First State Force Band vocalist Cpl. Elizabeth Bruette shares the spotlight with her audience./Courtesy of First State Force Band
“I used to think maybe you loved me, now I know that it’s true/ And I don’t want to spend my whole life, just waiting for you!”
Delaware State Police Capt. Alice Brumbley’s voice sails through the speakers, bouncing off the gymnasium walls at the Howard T. Ennis School, where half the student body is assembled for the concert. In full police uniform, Brumbley dances along with the music as she sings, her holstered gun swaying with her. Encouraged by her dancing, children rush the dance floor, flailing and swaying along with the beat. Teachers stand to the side, watching the children dancing in their seats and on the dance floor, their own toes beginning to tap to the music of the First State Force Band (FSFB).
For the members of FSFB, these concerts are much more than a chance to play together: it’s a chance for the inter-departmental group to engage with elementary schoolers, talk to them about bullying and to build positive relationships they hope will stick. With rising tensions between police and citizens nationwide, their work is more important than ever.
All the band members have stories about reaching a child through music or through the conversations they have with kids sitting in the cafeteria after the show. Brumbley remembers when band bassist and fire marshal John Galaska sat down with a child who had gotten in trouble for arson. He talked about responsibility and fire safety and left a strong enough impression that the child recognized Galaska and went to greet him when the band came back the next year. “You have to be aware that there are opportunities around you all the time,” she says, “and you never know when that one magical moment will occur.”
FSFB has been a Delaware tradition since 1988, when it was started to accompany Drug Abuse Resistance Education officers at school visits. In the last 10 years, the focus has shifted toward combatting bullying, an initiative championed by the late Attorney General Beau Biden.
Band members are given one communal paid day of practice—an 8-hour jam session—each month and one full day to perform. Ennis Elementary is in Georgetown, so some of the band members had a four-hour round trip.
FSFB is run by husband-and-wife team Donna Newth-Showell and Bredt Showell. Donna, the administrative assistant for Delaware State Police Troop 6, acts as manager and keyboardist, while Bredt, a professional musician and the only civilian in the band, acts as the music director, tech and drummer. Both joined FSFB in 2002 and are two of the longest-running members.
Back in the gymnasium, the concert comes to a close. Most of the kids are exhausted, either sitting in their seats or right there on the dance floor, but some kept dancing until the end. Teachers call out names and students rush into line, filing out of the auditorium.
“Our hope,” says Brumbley, “is that when students hear the songs that we play and sing in their school—that when they hear those same songs sometime down the road—they’ll have that flash of a memory of ‘Oh, I remember when that police band came,’ and that will be a fun memory for them.”