A Little Night Music: WPI Summer Band Brings Together Music and People

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. - They came for the love of music and they found the love of a lifetime.

Along with the many benefits of music, Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Summer Band has brought together at least one couple in wedded bliss. Thanks to Administrator of Applied Music Douglas G. Weeks, WPI Summer Band has provided a creative outlet and more for students, alumni, faculty and staff for the past several years.

In early June the note appeared on the WPI e-mail system: "I will once again be directing a summer band composed of students, alumni, faculty and staff," wrote Weeks. "If you are interested in participating, please attend the first rehearsal this coming Monday." About 30 musicians responded.

They come from as far as New Haven, Conn., and Manchester, N.H. They arrive after a full day of work and miles behind the wheel. They flock here, even if they already play in local community bands, to enjoy a major love of their lives: the making of music.

Sometimes that love extends beyond music. Just ask Ned Lefferts and his wife, the former Melissa Briggs. Ned graduated from WPI in 1986, and Melissa from Worcester State College a little earlier. Along with trombonist Ned, Melissa had played the French horn in the WPI orchestra. It's one benefit of the Worcester Consortium for Higher Education, which allows students to take part in classes and activities on other campuses.

"We were, you know, friends. Part of the band," Ned recalls. "And then we continued playing together after Melissa graduated." While starting her teaching career at Doherty High School in Worcester, Melissa also played with the WPI band. "And that's when we started going out," Ned said. "In 1988 I graduated and we got married."

"Doug Weeks played at our wedding and he played at our reception," Melissa said, laughing, "so actually, we've got to give him all the credit."

Summer band offers them "the perfect opportunity," as Ned Lefferts puts it, to keep up their love of music. In fact, WPI band has added more than just music to the life of this Palmer, Mass., couple. They expect their first child in October.

Melissa, 37, teaches English at Cathedral High School in Springfield, Mass., while Ned, 34, is an engineer at Hamilton Sundstrand, an aerospace company in Windsor Locks, Conn.

"It really is just for fun," Weeks said of his Summer Band. "About five years ago, I saw some of my students hanging around during the summer and I thought it would be fun to get together a band." The band has since grown to include alumni, faculty, staff and their family members.

Some might find it odd that music plays such a prominent role at a university known for its science and engineering programs. Yet a major or minor course of study in music has grown in popularity among WPI students.

"It's purely enrichment," Weeks said. "These are motivated students who can handle a double major or who combine a technological major with a music minor."

In fact, WPI is alive with the sound of music, even publishing its first music CD, "Live from WPI," this year.

"WPI has become known for its music program, which is especially unique in that it takes place at a technological university," Weeks noted. "We have about 100 freshman taking music this fall - pretty good for a class of about 600."

Summer Band augments academic-year music for some students. For alumni, it provides an opportunity to play with a high-quality ensemble while maintaining school ties. Twenty-four-year-old Dennis Jackson, for example, attended WPI for four years, always playing in Weeks' band.

"I live up in Manchester, N.H., now so it's a little haul to come down here," Jackson said. "It's about 60 or 70 miles. But I love to play horn, and when Doug said he was going to start a summer band, I said, 'I'll be there.'"

Three summers later, he's still there. "As long as I am 'in the area,' I'll keep coming down," said Jackson, who earned a physics degree in 1997 and works at Deka Research and Development, a medical research company.

Greg Krueger, 23, class of '97, plays trumpet and traveled in WPI's concert tour to Spain last year. The Lowell, Mass., resident, works in explosive detection for airport security at Thermedics Detection Inc. in Chelmsford. "It's a nice break to come down here to play in Summer Band," he said. "There are a lot of good memories here."

WPI senior Kevin Dickson, 21, has played with Summer Band for two years. "I live off campus and stay here year-round," he said. "I've played the trumpet since 5th grade. It's kind of a stress reliever, and it's added a lot to my life. You make a lot of friends though band." A computer science major, he has a summer job at Quantum, a maker of hard drives and other storage devices, in Shrewsbury, Mass.

Junior and trombonist Paul Laplume, 20, just started with Summer Band, but has plenty of musical experience. "I've played in the WPI Stage Band, Concert Band, Brass Ensemble, Trombone Ensemble, and occasionally in the orchestra and jazz workshop," he said.

Music has always been a big part of his life. "It's just grown on me and I can't get away from it," he said. "It keeps my chops up to play in the Summer Band." A native of Lisbon Falls, Maine, Laplume works in Marlborough, Mass., on a web page project for Fidelity Investments. He's majoring in electrical engineering with a music minor.

Kyria Prevost, 21, a senior biochemistry major from Keene, N.H., puts a unique stamp of approval on Summer Band. President of the WPI Music Association, which comprises all music groups, Prevost took up the oboe at Weeks' request as a freshman. She began playing in Summer Band a few weeks ago.

"It's a good chance to make sure I can keep in shape and still play in the fall," Prevost said. "I just think it's great Professor Weeks got everybody together and gave us a chance to perform."

Flutist Maureen Mullarkey, 35, of Hudson, Mass., a member of the class of '86, played in the WPI Pep Band back in her college days. This is her third summer with the WPI band. "It's nice to be able to see some of my old friends, and it's nice to be able to keep music in your life," she said.

Mullarkey, who teaches life science at Pentucket Regional Middle School in West Newbury, Mass., loves best the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber - and as she spoke, songs from "Phantom of the Opera" drifted through Alden Memorial Hall, where the band practices through June and July.

The WPI Summer Band's next concert is Monday, July 26, in Memorial Park in Mendon, Mass. Admission is free and the program will include classical music, show tunes and more. For more information, contact Weeks at 508-831-5696.