Greater Chicopee Area Community Concert Band continues to thrive under new leadership

2/10/2017 | Chris Maza

Category: February

The Greater Chicopee Area Community Concert Band rehearses Wednesday nights at Chicopee Comp. Eric Putnam (pictured) is one of two directors of the Greater Chicopee Area Community Concert Band.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

A year ago members of the Greater Chicopee Area Community Concert Band weren’t sure if they would have a place to play anymore.

William Sittard, beloved director of the community band and bands in Chicopee Public Schools, was stepping away after 20 years with the ensemble, leaving a massive pair a shoes to fill.

But this January, the band, fresh off a holiday show in December, was preparing for its next concert.

Thanks to the leadership of not one, but two new directors in Eric Putnam and Bobbie Cheetham, the band has persevered and is now looking to expand.

“When Bill stepped down, we were really afraid because if nobody was willing to take over, we would have disbanded,” Sally Dupus, a 15-year member of the ensemble recalled. “We’re glad that didn’t happen.”

Putnam, a Chicopee native and the percussion instructor at Tantasqua Regional High School, and Cheetham, a current resident as well as a music teacher and choral director at Litwin School, were both members of the band when Sittard decided to it was time to move on, a big help in establishing a smooth transition.

“The directors now were both playing in the group when Bill decided he was going to step away, so they had experience with us, they were part of us and I think that helped with understanding of how the group functioned and kept up that same feeling and didn’t make drastic changes,” Lee Pouliot, a member of the band for five years, noted.

With that said, the new directors haven’t been afraid to put their own stamp on the group’s musical productions.

“This year we’ve seen a lot of different music,” Pouliot said. “They’re starting to put their own impact on the style and type of music that we’re playing. It’s refreshing and it’s good.”

Putnam, currently leading the group while Cheetham has stepped away temporarily in the early part of 2016, explained one of the main concepts the band wished to maintain was its accessibility.

“It’s a community ensemble,” Putnam, who played for Sittard in the Chicopee Comp High School band in addition the community ensemble in the mid-90s, said. “It’s an opportunity for people who love music to play.”

Putnam noted there has been a greater focus on recruiting new members and stoking interest in the ensemble. While the group has enjoyed success, it has been perhaps underappreciated success.

“Within the past year, we have been trying to get our name out there. Bobbie teaches in Chicopee Public Schools and has lived in Chicopee for a couple of years and she had no idea about the ensemble until last December,” he explained.

“We weren’t really well-known at that point. The goal at this point is to get our name out there and get people interested. We’ve been trying to ramp up some recruitment strategies, get the concert program out there and build up the program.”

While the ensemble, which totals roughly 40 members, requires some experience – including the ability to read music – and access to your own instrument, it is open to a wide range of musicians. The band rehearses every Wednesday at Chicopee Comp, coinciding with the Chicopee Public School’s district calendar.

“A lot of people don’t know about it, but we have people of all age levels and skill levels,” Dupuis said. “At one point I think we had kids as young as elementary school and one man who was in his 90s. It’s a very friendly group. No fees, no auditions.”

While age and ability may vary, there is one common thread throughout the band.

“There are a lot of Chicopee people here with deep roots,” Pouliot said. “A lot of people are alumni of one of the high school bands and had Bill Sittard as the director at the high school or middle school level.”

In the past the group has performed two shows, however, a third has been added to this year’s schedule. The next performance is slated for March 8, 7 p.m., in the Chicopee Comp auditorium.

“This show is going to be all British music,” Putnam explained. “We’ll do some 007, [John] Lennon – we try to do a mix some poppy type things, but we also do some standards-type pieces, really high quality pieces. ‘Three Ayres from Gloucester’ is a really well known piece, as an example.”

Putnam added one of the challenges for the group is keeping the music and performances fresh.

“We have been trying to raise some money because we have a limited selection of music to choose,” he explained. “We have a music library and we have been grateful to have some access to the Chicopee Comp music library, but it’s tough to plan a yearlong schedule of concerts with a limited number of pieces.”

He added a critical volunteer in the effort to raise funds has been Pouliot, who noted the band received a grant from the Chicopee Cultural Council this year.

“We received $500,” Pouliot said. “This is the first time we’ve ever gotten any funding.”

For more information on the Greater Chicopee Area Community Concert Band, visit its Facebook page at or email

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