A lifetime dedicated to music will be celebrated this weekend in Hartford.
A retirement party in honor of Sheldon Binns will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 17, at the Hartford Firehouse, located at the corner of Routes 149 and 40. Binns retired earlier this summer after a quarter-century as the Hartford Community Band’s conductor, the coda of a 60-year career in music.
Originally from Boston, Binns embarked on his musical career following World War II.
“I came out of the service in 1945 and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was musically inclined and decided I wanted to have a career in music,” Binns said.
After researching the music education programs at several colleges, Binns enrolled at Boston University and five years later received his master’s degree.
For the next two years he taught music at a high school in Northern Maine and then another two years in Norwalk, Conn.
“From there I interviewed and got the job in Hartford,” Binns said.
For the next 35 years Binns taught music and directed the district’s band,
“I found the kids in Hartford easy to teach and they were eager to learn. It was enjoyable,” Binns said.
Diane Smith, a former student and a founding member of the Hartford Community Band described Binns as an “extremely demanding” teacher.
“He got the best out of all of us. He always strived for perfection. We had to dress a certain way and behave a certain way. It was the little things,” Smith said, adding that Binns still “snaps that baton.”
In 1990, Binns decided to hang up the baton and retire, or so he thought.
“Diane Smith and myself thought it would be a nice tribute to gather a group of Hartford alumi to play at Sheldon’s final spring concert. We called many people and were amazed to find how many still had their instruments. We got into his files at school and pulled out a couple of numbers. We copied the music and sent parts to people who were willing to come play at his concert,” Becky Arlen, a former student and one of the founding members of the band said.
Mark Cornell, an accomplished violinist and music teacher who had Binns as a teacher and who has since passed away, directed the impromptu band’s two rehearsals leading up to the concert.
“The night of his last concert, we waited until after the Senior Band had played their final number, then Diane and I made a speech about how loved and respected Sheldon was,” Arlen said. “Then one by one, the group of alumni came from hiding in the kindergarten room and each brought Sheldon a flower as they were introduced.”
With their instruments in tow and their mentor once again directing them, the band played two songs.
“At the end he said ‘Let’s do this some more.’ And that’s how the Hartford Community Band was born,” Arlen said. “After the concert, I personally felt that it was the grandest, must fulfilling project I have ever been involved in.”
Smith described that initial concert as one of the most gratifying things she has ever done.
About seven or eight of those who were in that band have continued to play with the Hartford Community Band.
“I never thought at the time it would grow into a community band,” Smith said.
Over the years the band ‘s ranks have swelled and its members live throughout the region.
“We’ve gained people from out of the area. We have some members from others parts of Washington and Warren Counties. We even have members from as far away as Stillwater and Schuylerville and some from Vermont,” Binns said.
“People have come and gone, but we kept a stable figure of about 30 members. There’s a nucleus of members that are residents of Hartford.”
Binns, 89, said the band’s playlist includes marches, music from Broadway musicals, some classical standards and a little bit of popular music. The band, which performs up to 16 times a year, plays at local summer concert series and area nursing homes. The latter performances are done at no charge.
“We do those for the joy of doing them,” he said.
Lisa Cornell who along with her husband, Jeff, is a member of the band and has assumed the role of conductor, said the band is a testament to Binns’ dedication, knowledge and guidance.
“He was a mentor for me when I wanted to start doing more with the band,” she said. “I only hope I can keep it going half as long as he did.”
Binns directed his final concert last month in Hartford and said he’s enjoyed his second career nearly as much as his first.
“I had a good relationship with my students while I was teaching and those relationships continued,” he said.