Before the members of the Hendersonville Community Band take to the stage on Sunday, April 30, for the group’s spring concert, they will have invested countless hours in preparation, practice and even physical labor to give Hendersonville-area residents a musical experience to remember. The group’s presence within the community, thanks to an ebb and flow of participants, is 32 years strong.
Coming from all walks of life, the 75-member band includes music professionals, members who’ve played continuously since grade school, some who had set their instruments aside for decades and at least one who never performed until adulthood.
No matter their level of expertise, all members have a common objective. Joella Newberry, group historian, puts it this way: “We share great joy in coming together each week to be immersed in music, taking seriously our dedication to excellent performances for the community.”
Then and nowIn 1991, Jim Stokes, former Hendersonville High School band director, placed an ad in the paper announcing a meeting for those interested in a community band. Jerry Zink, who hadn’t played in over 40 years, heard about it through the grapevine and was one of about 60 people who showed up.
“Not all of them stuck,” says Zink, a charter member. But Zink did, and he went on to become the first president of the group.
Since its launch, the band has performed more than 150 times — initially at Hendersonville High School’s auditorium before eventually moving to the large hall at Blue Ridge Community College, where the group now averages 400-500 people per concert.
The Hendersonville Community Band offers four performances a year: one in the fall, one during the winter holidays and two in the spring. Tickets are $10; students can attend for free.
Stokes served as conductor for 14 years and is now the group’s conductor emeritus. Current conductor Winiford Franklin has led the band for the past 12 years. Franklin taught high school band for 43 years in Florida and has played in or guest-conducted 10 community bands. Just last month the band announced the addition of an associate conductor, Cole Hairston, the current director of bands at Brevard College.
Longevity factorsMembers attribute the band’s longevity to several factors. Band President Carol Talbot believes the wide age span, 17-95, lends to continuity. In addition, the fact that there are still several charter members in the band gives stability. “Every time we have new people move into leadership positions, we have members who have held that position mentor them,” Talbot says.
Charter member Crystal Smith believes the organization endures due to the leadership of its founder. “Mr. Stokes knew that a volunteer band should govern itself,” she says. “We have an elected board of directors who make decisions that include input from all the members.”
Other factors mentioned include strong school music programs through which most members learned to play their instruments, advertising for concerts and word-of-mouth.
A multifaceted missionWatching this group perform, it’s impossible to miss members’ enjoyment and enthusiasm. But what is their mission?
According to Talbot, it is multifaceted. First, the musicians desire to promote the status of community bands in the United States through concerts and other performance opportunities.
Franklin purposely chooses music that the audience might recognize. Concert programs include jazz, Broadway tunes and classic band music as well as various marches.
Each concert typically includes a guest performer. Some former participants include choral groups, a clarinet player, trombone player and a bell choir. The group also hosts guest conductors. At the April 30 concert, the featured guest will be the Blue Ridge Symphonic Brass, conducted by Jamie Hafner.
Twice, the band has commissioned pieces to be written for the group. Robert Sheldon arranged the first — The Blue Ridge – Traditional Blue Ridge Folk Tunes — for the group’s 25th anniversary. Five years later, Bill Locklear wrote the second, Balm in Gilead, for the band’s 30th anniversary.
Support through scholarshipsIn order to garner more interest in music through education, the band also offers scholarships to college music majors as well as high school students.
Two scholarships are offered for students enrolled in North Carolina college music education programs. They are the Joan Tripp College Scholarship of $2,500, and the $1,000 Ralph Campbell College Scholarship.
Furthermore, board member Keith Anderson reaches out to the four high school band directors in Henderson County to find potential recipients. “Our intent is to offer scholarships for high school students interested in going to a summer music program,” he explains. “It is a good opportunity for students to expand their boundaries and work with other students their age as well as professionals who can help them grow in their abilities.”
This scholarship is available to this year’s rising ninth- to 12th-grade students. The hope is they will bring their experiences back to their band in the fall. The high school recipients are acknowledged at the concert in April, as well as at the high school graduations, giving an opportunity to promote band participation to their peers.
The pandemic, says Anderson, affected music programs from grade school all the way to college. Grade school students didn’t have the opportunity to start playing an instrument. Many who had started lost interest and haven’t returned to the band programs. Due to the break in continuity, colleges struggle to get music majors.
“It is a critical time to hop back in and help get students back into the swing of band,” Anderson says.
Artistic outletAnother key goal of the band is to offer opportunities for musicians to play. According to Franklin, it gives the members an artistic outlet apart from home and work. After retirement, many find themselves with extra time on their hands, and they decide to pick up an instrument they haven’t touched for years. He notes that with hard work, most of them can regain their earlier skill level.
“They are a fun bunch,” Franklin says. “They work hard and learn quickly.”
With only seven to eight hours of group rehearsals before each concert, most members practice from several times a week to daily to be prepared for the concert.
Members note the value of the camaraderie and strong friendships the band offers, as well as the life skills it reinforces such as discipline, increased attention and reliability. Members express pride in nonmusicians who participate in other ways, such as Gail Zink, their “charter usher,” who has worked every concert since the beginning.
A strong sense of teamwork is evident. As the band is a volunteer group, even the setup and breakdown are up to the band members. “It’s just us,” board member Kathy Reid says.
While it may be a lot of work, it does come with one particular reward. As Newberry says, “There is a sense of accomplishment and pride for both the individual and the whole group when we do well.”
WHAT: Hendersonville Community Band performs Adventures for Band & Brass
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday, April 30, avl.mx/cln
WHERE: Blue Ridge Conference Hall, 180 W. Campus Drive, Flat Rock.
Written by: Miriam Bradley For the Mountain Express
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