At 91, she’s still in tune with Geauga Fair Band

BURTON – Every county fair has a soundtrack rides clinking, funnel cakes sizzling, animals braying, people milling but beyond the chaotic noise, the Great Geauga County Fair Band provides a score that pumps life into the grounds.

“We do a (John Philip) Sousa march every concert. Songs that people recognize go over well, TV themes and Broadway, and we’ll play something classical to bring a little culture to the fair,” band director Greg Harris said.

And since 1938, the band has been providing the pulse for a weekend of festivities and competitions. And also since 1938, Barbara Ricca, 91, has been trumpeting along with them. In the band garage Ricca donned her cobalt cap and jacket, while members of the band joshed with one another and prepared for their next concert.

“I’ve been with it since it started. I remember I was down about like this,” Ricca said, marking a height of about three feet by her side.

“You weren’t that little!” another band member said passing by on the way to the pavilion outside.

That band member was right; Ricca started playing with the band at age 15 when Chardon Elementary School Band Director Azro Cheney encouraged her to attend the rehearsals for practice. Cheney and Cliff Rossiter began organizing the band shortly after the 1936 fair.

“I was taking lessons from Mr. Cheney, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come to the band? See what the Geauga Fair Band is playing, it will be good practice,’ ” she said.

What started as practice morphed into a lifetime.

“One thing that I think is unique about the band is the wide range of ages of the people involved,” Harris said.

On Thursday under the Vernon Howard Pavilion, he pointed out various players in the band and explained their unique contributions. The band’s youngest member had a start similar to Ricca’s Erica Cooper, 17, who plays trombone, joined at Harris’ urging.

“Greg is my trombone teacher. He decided to let me join to widen my horizons,” she said.

“Don’t say it’s because you’re my favorite student,” Harris said.

“Oh, it’s because I’m his favorite student,” Cooper responded.

In addition to taking lessons from Harris, she plays in her high school band and the Junior Fair Band. Cooper said the difference with the fair band is “it’s not as picky.”

“I won’t say anything if you make a mistake,” fellow trombone player Patty Mudry interrupted.

Cooper agreed to reciprocate the favor, but no one is off limits when it comes to the internal teasing.

“Sometimes we make fun of the different sections,” Mudry said.

With minutes to go before the concert began, the musicians settled into place and Harris began running through warm-ups.

A small crowd had gathered to hear the performance, but the harmonies they heard were only a small translation of the comradery among the members. It’s what keeps musicians like Ricca around for so long.

“We have a good time,” she said. “It’s the band, the people.”

That’s what she says will keep her playing until she can’t play anymore.