Community band practicing

ST. MARYS, W.Va. – The St. Marys Community Concert Band isn’t your typical competition-based band, but instead a group of members that range from young to old who come together every year to play music that they love.

Beautiful music echoed through the building as the first practice of the year was held Tuesday evening at the St. Marys Marina.

The community band has been around for about 15 years and was originally started by Bill Duer, according to Dave Burton, who is co-conductor along with Rocky Wiseman.

“I played the first concert they had, but after that I was unable to continue with it for a while due to my work schedule,” said Burton. “After I retired I was able to start playing with them again about five years ago.”

The band originally started out playing one concert a year, but over the years has expanded that number to nine or 10 a year, according to Burton.

Burton and Wiseman took over as the conductors of the band after Duer retired three years ago.

“It works out well being co-conductors because there are times when Rocky (Wiseman) or myself can’t be there,” said Burton. “This way one of us is always able to make the practices.”

Practices are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. at the marina located on 418 2nd Street St Marys.

The group is open to the public and there are no auditions in order to be eligible to play.

“It’s completely free. The only requirements are that you know how to play and have your own instrument,” said Burton.

The members of the community band encompass a very diverse group of individuals over a wide range of skill sets.

“The oldest member we have is in his 80s and we have had kids from high school play with us as well,” said Burton. “We have people with minimal experience playing alongside with people who have been playing their instrument for years.”

The instruments follow a standard concert band format and the group has a little bit of everything, according to Burton.

All instruments are welcome into the group and there is no limit to how many are allowed to perform.

However Burton did say there are some instruments that are always a blessing to encounter more of.

“We always can use more percussionists, oboes and bassoons,” he said. “We have more trombones than any other instrument, but you can never have too many.”

Jesse James, 77, is a St. Marys resident that has been performing with the group since the first concert.

James plays the trumpet, and has more than 30 years of experience playing the instrument.

“I started playing in the seventh grade and played all the way up until I went into the Navy,” he said. “I started playing again when my wife suggested I play for the group after it was formed.”

James said he remembers when the band was much smaller.

“When we first started we had about 15 or 20 people,” he said. “Now we generally have around 50 or 55 people and sometimes more in the summer.”

Since the group’s first performance, they have increased members, attendance and the number of concerts they play each year.

“Generally we have around 100 or 110 people that attend each concert,” said James. “Our Christmas concert is especially packed. People can hardly find a seat.”

Concerts are free and open to the public though donations to the group are accepted, according to James.

The band performs monthly in areas that include St. Marys, Belpre and Williamstown.

Burton said plans are in the works to hold a concert in the Marietta area in the near future as well.

The performances are something that both the community and members of the band can enjoy, but the experience is what it’s all about for James.

“We want people to know that anyone that can play is welcome,” he said. “We really enjoy ourselves and the music we get to create. It’s a good group of people.”

James said he doesn’t have any plans of quitting something that he loves, and he expects the group to continue to thrive and grow.

“This is something I enjoy doing like the rest of the musicians here,” he said. “This is something I’m going to continue until I’m unable to do so.”