Lady drummers: All-female percussion section sets the beat for the Harwich Town Band

It's true, girls can be drummers--and at any age


   The all-female percussion section of the Harwich Town Band.  The ladies play with the band through the summer and during special events in the off-season. Photo by Cheryl Kain.

By Cheryl Kain

Peter Cobb started conducting in junior high in Newton, MA. “My band conductor let me conduct and I got the bug!” he says. He became student conductor for the band at Harvard, graduated with dual degrees in Music and Teaching, and was the assistant conductor in graduate school. Peter worked his way up to Newton North High School as Director of Secondary School Band. “It was really exciting, and exhausting.” Years later, he “took a wrong turn” into school administration and became an assistant principal in the Midwest, afterwards transitioning into a project for gifted kids at The University of Chicago. Sharon was head of one of the centers—they got involved professionally, then personally. They decided they’d pack everything into a truck and move towards Cape Cod via 26 years in Connecticut.

In Wethersfield, CT, Peter taught more gifted children. He retired in 2002, and tried out for the conductor spot for Harwich Town Band. Peter took over the band in 2005, as a package deal with his wife, Sharon. During the tryouts, Peter saw Cynthia McGalliard playing both cymbals and bass drum. Cynthia actually wanted to play bells; Peter realized his wife wanted to play bass drum. Someone else picked up the cymbal; Cynthia played the bells, and Sharon got the bass.

Conducter Peter Cobb at work. Photo by Cheryl Kain.Cobb likes each percussionist to stay within their strong suit and stay in that area, rather than move the percussionists around. “After Peter applied for the job, he said to me, ‘and by-the-way, you’re going to play bass drum. It’s been the dream of my lifetime, for me to be conductor and you to play the drum,’” says Sharon Cobb, adding, “I never knew Peter had this secret dream. I hadn’t played drums since high school.”

In a small, rural town in 1952 Illinois, Sharon Cobb wanted to play drums. She was told, “Girls can’t play drums. What’s your second choice?” Sharon replied, “It’s drums or nothing.” In fourth grade, she began studying percussion. The town had 5,000 people and the band director was excellent, “a real marching band,” says Sharon, who played snare drum.

Rosamond (“Ros”) Dunford was in an all-girls fife, drum and bugle corps in school. In 1946, there was quite a few all-girl corps. She went into nurse’s training, an intense program back then, and was on-duty or in class most of the time. “I never thought I’d play the drum again,” she says, never having read drum music in the drum corps. Ros became one of the earliest members of Harwich Band, started in the 1970s, and is now head of the percussion section. “She’s wonderful—she keeps us all coordinated. We always know what the other is doing!” says Sharon.

Ros replies, “I don’t have to be boss. We all do our own part. We do have to divide the parts—bell, tambourine, triangle and drum. It’s a matter of dividing up the parts among us. I’m not a musician; I just play the drums!” she jokes. “The people in the section are wonderful to be with. It’s a very relaxing time to be with them. You come away, always, feeling great. They’re an uplifting crew. It’s a lot of fun.” She adds, “I learned to read music in the Harwich Band. It was a surprise! And a challenge.”

Janet Gauland, a seasoned musician, started piano at five years of age, and has been playing ever since. She began playing percussion only five years ago. “I’ve learned so much from Cindy, Sharon and Ros!” Cynthia McGalliard is the band secretary and plays bells. Her father, Wendell Bassett started the Harwich Band in 1975. Longtime piano player, Dorothy (“Dottie”) Hemmings Bassett plays bells for Harwich Band, and she married Cynthia’s cousin this past August 9!

“We enjoy the time we’re together,” Sharon says of the percussion section. It takes something to keep the beat clean & even. Most bass drummers just hit the drum. I have a way of making the drum become a part of myself, from being a tap dancer.”

The band entertains an always enthusiastic crowd weekly during the summer months at Brooks Park. Photo by Cheryl Kain.The band is sponsored and funded by the Town of Harwich Recreation and Youth Department. One warm evening in August, they opened with The Star Spangled Banner, and then played a premiere performance selection called Carpathia, named after the boat that rescued the survivors of the Titanic. The bass drum and percussion players were featured prominently, and spot-on! The band played a mixture of classical, pop/rock and swing, including a dazzling version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

At 7:30, it was time for the “march-around,” where kids of all ages donned hats--stars & striped hats, veiled hats, shark hats, hats with propellers, and marched around the band gazebo in a parade. Adults wore silly hats and joined the kids, and even a big, white dog joined in the fun, while the audience clapped in time to the beat. Next up was Tuxedo Junction, followed by a beautiful Cole Porter Overture, featuring Night and Day, What is This Thing Called Love, and You Do Something to Me.

There were approximately 100 people in attendance, and the concert proceeded with Dvorzak’s Slovenic Dance #8, and a medley called Henry Mancini at The Oscars. People felt free to dance near their lawn seats. Fathers danced with their toddlers, moms swayed with infants, and folks tapped their feet in appreciation for the eclectic, spirited Harwich Band.

The band is in the parade for the Cranberry Festival this Saturday at twelve noon. “The people like it, and are very excited about the festival.” Next up for the band is Tuesday, December 11 for their annual Christmas Concert.

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