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.
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.
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.