Town Hall gathering was poignant, uplifting

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Like that morning one year ago, the morning of Sept. 11, 2002 was clear, warm and beautiful, but blustery. The wind blew the ivy that muffled the side of the building facing the garden at Flushing Town Hall, as it did the grass and the flags that decorated the railing of the balcony where the Little Brass Band of The American Concert Band played their patriotic songs.

After being served breakfast in one of the building’s big bright galleries, the audience repaired to the chairs set up on the lawn. A nice-sized crowd had arrived and staff had to scramble to set up extra chairs beneath the old maple trees. Two little girls and their mother sat close by. The kids wore sailor caps with the stars and stripes on it and carried plastic flags that snapped in the wind.

The band started off with “Taps” and then paused for a moment of silence at exactly 8:46 a.m., which was when the first plane hit a year ago. During the silence you could only hear the wind through the leaves and the whine and scream of the airplanes coming in for a landing at LaGuardia Airport — the no-fly zone was canceled evidently. The planes flew so low you could see the rivets on their bellies as they angled in over Main Street. The noise made the woman next to me a bit jumpy.

The Little Brass Band was made up of gentlemen from a simpler era, who were dressed that morning in white pants, dark blue shirts and red caps. After the silence they launched into a heartfelt version of “America The Beautiful,” then “God Bless America.” Their old fashioned brass sound gave these patriotic songs and marches, which are mostly rather lame and unsingable a special burnish.

“USA! USA! USA!” the little girls yelled between tunes as they waved their flags. Their voices were nearly swallowed by the wind.

The band followed with “My Country Tis of Thee” and “Yankee Doodle Boy” — the song is not really called “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” by the way.

Afterwards Jo-Ann Jones, creative director at Flushing Town Hall, gave a few comments about Queens’ sometimes bewildering diversity before the politicos marched up to the balcony to give their speeches. Among the speakers were Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), the only Asian councilman in New York city, who also co-sponsored the event, and Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who read a proclamation from the beleaguered Dubya. Other political and corporate sponsors gave short speeches full of hope and optimism.

The band resumed playing, beginning with “America the Beautiful,” and followed with “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “The National Emblem,” “The Liberty Bell,” and the “Songs of America March,” which included snippets from “Dixie,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Yankee Doodle Boy.” They followed up with “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” (‘Dyainu,’ thought the writer), then “The National Anthem.” According to band director Dr. Kirby Jolly, the song usually comes at the beginning of the concert but he decided to put it at the end because of the standing ovation it always gets. But the real ending to the morning was his band’s rendition of “New York, New York.”

Later, the crowd waited in line in front of the hall to board the quaint red and green trolley that would trundle them around Flushing’s “Freedom Mile,” which included Kingsland House, Bowne House and the Friends Meeting House, a brown, shingled building just across Northern Boulevard; the last two stops were emblems of freedom from slavery and freedom of religion. All in all, the program was neither jingoistic nor sickening, but comforting. And that’s what was needed.

Updated 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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