Normally, the sounds of a marching band signify groups of high school or college students preparing to take part in a parade or perform on a football field, but at the Inwood Memorial Day parade, they signal to a much more mature group.
Twenty-one members of the Our Lady of Good Counsel Band marched up Doughty Boulevard on May 26, to celebrate Memorial Day and honor the military personnel that gave their lives in service of their country.
Founded in 1923, the band has stuck to its roots and plays the same repertoire of music that they are known for. “I try to keep the band to the same traditions that it’s had since long ago. We still play the same traditional music as before,” said Hewlett resident Steve Leona, 67, the band’s director.
Leona, who has played in the band for 55 years, took over when previous director Ronald Mazza died in 2004. “When he died, I became the new person of responsibility to lead the band and keeping the jobs under control,” Leona said.
To longtime listeners and band members, the group is better known as the “Mazza Band.” “At one point, there were more than 20 members of the family in the band,” said Stanislao Pugliese, 54, a longtime member of the Mazza Band. “In the past, we had almost 60 people who played in the band, and we had these magnificent navy-blue uniforms that we used to wear. I joined in 1978 when I was 13-years-old, and I’m one of the younger people in the band.”
Frank Mazza, 77, began playing in the band with his family members when he was 10-years-old. He now lives in Texas. “Well, I started playing in the band when I was 10-years-old, and at that time our rehearsals were on Wednesday nights,” Mazza said. “The band’s founder, my uncle Nick, would hold rehearsals down in his basement where he had kept all the music in his cabinet.”
The oldest participating musician in the band is Frank Sita, 86. He played trumpet in a large band in Italy before he came to America. When he settled in Inwood in December of 1951, he was introduced to the librarian for the band at the time and has been playing ever since.
“I have been watching my father play since birth. The band has been a part of my family’s entire childhood. I remember Wednesday nights, he would have practice with the band and during the summers almost every weekend I was attending parades and watching my father,” said Gina Sita, 39, Sita’s daughter.
Aside from fireman’s parades, the band has also marched in various religious processions over the years. “The people from my mother’s town settled in Inwood in the ’50s and ’60s, and they brought with them their patron saint, Santa Marina, and every July they would hold a mass for the saint in Our Lady of Good Counsel and have a procession which was led by the band,” Pugliese said. “I remember as a little kid, I would meet my parents in the march and I would follow the band.”
Through the years, membership has declined. “We used to rehearse in the VFW almost every week, back when we had more band directors,” Leona said. “But as time went on, about only seven to eight people would consistently show up. Then in the late ’90s to early 2000s, we stopped having rehearsals.” Instead, members will meet and tune up for a quick run through before a performance.
Though the group has shrunk in membership, the one thing that remains, is how tight knit they really are. “The band is kind of its own family in a way,” Leona said. “We’re all very close and when a newcomer will come play for the first time, they can’t believe the family aspect we have.”