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EAST GREENWICH â€“ When Joseph R. â€śJoeâ€ť Pelosi graduated from the Boston Conservatory of Music in 1959 and returned to Rhode Island, his wife, Angela, saw an ad seeking a music teacher in the North Kingstown school system.
â€śI didnâ€™t know where North Kingstown was,â€ť Joe laughs.
He quickly learned â€“ in fact, he became a legend on the local music scene â€“ and the display areas in the den of his home near the East Greenwich-North Kingstown line are filled with evidence that North Kingstown certainly knows him.
Now 79, Joe has spent his entire professional career grooming young musicians and, for nearly a half-century, guiding the community-wide Lafayette Band.
On the heels of receiving the Wickford Yacht Clubâ€™s Albert C. Henry Jr. community service award, Joe is being honored with what will surely be his most tangible legacy: On Monday night, the town council unanimously voted to name the space around the new bandstand and seating area on the Cold Spring property the Joseph R. Pelosi Performance Center.
The bandstand, which Joe helped design, will be inaugurated July 4 in a traditional Lafayette beachfront concert. The venue will be state-of-the-art, a marked departure from the old facility.
â€śThe workmen apparently got tired of carrying things back and forth,â€ť he recalls, â€śso they took 10 feet of the bandstand and made a closet for the risers. My wife used to say that I was going to step back while conducting and fall off. The band was getting bigger and the space smaller.â€ť
In what would be a 39-year tenure in the schools, he started at the junior high then moved up to North Kingstown High School where his influence was so great that students routinely were selected for the prestigious All-State ensembles and also won recognition throughout New England.
During that time, Joe organized the first Rhode Island Music Educators Association Jazz Festival and also took the band to Disney World, California, Philadelphia, Canada and on two trips to perform in England.
â€śThe kids raised the money to go,â€ť he says. â€śIt was tough but they did it. They sold candy and fruitcake.â€ť
Angela adds, â€śI havenâ€™t had a piece of fruitcake in the house since then.â€ť
â€śWe were always very successful in All-State,â€ť Joe notes. â€śIâ€™m very proud of the students from our town. There were plenty who became professionals â€“ music teachers and band directorsâ€ť including NKHSâ€™ Toni-Annette Silveira.
Joeâ€™s love of music hit high gear when he served in the Korean War, auditioned for the band and entered a German music school run by U.S. Army personnel and German civilians.
â€śThe school was located at Dachau, [the World War II concentration camp site]. We were there when they took it apart.â€ť
He returned, graduated from Boston, signed on in North Kingstown and, four years later, was invited to lead the Lafayette Band
â€śI hesitated because I was commuting from Providence,â€ť he explains. â€śTeaching and the band seemed like too much.â€ť
So he and Angela, who have been married 57 years and have two daughters, built their East Greenwich house and moved closer to the action.
Joe counts among the Lafayette players generations of family musicians. â€śI had the parents and then the children,â€ť he smiles. â€śPeople come in from all different jobs.â€ť Among the bandâ€™s highlight concerts are the ice cream social at St. Johnâ€™s Episcopal Church in Saunderstown, the armed forces tribute and numerous nursing home appearances which he finds especially rewarding.
He hopes to have a joint concert of the Lafayette Band and Community Chorus at the new bandstand.
Meanwhile, he and Angela â€“ who held hands throughout the entire interview for this column â€“ will continue to make sweet music, in the essence of perfect harmony.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalism and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at email@example.com.