Strike up the band

Haywood Community Band begins rehearsals for 2014 season
By Rich Ploch | Feb 19, 2014
The Haywood County Community Band performs a Fourth of July concert in front of the Haywood County Courthouse.

I never have any problem getting enthusiastic with a good song

and a good band.” – Waylon Jennings


Waylon Jennings may have been thinking of country instead of pop, but a love of music and performing for large audiences in the Maggie Valley Pavilion has brought local residents together to create the Haywood Community Band, which soon begins rehearsals for its twelfth season of free concerts for the community on the third Sunday evening, May through October.

The band, led by retired music educators Mary Thomas, Sarah Cifani and Pat Stone, has many members who had not opened their instrument cases for years.

“I began playing my flute in fourth grade,” said Shirley Babick. “When my parents moved to California after World War II, I went to school with an eclectic group of students whose parents had moved there from all over the United States in search of jobs. In 1955 I performed at the grand opening of Disneyland in Anaheim (at the time no one knew how awesome it would become) and also marched in the 1959 Rose Parade in Pasadena. I had a blast.

“Music was the high point of my life. Furthering my education, having a family, raising children, and having a career eliminated the time I could spend on my music, so I did not play for more than 30 years! Following my move to the mountains in 2004, I gave myself a present and bought a new flute. The joy of music returned!”

Rehearsals for the 2014 season will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. beginning Thursday, March 6 at Grace Episcopal Church on Haywood Street in Waynesville. People with an interest playing their instrument are invited to contact Band President Rhonda Wilson Kram at 456-4880. There are no required auditions.

The Haywood Community Band has people from all walks of life who share a love of music and the joy of performing.

Many band members speak of the mutual support among band members. George Kenney, a retired educator and stained glass artist, plays French horn.

“The greatest pleasure for me since I started to play again after a 20 year absence is the camaraderie and feeling of community I get from belonging to the group," he said. "The community band has a strong feeling of family, and we enjoy working together to create the best music possible.”

Rhonda Wilson Kram, band president and co-owner of the Stone Cottage Instrument Shoppe with her husband and drummer Lee, has performed with the band since its origin in 2002.

“In our community band we come to depend on each other not only in music but in other areas of life as well. It not only keeps our senses and brains working well through reading and playing music, but we also share in the joy of making music with others," he said. "It is also a way for us to raise money to provide underprivileged school children with musical instruments and summer music camp through our LINKS and scholarship programs.”

Sarah Cifani began playing in the seventh grade.

“I played flute because we had my grandmother’s flute and when I wanted to start an instrument in seventh grade, my parents could not afford to buy me one. Little did I know that it would become my life's work,” she said.

The wife of one band member encouraged a trombonist she met at an audiologist appointment to give it a try.

“I hesitated at first thinking I wasn’t up to par but she insisted,” said Mike McDonald. “And when I attended my first rehearsal (with a trombone bought for $100 on EBay), I said to myself, ‘Yeah, I love this.’ After about three months I finally got my chops back and am back to playing almost at the level I played many years ago. It really changed my life here, literally. I’ve made many new friends, and love playing music again, and look forward to the weekly rehearsals.

“I encourage anyone who has ever played an instrument to consider joining our band. You don’t have to be great, just good enough to read music, and believe me, your life will thank you for it.”

Jim Graber, who lives part time in Florida, took piano lessons at first. That didn’t work out.

“My ineptitude and lack of motivation stalled me at ‘Riding on a Mule.’ The good news is that I can still play it. The bad news is that I can still play it.” But it did not dampen Graber’s interest in music. “On Oct. 6, 1955, The Mickey Mouse Club featured a young trumpet soloist, Larry Ashurst. His talent, along with the cool sound, inspired me to give it a try. This was not going to be another piano fiasco. The thing had only three ‘buttons.’ How hard could it be?”

Graber persevered through lessons with a chronically inebriated trumpet teacher at Henry's Music and went on to play principal cornet at Norton (Ohio) High School and in the front row of the Ohio State University Marching Band, the world's largest brass band.

After time developing his career, he returned to his trumpet playing through his active membership at a musical church. “I am focusing on what I love, and that is the trumpet. I love to worship with it, to entertain with it, and to fellowship with like-minded musicians such as are in our Haywood Community Band.”