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Music and fellowship

July 25, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

The Tri-State area's community bands tap into a shared appreciation of music and strong feelings of fellowship to perform for the public at parades and concerts.

Community bands in Washington County, Franklin County, Pa., and Morgan County, W.Va., entertain crowds in town parks and parades, nursing homes and schools. Friends, family members, neighbors and strangers of all ages come together to trumpet the start of spring, celebrate America's independence and herald the holiday season at year's end. While some area bands perform only a few times each year, others strike up the music at dozens of events year-round.

"It's a blast," says Susie Kunkle, director of the Williamsport Community Band.

A retired high school band director and music resource specialist for Washington County Public Schools, Kunkle was instrumental in forming the Williamsport concert band in 1998. She pulled together practicing musicians and those who hadn't played in years to form the now 55-member band, which practices just about every Sunday at Williamsport High School.

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"Our band is made up of a lot of folks who love music, who have a good time playing together, and who like to perform," Kunkle says. "It's a wonderful social time."

Buoyed by private donations and financial support from the town, the band performs nearly 20 times per year at Tri-State area nursing homes and community parks and at spring and holiday concerts in Williamsport. The band's recent concert during Williamsport's Fourth of July celebration was a huge success, Kunkle says.

The fledgling Morgan County (W.Va.) Concert Band also played patriotic music during an Independence Day celebration at Cacapon State Park near Berkeley Springs, W.Va., says band co-founder and trumpeter Rindi Sherbert.

"We had people dancing across the stage. It was wonderful," Sherbert says.

She and her husband, saxophonist Douglas Sherbert, founded the concert band in October 2001 to fill a "glaring hole" in the community's otherwise exceptional arts lineup, she says. Lifelong musicians, the Sherberts drove more than an hour to play with the Rohrersville Band in southern Washington County after moving to Berkeley Springs from the Annapolis area in 1998, Sherbert says.

"We couldn't find anywhere nearby to play," she says. "The Rohrersville Band was just a wonderful group, but the commute was unreal."

The Sherberts "worked like crazy" to drum up enough interest from musicians in their area to launch a concert band, which now boasts about 30 members, Rindi Sherbert says.

"We're an energetic group," she says. "We just have so much fun making music together."

Bennett Lentczer conducts the band, which practices at Warm Springs Middle School once weekly. The Morgan County Concert Band now performs about three times per year in the Berkeley Springs area - a performance schedule that band leaders hope to expand as the group gains momentum.

Members of the Rohrersville Band - who range in ages from 12 to nearly 90 - perform in about 25 concerts and 10 parades each year, says Richard Haynes, the band's director since 1960.

"It's a group of good people, loyal people, youngsters and oldsters," says Haynes, who started playing trumpet for the Rohrersville Band in 1940. "We're trying to keep up a tradition that's been around a long time."

Rohrersville marble cutter G. Washington McCoy founded McCoy's Band in his hometown in 1837. The band's name changed to the Rohrersville Cornet Band in 1882 and to the Rohrersville Band in 1916. The band's estimated 40 members play at concerts, fairs and parades throughout Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, Haynes says.

Band members - including generations of families who have played with the band since its earliest days - practice in their own Rohrersville hall once weekly from February through December. About seven years ago, Haynes began sharing directorial duties with band member Holly Roelkey, who now oversees about half of the group's rehearsals, he says.

"I feel we're about as good as we can be without professional direction," Haynes says.

The Hagerstown Municipal Band always has benefited from that level of leadership. Under the direction of former Chambersburg (Pa.) Area High School band director Lynn Lerew since 1975, the 50-member Hagerstown Municipal Band performs a wide variety of music during about a dozen free concerts each summer in the Peter Buys band shell at Hagerstown's City Park.

The band's repertoire includes about 125 pieces of music, so the ability to sight read is especially important for band members, who must learn new music in about three hours during twice weekly summer rehearsals, Lerew says.

"We've been able to attract good musicians who play for the love of music," he says. "And we really benefit from the support of the city and the undying love of our audience."

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