ALPLAUS – Veteran marching band bugle player Peter Bisnett was presented with a unique challenge Sunday – trying to play the Alplaus Fire Department’s original set of bugles from when the department opened in 1930, in honor of the return of the 47th annual Alplaus Fourth of July parade.
The annual tradition of the Fourth of July parade and after-party at the Alplaus Fire Department was interrupted in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Sunday it was back in action.
“I think this is the best attendance we’ve had, I think, in at least five years,” Fire Chief Andy Coppola said after the parade.
Last year the department held a scaled-back version of the parade that only included vehicles that traveled through the neighborhoods and housing developments of Alplaus, without people gathered together. Safety rules aimed at curbing the spread of the virus prevented the event from drawing the 1,000 plus people it would normally draw.
Coppola said he wanted to do something different for 2021 that would connect all the way back to creation of the department, as a means of communicating that the Alplaus Fire Department’s traditions will continue long into the future. He said he remembered that one of the department’s longtime members, Art Lyman, 68, had been storing the department’s original bugle set from 1930 ever since he was 15, too young at that time to even join the department.
“The elders at the time were actually going to throw them out, and he was just a kid, but he was like ‘no, you’re not,'” Coppola said. “And he kept them at his house this whole time, until recently he decided to get them re-done. They haven’t been played in over 60 years.”
Bisnett, who lives in the Glenville part of the Alplaus Fire District and works for the New York State Thruway Authority, said figuring out how to play the old instrument was easier said than done. When he first attempted to blow the brass instrument he discovered it made a “funky sound” because it was in the Key of G, when he had expected it to be in the key of of B-flat. He said he and another bugle player with a smartphone “tuning app” were able to work with the set of bugles until they could get them to play properly.
“You’ve got to get a feel for it, because depending on the resistance, you’ve got to play it a little bit, just to see how it feels, to figure out what Key it was in, and put it through it’s paces,” he said.
Bisnett and the other marching band players at the Alplaus Fourth of July parade were themselves put through their paces Sunday, after more than a year of having not performed in any parades.
“This is the first one most of us have done, since the pandemic, and a lot of us were more exhausted,” he said. “We have to get used to our lips again. Just walking and playing can be demanding, so you really don’t know until you do it, and seeing how it’s our first parade, luckily this one’s manly downhill. When you start going uphill, and you start to hear the band slow down, that’s because everyone is out of shape.”
Coppola said nearly everyone in attendance at the Alplaus Fire Department after-party was either an active or retired member of the fire company or the child of a member or retired member.
“People usually used to come here, and we would serve food, and people would hang out for hours,” he said. “I think that’s where the caution came in for people. People were very happy to see the parade, but they were cautious for the get-together after the parade. I think that’s still a thing.”
Some things remained unchanged though and some old machines require no special tuning, like Mario Ciancetta, 92, and his cotton candy maker. He said he’s been making cotton candy using equipment he acquired 50 years ago during a vacation to Lake Champlain from a man who told him he had worked as a concessionaire for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
“He had this shed full of equipment, and he said ‘if you’re handy, I’ll give it to you and you can put it together,'” Ciancetta recalled. “And that’s what we did, my wife and I put it together, and we’ve been using it ever since.”
Ciancetta said he’s sold cotton candy at the Fire Department after-party of every Alplaus Fourth of July Parade since 1976. He said he only charges $1, compared to the $5 he typically sees charged at circuses and carnivals for the sugary treat. He donates the proceeds to the volunteer company.
“Today, I’m surprised there aren’t more kids,” he said. “Normally, I have a little line here, but we did pretty good. We sold 125 of them between last night and today. One guy last night said to me ‘you’re giving it away’, but we want all of the kids to enjoy it. If you’ve got three or four kids, they each can have one, instead of sharing it.”
Some of the “kids” at the Alplaus Fire Department party were of the middle-aged variety, including the four “Beaver kids,” children of 50-year Fire Department member Joe Beaver.
Coppola said the Beaver siblings migrate back to Alplaus like birds for the annual fourth of July celebration.
“They all grew up in this community, and I only see them once a year when they come back here from all over the Capital District,” he said. “‘Cause you have to,” Michelle Marsh, formerly Michelle Beaver, said. “That’s what all of this is about. You’ve got generations upon generations here.”
Michelle said it felt good to be home with the coronavirus restrictions having been lifted. She said she had to shut down her hair salon in Clifton Park for 13 months due to the virus.
“It feels absolutely fabulous, freeing, American, normal, praise God,” she said. “This is what it should be.”
Michael Manning, 18, is one of the youngest members of the fire company. He said he participated in the vehicle parade last year, but he was grateful he could be a part of bringing the regular tradition back on Sunday. He said he lost his in-person graduation from high school in 2020, which helped him appreciate the importance of major events and traditions.
“I love it,” he said. “It was awesome to see everybody out and about. I do appreciate this stuff more now, because you can’t take anything for granted — last year proved that — so this year, getting back into things, has just been awesome to see.”