just keeps it interesting for the younger ones.”

Somerton says the dedication to the group shown by all members, new and old, has ultimately been one of the biggest contributors to the group’s success.

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