Hampton Community Band

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Tuning in for Summer Concert Series

By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, July 25, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
Hampton Community Band, Tony Cyrus, Director.

HAMPTON -- Tony Cyrus is conducting a dedicated group of musicians from the Hampton Community Band, rehearsing for their annual summer concert series one Monday evening in July. They have just completed a selection from the soundtrack of the motion picture, "ET."

"That's a hard one," Cyrus comments after the final note plays. "You did very well."

Quickly flipping to the next page of sheet music on the stand in front of him, Cyrus tells his musicians, "Let's do an easy one - Mozart."

Before he raises his baton, he reminds them with a lilting series of "d-words" (dee-dee-dah, dee-dah-dah) how the piece should play out. Seconds later, instrumental music once again fills the band room at Winnacunnet High School.

As the rehearsal continues, Cyrus interacts with his musicians, at times interrupting the music to discuss various elements (such as rhythm) and timing (such as the precise moment when a particular section is to join in).

Next, switching to "Pavane," he tells the group, "The challenge for us is that this is a small piece and there's no percussion; there's no pulse." No matter - it sounds pretty darned good, and Cyrus offers an individual round of applause.

"That was great!" he says, before directing the musicians in "Sandpaper Ballet," a piece that definitely has a "chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka-tweeeet!" quality to it.

The patter that continues throughout and between the selections is so thoroughly peppered with musical terms and jargon that those with an untrained ear would swear they were in a foreign language class rather than a band room. But when the music plays, it's a fluid, vibrant language everyone can understand.

Local audiences have enjoyed the music of the Hampton Community Band for about a half-dozen summers now, and this year will be no exception. According to Cyrus, the selections that the public will hear during an upcoming trio of free outdoor concerts will represent "a wide mix" of musical genres.

"This year it's all new," he says, "marches and some Broadway show stuff, John Williams, Leroy Anderson, a little bit of classical ... We try to have a wide mix."

The Monday night concerts are scheduled for 7 p.m. on July 28 at the Hampton Falls bandstand; August 4 at Marelli Square; and August 11 at Tuck Museum.

On the list will be something for everyone: the "Star Spangled Banner," "Billboard March," "Mancini!" ('Baby Elephant,' 'Moon River'), selections from "E.T.," "Magic of Mozart," "New York Nitelife" ("Birdland"), "Pavane," "Americans We," "Sandpaper Ballet," "Porgy and Bess" ('Summertime,' 'I've Got Plenty 'O Nuttin',' 'It Ain't Necessarily So'), "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Themes Like Old Times" ('Alexander's Ragtime Band,' 'Peg O' My Heart,' 'I Want A Girl,' 'By the Light of the Silvery Moon,' '12th Street Rag'), "You're a Grand Old Flag," and "Stars and Stripes Forever" encore.

Hampton Community Band in rehearsal with Tony Cyrus directing.

Under Cyrus' direction, the Hampton Community Band "has grown a lot," he says. Starting out with about 25 musicians, the band has expanded to its current 45 members. Many have participated since the first year, others have joined along the way and still others are new to the group this year. The age range is from middle school and high school students, on up to middle age and beyond.

For Cyrus, it's a family affair: His wife Joanna and their younger son Chris (an eighth grader) both play trumpet; older son John (a senior) plays trombone, and Tony's brother, who plays French horn, comes all the way up from Lowell, MA. Other band members, a number of them with previous community band experience (including Cyrus himself), hail from all over the Seacoast region.

The band prepares for their concert season by taking part in a series of four Monday night rehearsals, lasting about an hour and a half each. Each year, Cyrus aims "to get a good mix" for his musicians to play, being careful to "get music at their level, and not make it so hard that they don't have enough time to learn it but not so easy that it's boring" for the audience.

"When I choose the music I'm not sure who I'm going to have in the group but I have an idea," he says, adding that band participation is "aimed at adults and graduates." In fact, Cyrus says that the band came into being partly because of his own experience with a community band in Bangor, as well as "wanting to give my graduates a chance to play somewhere."

As the years went by and interest in the band grew, "I was kind of surprised at how many current students wanted to be part of it," Cyrus says. "That's what kind of filled it out and made it work." For several members, being part of the band has given them the opportunity to pick up and play an instrument that they hadn't played for years. For Kittery resident Jen Thayer (flute), "It's been over 20 years since I have performed in a concert band. I have been writing and performing music since high school, but once I graduated I performed mostly in original and/or cover rock bands, done some studio work, and dabbled in other genres - but stopped the concert music pretty much altogether. I didn't realize how much I missed it, so this has been the best thing for me."

Thayer joined the band along with Shapleigh Middle School co-worker Agnes Bowen, a fellow flutist who had "heard about the Community Band and asked me if I would be interested," Thayer explains. "I can say that joining the band has motivated me to practice, and bring my playing ability up to - and maybe even surpass some day - where I left off in high school."

She adds that Cyrus "is a great director. He's very personable and makes it a lot of fun. He's also very patient and encouraging, and trust me, I'm pretty rusty! I'm happy to say, though, that since I'm enjoying this so much, I'm getting back into the swing of it and looking forward to our first performance."

For Chris Antlitz, playing alto sax for the Hampton Community Band helps to sate his appetite for instrumental performance.

"I love it," he says. "It's an opportunity to get together with people I've taken band with. Everybody has a good time. Mr. Cyrus is a great teacher and he picks really great songs to play."

A WHS alumnus, Antlitz is currently a business major at UNH - a worthwhile educational pursuit that doesn't leave a whole lot of time for music appreciation.

"Now that I'm in college, I can't play as much as I used to," Antlitz explains. "Having the community band every summer is the really my only opportunity to play again, and I really value that opportunity that Mr. Cyrus gives us to come back every year."

Also a member since it first began, Corrine Brown says "It's great to have the opportunity" to be part of the band. "I enjoy it very much. It's wonderful that Tony does this so that we can all get together and enjoy the magic of making music together as a group."

Like Cyrus, Brown - who first played the clarinet in fifth grade - also keeps it in the family: Her son Blake, a WHS graduate, plays saxophone and her sister Bonnie Demanche joined the group last year on flute.

"It's nice doing it as a family," Brown says. "That's what's really neat about the group: You have a wide age group working together [and] each age brings their own piece to it. And of course, Tony is a great band director. He manages to keep control and make it fun. It's a really pleasant, fun thing to do. It's good for everybody." And it's been good for Brown as well. "I hadn't played in quite a few years," she says, "so to start doing it again is frustrating in some ways, and fun and amazing in other ways. A lot of it comes back very quickly. We all need to take on new challenges to keep ourselves young, keep our minds working well. It's really fun."

It's fun for David Sheehy too, who will be in Cyrus' band class as a WHS sophomore in the fall.

"I love it because it's seems like it's a step up from the Winnacunnet band - you have to learn songs in a condensed amount of time," says Sheehy, who takes on this annual musical challenge with gusto. A member of the Hampton Community Band since he was a sixth grader at Hampton Academy, Sheehy plays saxophone and clarinet (as well as piano and organ). He adds he "definitely will stay with the band" year after year, and says being part of it is a "great [and] rewarding experience."

Audiences will find that this year's Summer Concert Series will be a rewarding experience as well. All concerts are free and open to the public. Everyone is invited to bring a lawn chair or a blanket, have a seat and relax to live concert band music performed by the talented local musicians in the Hampton Community Band.

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