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Band leader says group is about more than musical notes

Holly Feather says Rohrersville Cornet Band is a social organization

May 30, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Holy Feather has been leading The Rohrersville Cornet Band for seven years.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

ROHRERSVILLE — It has survived the Civil War and the advent of radio, TV and a digital world.

Having weathered vast cultural changes, The Rohrersville Cornet Band has played on and is proof that technology is no replacement for live music.

It was first organized in 1837,  and even during the Civil War, band members continued to meet.

The band just kicked off its 175th season with a concert at the Rohrersville Band Hall on Sunday, May 15.

Memorial Day parades in Sharpsburg and Boonsboro and an annual July Fourth performance in Harper's Ferry, W. Va. are just a sampling of the band's upcoming appearances.  

Director Holly Feather is the band's first female leader and has held the position for about seven years. Feather, 64, who has been playing with the band for 20 years, admits her involvement is about more than the musical notes.

"This band is not just about music. It's a social organization. We come here to relax and enjoy the camaraderie," Feather said.

Feather retired in June 2010 from Frederick County schools, where she had taught since 1979. She was an English teacher at Brunswick Middle School for most of her career.

She grew up in Philadelphia, N.Y., and majored in both music and education in college. Feather was a violinist and played with the Frederick Symphony Orchestra when she lived in Frederick.

When she moved to the Rohrersville area, Feather decided to check out a recommendation from a fellow teacher who played in the Rohrersville Cornet Band.

"I walked in, and they handed me a baritone horn and said 'Learn to play this.' I learned quickly," said Feather, who has since moved back to Frederick.

Then, when the baritone section grew and the band needed trumpets, Feather took on the challenge. She now plays saxophone with the band when she's not directing.

Associate Director Bob Sclater also plays saxophone, which works out well when they switch off, Feather said.

Feather had little thought about taking over the directing baton, but in 1994 when longtime Band Director Richard Haynes decided to take a rare vacation, and no one stepped up to fill in, Feather said she decided to give it a try.

"I was terrified. I had never conducted a live band," Feather said.

Haynes then asked her to serve as associate director. Every December when Haynes would submit his letter of resignation, the musicians would talk him out of it.

However, in 2004, there was no changing his mind. Again, no one volunteered to fill his shoes. Feather, mindful of the hours it took her to grade English essays, didn't say anything, but went home and prayed about it before agreeing to become director.

"It was certainly not something I was anxious to do," Feather said. "When I took over, I was very nervous about it. These men have always kept this band going — always men. I was afraid they wouldn't have the same respect for me, but they've gotten used to me."

Feather said the first female instrumentalist was admitted to the band in 1940, when prospective members had to play with the band for one year, before the band would vote on whether they could join. Verle Gross was a clarinetist, and several women joined not long after she paved the way.

The first female president of the band was Robin Ford, who was elected in 2004.

Haynes, who still carries the title director emeritus, has written a book published last year titled, "And the Band Plays On," that chronicles the history of the band.

"I do have to say I really owe a lot to Richard Haynes. I really do. He's a very special man. He knows how to deal with people and make people feel comfortable," Feather said.

 The Rohrersville Cornet Band has 55 members, ranging in age from 12 to 86, with Haynes the oldest active member, Feather said. Some of them travel from Gaithersburg, Md., Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia for the weekly Tuesday evening practices at the Rohrersville Band Hall, she said.

Feather said the band takes a six-week break from January through mid-February.

"There is a lot of talent here," she said.

For more information on the Rohrersville Cornet Band, call 301-992-9767.

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