Bob Modr at the Harpswell Bandstand by the Sea in April. The founding chair of the Harpswell Bandstand Committee and conductor of the Harpswell Community Band recently stepped down from both roles. (JESSICA PICARD PHOTO)
When music educator Bob Modr and engineer Daniel Huber were put in charge of entertainment for the Harpswell Summer Festival about 10 years ago, musicians were playing on a concrete slab at George J. Mitchell Field. Modr turned to Huber and said, “We could do better than this!”
“Bob, if you can raise enough money, I’ll design it and build it,” Huber responded. The result was the Harpswell Bandstand by the Sea. A decade later, at 82 years old, Modr is stepping down as chair of the town’s Bandstand Committee and conductor of the Harpswell Concert Band.
“I’ve always been involved in music,” Modr said. He moved to Harpswell in the 1990s and retired in 2003 after a long career of creating and teaching music — from playing in the Air Force Band in New York City at the age of 18, to studying at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston; from teaching at public schools in Orono and Brunswick, to teaching children at military bases in England and Italy for the U.S. Department of Defense.
After getting the idea for the bandstand, Modr and Huber traveled around to performance spaces where Modr had played trumpet with New Hampshire’s Moose Mountain Jazz Band. Huber took aspects they liked from various venues and built a model for a solar-powered structure overlooking Casco Bay, with a wooden ceiling to amplify sound.
“The bandstand was (Modr’s) dream and brilliant idea,” said Candi Hine, who plays in the Harpswell Community Band and was on the Bandstand Committee from 2013-2021. “I remember going to the now-defunct Harpswell Summer Festival and seeing a model of what they hoped to build.”
The model is now with the Harpswell Historical Society.
Fundraising for the approximately $90,000 bandstand included asking for donations, selling bricks engraved with names and quotes to go around the front of the bandstand, and performances by the Moose Mountain Jazz Band.
“We couldn’t have done it without Dan Huber and so many other townspeople,” Modr said. He recounted a time when he was painting boards for the ceiling of the bandstand at Mitchell Field. A woman walked by and asked him what he was doing. When he explained the project, she went home, changed her clothes, and came back to help.
“It just happened that way,” Modr said of the community effort to raise the bandstand. “The support is what was amazing.”
Behind the bandstand, there is a “builder’s path” of bricks bearing the names of community members who physically helped build the structure.
Once construction of the bandstand was underway, Modr got to work on assembling musicians.
“I vividly remember getting a phone call from him that spring. I did not know him, but he heard through the grapevine that I played flute and invited me to join,” Hine said. “He inspired people to get their instruments out again. He put together quite the band, even that first summer.”
“There was a lot of word-of-mouth recruiting,” said Ed Holt, who had not played his trumpet in more than 40 years by the time the band formed. “Somehow (Modr) learned that I had played trumpet back in the day and started calling me in 2015. I ignored his calls at first because I knew what he was up to, but finally I answered his third call, and I’m glad I did.”
“There are people in town who are very talented,” Modr said. “They don’t think they are, because they probably haven’t played since high school. The opportunity was there, and they took it and ran with it.”
“One thing I appreciate is he chose challenging music,” Holt said of Modr. “It’s a mix, and that’s really good.”
The Harpswell Bandstand by the Sea during construction in 2012. (DAN HUBER PHOTO)
The finished bandstand and the newly formed band came together in the summer of 2013 for an inaugural performance and dedication of the structure to the town. A Bandstand Committee was formed to oversee the bandstand, choose visiting bands and continue to raise funds.
Modr chaired the committee from its inception until this spring, when he stepped down as both chair and conductor of the band. He will continue to participate as one of the seven committee members.
After a two-year performance hiatus due to COVID-19, the roughly 40-member band has welcomed a new conductor, John Morneau, for its return to the stage.
Morneau, of Brunswick, has taught music in public schools for 43 years. He has served as director of the Bowdoin College Concert Band since 1988.
Modr was excited for Morneau to take the reins. “We’ve played together many, many times,” he said.
“I’ve worked with adult bands for a number of years. This is a really good band,” Morneau said of the Harpswell Community Band. “They played their hearts out the first two rehearsals we had. I think people are really going to enjoy the music that we play. They’ve done a marvelous job.”
Morneau said that this year’s music selection will fit the beautiful location and the time of year.
“We are all so excited to be together again,” Hine said of the band members.
Between band performances, a visiting group will play at the bandstand every week this summer. While all concerts are free to attend, in order to pay visiting bands, the committee has a “Johnny Cash” box at performances for donations.
Morneau hopes that people will remember “what a great resource that they have in their community.”
“One of the reasons we do what we do, in my opinion, is to help make the world a better place,” Morneau said. “And if we can help people escape for about an hour and a half for these concerts, or even these rehearsals, then we are affecting lives in a positive way. We need that as much now as we ever have. I encourage people to turn out and really enjoy this great group that Bob started.”
The band is accepting new members.
“We always welcome new people who love to play,” Morneau said. “What makes this group, and all adult groups, especially rewarding, is that all these people are playing for the right reasons — love of music, enjoyment of making music and making music together with others.”
Anyone interested should email Morneau at email@example.com. The band rehearses in the spring and summer on Mondays from 6:30-8 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Brunswick.
The Harpswell Concert Band will open the season at the bandstand on June 16, and will play again on July 21 and Sept. 1. A full schedule for the 2022 season is available on Page 13.
Jessica Picard, of Newcastle, works for the Maine Department of Labor, writing and photographing in her spare time. She previously worked as a journalist and photographer in Midcoast Maine and Massachusetts.