All posts by Don Cushman

Don earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Music Education from Indiana University and taught public school music early in his instructional career. Subsequently he earned his Doctorate in Education in Instructional Technology at IU. After his relocation to Jackson Hole in 1983 he became a founding member of a brass quintet, which became the impetus for him (along with Tom Ninnemann) to start the Jackson Hole Community Band in 1989. He also conducted the choir at Jackson’s First Baptist Church for 7 years and the choir at the Presbyterian Church for 4 years. He led the JHCB for its first 16 1/2 years until his retirement in 2005. He continues to play in this band and the community jazz band, as well as occasionally filling in as conductor.

Small Town Tradition

The lighting of the town square is a living “Norman Rockwell Painting.” What is known as “black Friday” in the U.S. retail business world is the time for the annual observance, and downtown Jackson, WY, provides the setting. Friday night the day after Thanksgiving is the party — when the lights in the trees in the town square are turned on for the holiday season.

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JHCB 2011

In the mid ’80s our brass quintet teamed up with the Jackson Hole Chorale to provide music for this festive event. We played Christmas carols and secular songs of Christmas, and the chorale led the singing. Kids and adults alike joined in singing and enjoyed the merriment in expectation for the lights to be turned on, followed by the arrival of Santa. After the advent of the Jackson Hole Community Band in 1989, additional brass members joined the quintet, and eventually, the woodwind players decided that they would like to join, too, despite the possibility of frozen and cracked reeds — and frozen fingers that must be exposed in order to cover the open holes on clarinets and some flutes.

“The show must go on!” Weather has always been a factor, but it has never stopped the event. We have played with temperatures in the 30s and 40s. That sounds pleasant, but if precipitation occurs, that means the players get wet instead of just being “dusted” with snowflakes. We’ve taken shelter to the best of our abilities under the large spruce trees, but eventually the drips find their way to the players.

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Frozen Slide

With temperatures in the twenties, the setting is ideal. It’s cool enough for the snow to stay snow — on the ground or falling — but it’s not brutally cold for the instruments or the players. Fortunately, our memories of severely cold temperatures are few. One night in the early ’90s we started with the sign on the Jackson State Bank showing +2. It’s very difficult for the players to keep the instruments warm enough to function properly at that temperature. When we finished the ceremony a half-hour later, it showed -1, and we had several brass instruments with valves that were frozen in place, a couple of frozen trombone slides, and 3 icicles hanging from the bell of one of our trumpets.

Whatever the situation has been, we’ve looked forward to the cup of hot chocolate afterward, and we’ve always been warmed by the sense of community spirit. For those who have never attended, try to arrange your holiday schedule so you can make the next lighting of the Jackson town square — Friday night the day after Thanksgiving.

  Photo Album: Tree Lighting Ceremony

From the Top

In the mid 1980s we had a brass quintet that played for fun and for various community events. Most of us played in theater productions when they occurred, but they were usually short-lived — no more than a couple of months per show, and those Broadway shows were usually presented no more frequently than every 2 years. Some in the quintet envisioned a community band that would be a long-term ensemble, playing at community events throughout most of the year and providing a base for fun and musical growth for its members.

As part of the Wyoming Centennial celebration, the co-founders of the band were able to procure start-up funding that allowed the band to purchase music, acquire rehearsal space, and participate in Centennial activities. Since that time the band has grown in numbers and skill, and the Jackson Hole Community Band and spin-off groups continue to perform at nearly two dozen community activities and concerts per year.