Magic sometimes happens when one is in the right place at the right time. In this case it was slightly before 9:30 a.m. Friday, March 25, when three local musicians set up to play a brief concert at a tiny post office in a shopping center adjacent to Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.
There was no advance notice given, the musicians weren’t collecting for a cause, and they didn’t pass the hat. Nor did they attract a large audience. Their reward was simply a smile or two, from those who came to mail packages, buy stamps, or check their postal boxes. The trio did it for the joy of making music together and to express, through that music, the concern they and many others feel right now for what is happening half a world away.
Dr. Millie Gore Lancaster, an accomplished clarinet player, published author and retired teacher, and her long-time clarinet-playing friend, Sharon Daughters, both of Hot Springs Village, were joined by Phillip Wilson, also a retired teacher and published author, of Tucumcari, New Mexico, on the baritone horn, for a performance that both began and ended with the Ukraine National Anthem. Wilson, known as “Papa,” is a lifelong friend of Mrs. Lancaster, in Hot Springs Village for an extended visit. While here, he also serves as guest conductor of the Village Strings.
It was the kind of serendipity that doesn’t often occur, and this small community with a large population of retirees is not really a place where the unexpected regularly happens. However, the Post Office Pop-Up Band is not a one-time phenomenon. According to Lancaster, it was an idea that sprung out of an incident three days before Christmas in 2018. Some people waiting in a long line for service were irritable, and a few at the postal service windows became abusive when they learned their packages would not arrive at destinations on time.
Lancaster spoke up: “I’m going to bring my clarinet and play music to remind everyone to be kind to each other,” she announced. She didn’t do it that season, but when spring arrived, she and Daughters, who is a fellow clarinetist, began playing happy music like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Bare Necessities,” just for the fun of it, outside the same post office.
That was in 2019.
They sat out 2020 due to the pandemic, she notes, but began playing again in the spring of 2021. It was time for good friends to “get out and play,” making music together once again. They became the “Totally Unauthorized, Fully Vaccinated Post Office Pop-Up Band.” However, the wind blew their sign down and their sheet music away one too many times, so by Christmas they were popping up once again inside the postal office. When “Papa” Wilson came to visit, they were a trio.
Why the miniscule U.S Post Office as a venue? Because, says Lancaster, she still remembers that Christmas when it was not pleasant to be there.
In addition to the Ukrainian National Anthem, which is said to be the most popular piece of music in that nation, the trio played “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” from Toy Story, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” from The Lion King, and a poignant Bob Dylan “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The concert could have been longer, but the musicians had another agenda. They were moving on to the main post office in Hot Springs, some 13 miles away, hoping to delight postal patrons there.
A simple sign, in Ukraine’s flag colors of blue and yellow, proclaimed simply, “Stand with Ukraine.”
Lancaster said, “We were inspired this time by the musicians in Ukraine whom we saw playing alone amidst the rubble, a cellist once, and a pianist another time. We thought we would join with our brother and sister musicians in solidarity a half world away.”
When it was adopted by the citizens of the independent Ukrainian National Republic following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the anthem had three verses, and slightly different words. It was adopted in its present form, a single stanza with a repeating chorus, in 2003. The opening line proclaims: “Ukraine’s glory and freedom which haven’t perished . . .” Today, the emphasis is “on vanquishing the country’s enemies and the fresh breath of freedom that citizens so cherish, as they now seek to defend it.”
Indeed, it’s good to make music, to listen to that music, and to stand together.