Friday, May 19, 2006
Cats keep Carlisle toes tapping for 40+ years
They wore red, white and blue clothing and straw hats. They played tuba, trumpet, clarinet and sax. Their stage was a flat-bed truck in the summer and the Town Green in the winter. Who were they? The Carlisle Cats, of course.
Since the early 1960s, the Cats have been part of Carlisle's musical history, playing Dixieland, jazz, patriotic tunes and Christmas carols, and local audiences are still tapping their toes and singing along. The Cats grew out of another Carlisle tradition — caroling on the Town Green. A brass quartet organized by Nat Carleton, a Carlisle astrophysicist, would play on Christmas Eve and Easter morning from the belfry of the First Religious Society. At various times, members of the group included George Grees on trumpet, Dave Detert on baritone horn, Bill Hammond on French horn and Walter (Woody) Woodward on trumpet. When Carleton moved away, Woodward took over as organizer, and he and George Grees formed the Carlisle Cats, whose major gig was Old Home Day, plus a variety of town events, including the dedication of Town Hall. When Woodward died in 2004, Alyn Rovin took up his baton and now organizes the Cats
As a young man, Woodward had studied trumpet under Harry Herrick and was awarded a scholarship to Oberlin Conservatory. He was a soloist with the Niagara Falls Symphony from 1944 to 1953. When he came to Carlisle in 1959, he played solo trumpet in local music groups, at special events and at the Congregational Church.
Grees, a professional musician, played with the Glenn Miller Band during the 1940s and toured with Vaughan Monroe in the 1950s. He wrote and arranged the Grees Quintet, consisting of 76 compositions that he arranged for the Cats. Included in the Quintet are several original Grees compositions — among them, three fanfares and something he called "A Thing in A minor." The Grees collection and cartons of sheet music adapted and annotated by Woodward were donated to the Carlisle Historical Society by the Woodward family and were processed by archivist Conni Manoli-Skocay.
Finding musicians for the Cats concerts at Old Home Day was often a challenge. Woodward kept many lists of local musicians, and lamented that he "never achieved a reliable four-part brass quartet that could be dependably called up for the holidays." He described his working relationship with Grees: "George enjoyed composing, arranging and playing the music. I did the frantic calling to get players. So the Carlisle Cats has limped along without steady members that would show up."
Woodward often made notes after the Old Home Day concert for the benefit of the next year's performance: On July 4, 1996, he noted: "Went well in spite of missing important musicians. Rob Stevenson appeared and used baritone trumpet with baritone music."
The music the Cats play on Old Home Day is heavy on patriotic tunes and familiar melodies. On the play list for the July 4, 1993, concert was "America the Beautiful," "When You and I Were Young, Maggie," "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Ain't She Sweet." The all-Carlisle band members that year were Dave Clapp (trumpet), Walter Woodward (trumpet), Alyn Rovin (clarinet), Steve Weibley (clarinet), Hal Sauer (alto sax), Paul Hackbarth (trombone), Ryan Baxter (tuba) and Adam Blake (drums).
Playing with the Cats was often a family affair, with generations of Woodwards, Hackbarths and Baxters making music together. In a 1999 letter to Woodward from the mother of Ryan and Evan Baxter, who also played in the band, Susan Baxter wrote, "We always enjoyed the experience even when it was so cold the horns froze, or rain so heavy we had to go inside." She concludes with, "We appreciate your many years of service to our town, keeping music alive and part of our Carlisle heritage."
Continuing to keep traditional music alive, the Carlisle Cats will present a free concert on Sunday, June 11, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., on the lawn of Heald House, home of the Carlisle Historical Society. Bring a picnic lunch, blankets and/or chairs, and get ready to enjoy one of Carlisle's finest summertime traditions.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito