The AI Band Marches On

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On Thursday, July 25 a group of alumni of the American Irish Band gathered at the Community House for some reconnecting and reminiscing.

One of the former Bandmasters, Jack Domfort, (now 93 yrs old) was up from Florida for a family event, so, his daughter-in-law, Sue Gavin Domfort, put out the word that they’d be in town. We were all glad to see Mr. Domfort—and one another—many of whom we hadn’t seen in 40 years! (The family recently lost their wife/mother, Phyllis Domfort).

The American-Irish Band, founded by Pat Kelly, was a community band open to local kids ages 7-17. The A-I Band was once the pride of Rockaway in the ‘50s through the early ‘90s. A group of highly committed adults – our “Bandmasters”—devoted many hours of their time to keep the band operating, (with instruments, music and drill instructors, a band hall for practices, uniforms and buses), supervising us kids, and accompanying us on parades and even trips oversees! Their devotion is commendable!

We all agreed that the band was a key part of our formative years, providing not only a music education, but also tremendous character-building for the many youth who joined its ranks. It also provided an opportunity to see the world outside our own community. We all came from humble families, but we were world travelers, having been invited to Dublin, Ireland in 1974 and again in 1976 to represent the USA in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

As we gathered, we remembered not only learning our music lessons and drills, but also learning responsibility, discipline, teamwork and leadership – with twice weekly band practice (for some of us, three times a week!), we didn’t have time to get in any trouble!; getting up at 5 or 6 a.m. to make the band bus for weekly parades; loooong bus rides to parades out of town—we perfected the art of sleeping and eating on a bus; keeping track of our equipment and uniforms; looking out for each other, especially the younger ones;  having respect for authority - or else! (“Does anyone remember having to clean the bathroom with a toothbrush?” - a common punishment for infractions); marching down Fifth Avenue for major holiday parades; breakfast at the Waldorf Astoria; marching to Sunday morning mass and then on to breakfast at the KofC/American Legion in numerous LI towns; marching 2x2 through the narrow walkways of Breezy and Rockaway Point; alternately sweating/freezing in our uniforms on hot/cold days; competing in regional band competitions; the thrill of marching in Dublin and touring Ireland; eating at Bunratty Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone; and for some of the littlest ones, learning right from left for the first time!

For the many of us who no longer live in Rockaway (though our hearts remain here), we also remembered how awesome it was growing up “at the beach”—something our kids and friends don’t quite ‘get’. We could actually walk out our front door, and with a few blocks walk, be AT the beach. No need to drive to the LI town and state beaches. Ah, those were the days!

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