There are strains of music so distinctive, so unique in their form and structure, that they summon deep-seated memories and feelings every time you hear them. Circus music fits that description. The frantic melody and pace of circus music are designed to excite the audience, drawing them into the performance. Most modern circuses use taped music to augment their shows, and much of what they play is not real circus music. April Zink, director of the Circus Day Foundation's Community Circus Band, explains that real circus music is "old-timey, it's syncopated, it's sixteenth notes, it's cool" and maintains that it is best performed by a live band. To this end, she has formed a multi-generational band that plays old-time circus music for the Everyday Circus groups at the City Museum. Right now the band has a dozen members, both kids and adults, but April is hoping the ranks will swell in the near future. Maybe there's a calliope player out there who has his Tuesday evenings free and could make it to rehearsal?
"In circus language that's pronounced 'cally-ope,'" Zink offers helpfully. "Calliope is for the steam organs that run up and down the river. And, no, we don't have one of those. Right now we've got two trumpets, a tuba, a trombone (if he shows up), a flute, a clarinet, maybe two, definitely a drumset, possibly an electric bass if the kid gets it out of the shop." If it all sounds a little haphazard, it is, but Zink is nonplussed. A veteran of circus bands, Zink is accustomed to everything being up in the air (no pun intended). "It's circus," she explains, as if "circus" is synonymous with "seat of the pants." "It's crazy, and it's gonna come together at the last minute."
In this case, the last minute is this Sunday, July 27, when the Community Circus Band will make its debut for the Circus Day Foundation's Members' Party, which is open to everyone who comes down to the City Museum. In a rare joint venture, all three groups that comprise the Foundation will stage shows, beginning with the Patchwork Circus at 1 p.m., followed by the St. Louis Arches at 2 p.m., Circus Salaam Shalom at 3 p.m. and then the Arches again at 4 p.m.
Eventually, Zink would like the band to accompany the Circus groups while they're performing, but not this year. "This is our first year, a building year, and we're just getting kids excited and interested in this circus music." Instead, the band will play before and after the Circus, or what circus musicians call a "come-in." Zink says, "We're just gonna play a warm-up, and have the music waft through the museum, just to get people excited and walk them over to the circus."
For Zink, playing the music she loves is almost as important as the band's "other purpose," which she says is "to make connections between different communities. The band is connecting younger kids with already seasoned adults. Music is a language that everybody can play, no matter what age you are."