Dedication keeps Haywood Community Band playingNext concert to be held Sept. 18 in Maggie Valley
Walking into one of the Haywood Community Band’s rehearsals, it’s impossible not to notice the welcoming feel in the air. The room in the local church where the band practices is plain, but when it’s filled with the squeals and honks of dozens of instruments being tuned and the hum of players happily chatting away, the place is warm and vital. Sure, it feels like a band practice, but it also seems like a bunch of friends shooting the breeze.
This, member Pat Stone explained, is simply how bands are.
“Bands are known for their family feel,” she said, taking a break from last Thursday night’s rehearsal. “You get to know the people around you.”
That’s part of what has kept the oboist and part-time conductor in the Community Band for about five years and in bands in general since she was 8. The former music teacher, now 62, said the experience of being in any band is “very unique” — and her time in this band has been no exception.
While the group, which was founded in 2002 by Bob Hill, is best known for its free shows held February through October, the live performances are just one piece of the puzzle for players such as Stone. While she is clearly excited about the next show — slated for 6:30 p.m. this Sunday at the Maggie Valley Pavilion — she explained that there’s much more to being in the band than performances. It’s not just about the show tunes, jazz, blues, pops and more she and her bandmates play, but also about sharing that common bond that musicians have. It can be seen at any given rehearsal.
“You get a whole room full of people who love playing in the band,” she said.
That evening, Richard Ploch was one such player who clearly fit the bill. When the mustached 65-year-old joined the band about a year ago, he had hardly touched his clarinet in three decades. Finally having returned to playing, he looked happy as a clam and grinned constantly as he spoke of the band.
“I love the music. I love the people,” he said. “It’s brought me back to something I did as a youngster.”
In addition to the high quality of music the band is known for, Ploch enjoys the basic act of being part of something. When he began in the group, he was at the very tail end of his career as a Methodist minister. He has since retired but back then, he enjoyed being able to let go of his hefty title whenever he came to band practice. In his daily life, he was still a public figure but when he played, he was just another clarinetist. He found joy in that.
“As a minister, this band was the best diversion I had in life,” he said, gratitude filling his voice. “I could just be here and be a member of the band, and I just loved that.”
Mary K. Thomas, who was conducting the group that night, understands the strong draw bands hold more than most. Like Stone, who is actually her sister, she grew up in bands and taught music in schools for years. Though she has been playing for decades upon decades, the way performing makes her feel has never really changed. Just like when she was a child, after a show she feels the same way anyone does after a job well done.
“You know, you feel good about it,” said Thomas, 66. “Regardless of what you do in life, if you do a job and do it well, it’s a big satisfaction.”
Needless to say, she takes the “job” of the band very seriously. Thomas — who switches off conducting duties with her sister, as well as fellow band members Sarah and Tom Cifani — is fascinating to watch as she directs a room of players. At that particular rehearsal, she sometimes took on the role of cheerleader and sometimes of a stern mother. She encouraged and admonished, and her eyes would grew wide as she pointedly directed with her hands. She had put together this program, after all, and she wasn’t about to let it be performed until every little kink had been worked out. This fierce commitment to quality is part of what makes the band stand out.
The group is “not just about making the music, it’s about performing the music for someone to hear,” she said. “It’s a two-way street. We need the players and we need the listeners.”
And both camps, it seems, are intensely dedicated. Over the years, Thomas and her sister have noticed how passionate some audience members can be. Stone even went so far as to call them “die hards,” the kind of fans who would never think of missing a show.
While it’s impossible to know the exact secret of the band’s success, Stone likes to think it is in part due to the fact that bands like this simply don’t exist many places. Often, band is something people let go after high school or college, and they typically aren’t rushing out to create small-town bands across the county. The Haywood Community Band is a rarity — a cherished one.
“This is just not something that you hear every day,” Stone said, proudly.
The Haywood Community Band’s Maggie Valley Concert Series is sponsored by the Maggie Valley Civic Association. The September show will feature those who have arranged or transcribed music for concert bands and will highlight works by Robert W. Smith and Jay Bocook. It will also include a Sept. 11 tribute. The band is supported, in part, by a grassroots grant from the Haywood County Arts Council and the North Carolina Arts Council, a state agency. For more information about the band and its remaining shows this season, visit www.haywoodcommunityband.org.
Haywood Community Band’s Sept. 18 concert
• “Star Spangled Banner” — special arrangement by David Teague (Waynesville M.S.)
• “Ever Braver, Ever Stronger,” an American elegy — by Gordon Goodwin
• “Strike Up the Band” — by George Gershwin
• “Salvation Is Created” — by Tschesnokoff
• “Greensleeves: A Fantasia for Band” — by Robert W. Smith
• “Seventy Six Trombones” — Meredith Willson (arr. J. Bocook)
• “Crown Imperial” — William Walton (arr. J. Bocook)
• “The Swarm (The Battle Won With Hornets)” — Robert W. Smith
• “Manhattan Tower” — Gordon Jenkins
• “On Broadway” — Barry Mann et al. (arr. J. Bocook)
• “Ritual Fire Dance” — Manuel DeFalla (arr. J. Bocook)