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Playing an ode to spring

BRISTOL — Like Punxsutawney Phil, who makes his annual appearance on Feb. 2, the Groundhog Day Concert Band will awaken from its musical slumber to hasten the arrival of spring at the First Congregational Church in Bristol this Sunday. For the past 20 years, a group of musicians, all with connections to the church, have come together under the direction of Bennett Burnham, to play a concert during the Sunday service nearest Groundhog Day. “My children played in the band and I could see all these kids in the day care who played instruments. I thought I’d get them together to play a couple of tunes,” he said. “Since nothing happens in January, I had no competition with Little League, football, the Fourth of July or other activities.” This past Sunday, with one week to go before the band’s anniversary concert, Mr. Burnham’s uncertainty and optimism for a good turnout was evident. In front of him, two plastic buckets holding over a dozen folded music stands still contained most of the stands. For the next hour, the four trumpet players, Mr. Burnham, Karen Griffith-Dieterich and father-daughter duo Andrew and Hope MacKeith; clarinet player, Candy Alessandro; and flutists, Ruth Fisher and Jacob Johnson ran through the 10 songs in their repertoire. For some, the annual event is an opportunity to test their chops. “This is the only time I play my trumpet. Every year after the Groundhog concert I think, ‘Maybe I’ll practice more.’ But it’s not until Bennett goads me into playing that I take it out again,” Ms. Griffith-Dieterich said. Past versions of the band have included percussion, woodwinds, brass, violins, cellos and guitars, Mr. Burnham said. With the extent of their performance lasting only 15 minutes before the start of the 10 a.m. service through the recessional, the band also decided to take its act on the road to get in more playing time. After Sunday’s service, they head over to the Rhode Island Veterans’ Home for a special concert for the veterans. “I never know who I’ll have until that morning,” he said, adding he’s always looking to recruit new talent. “Every note that you give us is one more note that we wouldn’t have if you didn’t come.”

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