Sullivan County Democrat
Callicoon, New York
January 22, 2010 Issue
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Contributed Photo

“Dame” Agnes Tilson, right, spoon player for the Callicoon Center Band, is shown with her sister Valerie McShane (on the bells) in a 75th anniversary postcard for the community band. Agnes, a 25-year member, has been battling cancer for several months and to help her with her medical bills the Band will hold a benefit concert for her this Saturday, September 26 at 3 p.m. at the bandstand in Callicoon Center

Band comes together to help one of their own

By Jeanne Sager
CALLICOON CENTER — Jim Newton saw no instruments, just a woman standing in front of him, asking if he could use another member in the Callicoon Center Band.
“I said, ‘sure, what do you play?’” Newton recalled.
That’s when Agnes Tillson reached into her jacket and pulled out two simple spoons.
That was more than 25 years ago, and the Fremont Center resident has become a unique attraction to a community band with its own unique following.
And now she needs the fans of the band more than ever.
Tillson has cancer, and with no health insurance to pay for her care, she’s been shuffled from doctor to doctor and hospital to hospital.
She’s been as much a “victim of the system,” as she has of the cancer which has moved from her stomach to her lungs and her brain, Newton, the long-time band director, explained.
“You look at a bunch of people and you can’t tell if they have health insurance or not,” Newton explained.
Tillson, 68, was one of those unlucky people. She first sought help in March, and she missed the band concert season due to treatments this summer. The band members would call their spoon player from the bandstand and play her their German folks songs and Sousa marches.
“The band is her life, and she’s an icon of the band,” Newton said. “She’s an itinerant musician who can play the harmonica, she can play the drums… she’s never had formal lessons, but she can play.”
Tillson makes the spoons dance in her lap, a mystifying site particularly for the dozens of children who delight in dancing to the band, who have never before seen kitchen utensils put to musical use.
“She plays those spoons with the same seriousness of a concert violinist,” Newton explained.
She’s an attraction to the band concerts, an integral part of the volunteer band.
And now they’re stepping up to help her. The band has pulled out of Saturday’s bicentennial celebration at Bethel Woods.
They’ll be playing, instead, at the bandstand right in Callicoon Center, in a benefit concert strictly for Agnes Tillson.
In the grand tradition of the band, the concert will be free. Likewise, following tradition, they’ll pass around a cigar box for tips – and that’s where they’re hoping for generosity of the band’s fans to come out.
The cigar box will be cleared out for Tillson, along with monies from the famous pie raffle and the Callicoon Center Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary refreshment sales – all for Tillson.
Monies will help pay not only for Tillson’s significant medical bills – she’s undergone both chemotherapy and radiation in addition to lengthy stays in Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla – but to help cover the costs of her family’s trips from Fremont Center to hospitals.
Newton will raise his baton for the hour-long concert at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
For folks who can’t make it, checks written to the Callicoon Center Band, with a memo for Agnes Tillson, can be sent to P.O. Box 70, Callicoon Center, NY 12724.

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