By Ariel Markowski
What began as a simple “jam session” on an August afternoon has developed into a neighborhood band supporting an important cause. Allie Puerto, a 14-year-old freshman at Somers High School, recalls being invited to play music over a year ago with her aunt and uncle.
“I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to sing with my family,” Puerto explained.
Over winter break, the band began to call itself “The Independence,” and, in so doing, became official.
More recently, on June 13, during a driveway performance, the group decided to pay tribute to essential workers, while also collecting donations for a food pantry at Saint Mary’s in Mohegan Lake.
The Independence’s usual members, Kirk, Jesse, and Michelle Ehrenreich, John Hahn, Christian Laughlin, Puerto, and Adam Machado, were joined by Rich Dashnaw, a band teacher, who played guitar during this special performance.
A unique aspect of The Independence is the band’s ability to create an original sound.
“Every song we play is different from the recording,” says Puerto, one of the two vocalists of the band, the other being Michelle Ehrenreich, her aunt.
Both Michelle and her husband Kirk, the band leader/organizer and keyboard player, are public school music teachers. Their son Jesse plays bass and trumpet for the band, and due to his parents’ professions, he came to realize his musical talent early in life.
The other members, Christian, Adam, and John, are responsible for the saxophone/flute, drums, and trombone, respectively.
All sessions are performed outside, in order to maintain social distance. Despite the quarantine, though, the band has chosen to continue its performances.
“I would say music is important all the time,” Kirk Ehrenreich stressed. “But during the quarantine, it’s about human connection. During a good music session, when there is a connection, it’s like having the ability to hear and sense someone else’s heartbeat and presence through a cinder block wall. It’s powerful.”
The band’s name, The Independence, reflects the importance of being a part of something that is both social and educational. The idea, Kirk explains, is that this will lead each member to uniquely grow and, as a result, become more independent.
At the start of the band’s performance days, The Independence primarily played jazzy, R&B songs, but has recently begun to incorporate more rock, according to Puerto.
A few of her favorite songs that are often included in the band’s playlist are: “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News, “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas, and “I Got You” by James Brown.
“I think music is so important during this quarantine because [it’s] an outlet for seeing people, and doing what you love,” Puerto said. “With the band, I have something to look forward to every week.”
The same could be said for The Independence’s growing audience. The experience of uniting and enjoying something special, together, is only one of the many factors that have made the band a success.