The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 22, 2021 1:00 am

Taps sounded from home

Longtime city musician plays as bands recover from pandemic

Rod King | For The Journal Gazette

Taps reverberated from the corner of Blue Mist Road and Night Fall Street in the Winterset Addition of the Waynedale community at 3 p.m. May 31.

Vince LaBarbera played it perfectly from his front yard by his American flag as neighbors gathered to listen.

LaBarbera, a charter member of the Fort Wayne Area Community Band for the past 41 years, accepted the challenge made on television news shows to play the famed military “lights out” piece in the Taps Across America movement. He did the same thing last year, but few actually heard his performance because a neighbor was mowing his lawn.

This year the dozen or so people were treated to a full version without interruption.

The Fort Wayne native began playing trumpet in grade school, advanced to the junior band and ended his four-year music career in the Central Catholic High School marching and concert bands as principal trumpeter his senior year. From there he went on to four years in the University of Notre Dame's marching, concert, varsity and dance bands.

LaBarbera was happy to hear in early May that the Community Band would start rehearsing again after a 14-month furlough because of COVID-19.

“I remember clearly the band's directors announcing at our last rehearsal way back on March 10, 2020, that we would be taking some time off due to the coronavirus pandemic,” LaBarbera said. “I looked around at the more than 90 musicians seated in the Purdue Fort Wayne rehearsal hall and thought to myself, 'I'm not going to see these people for a very long time.'

“So, the word that we'd be playing again was great news! Even better. We would be preparing for three concerts, the annual Three Rivers Festival fireworks July 17 on Freimann Square and two performances at Foellinger Theatre on July 13 and Aug. 10.

“And even though we'd be practicing on the third floor of Parking Garage No. 3 at PFW, I was eager to get back to playing every Tuesday night with what I refer to as the best kept secret in Fort Wayne. We had 76 musicians at the first rehearsal May 18 and excitement among the members was high.”

LaBarbera said the rehearsal was “different than our normal rehearsals over the past 41 years.” Instead of coming into a room with chairs and stands already set up, members had to bring their own chair and stand. In addition, everyone social distanced at least 3 feet apart and 6 feet between each row.

“The music bounced off the concrete ceiling, floor and support posts and made it difficult to distinguish all the parts, but overall it was pretty good,” he said. “Birds flew in and out during that hour-and-a-half but were not too distracting.”

LaBarbera said he got his horn out a few times during the band's furlough with the intent of practicing, “but playing scales and arpeggios just didn't cut it.”

He did practice taps, however, in order to play it on Memorial Day. Playing taps is not new for LaBarbera, who also belongs to Buglers Across America. In high school, he volunteered to play the haunting, distinctive melody for veterans' funerals.

“It was a great opportunity to get out of class for a couple hours,” he said. “Members of the American Legion would pick me up at school on the day of the funeral and take me to the Legion Hall to wait until time for the service. While the rifle squad had a couple of beers, I sat in the family room because I was underage and was served crackers and a soft drink. From then on, they called me Crackers.”

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