To celebrate the Bel Air Community Band's 50th anniversary, director C. Scott Sharnetzka has put together a rousing program that includes numbers like David Lovrien's circus march, "Monkey Business," George Botsford's "Black and White Rag," Joseph Curiale's "Joy" and, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Disney movie, "Mary Poppins Selections."
Also on the program is James Swearingen's "Within These Hallowed Halls," a patriotic setting with narration of two popular hymns, "Amazing Grace" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Principal alto saxophone Jeff Wieler solos in Alfred Reed's "Ballade for E Flat Alto Saxophone and Band."
Guest conductor Patrick Burns will direct "Hometown," which he composed as a gift for the Bel Air band, as well as "Shimmering Chesapeake," written especially for the 50th year celebration and in memory of Jon Parslow, who played trumpet with the band before his death last year.
For the traditional grand finale, band alumni will be invited onstage to join in the ever-popular John Philip Sousa march, "Stars and Stripes Forever."
The concert begins at 3 p.m. on May 4 in the auditorium at Bel Air High School at 100 Heighe St. Admission is free.
During its 50 years, the Bel Air Community Band has had only five directors: Ralph Porter, Robert Paige, Director Emeritus Michael Pastelak (25 years), Robert Pouliot and Sharnetzka, now in his 18th year. The assistant director is Ron Burke, band director at Patterson Mill High School, where the Community Band rehearses.
The band was the brainchild of former Bel Air Mayor Werner Buchal, who grew up in Germany.
According to James "Capt'n Jim" McMahan, Buchal approached him in 1964, saying, "Jimmy, every little town in Germany has its own band, and Bel Air doesn't have a band. I want you to get us a band started."
A committee was formed and the deed was done.
The fledgling band, sponsored by the Town of Bel Air Parks & Recreation Committee (and now also partnering with Harford Community College), began with used uniforms bought from the Browningsville Band in Montgomery County, where McMahan's uncle played. Later, gray trousers and green blazers were worn for concerts. Now, it's black and white for the ladies and tuxedos for the men.
E flat alto horn player Evan Reichard joined the band in its third year, later serving as president for 20 years. Now living in West Virginia and playing in four different bands, he plans to return for the anniversary concert. He recalled the band's early days.
"There were 16 in the band at the time. You never knew what was going to happen because all 16 wouldn't show up at the same time," he said, noting that Paige was the director when he first joined.
Four years later – and 44 years ago – twin brothers Ray and Walt Kulis, who were still in high school, were invited by their band director at North Harford High School, Michael Pastelak, who also directed the Bel Air Community Band, to join.
"At the time, there were only 25 or so members," principal clarinet Ray "Benny Goodman" Kulis said.
"Music has been a big part of our life," Walt "Tommy Dorsey" Kulis, who is principal euphonium, said. "It keeps getting better and better."
Ray Kulis remembers that before Harford Mall was built, the band would go up and down Main Street so people could sing Christmas carols.
"The band was so small, we could get inside the stores," he said. "Now we're too big."
There are 90 band members these days, and there is a waiting list of people who want to join. Two sets of twins and six husband-and-wife teams are in the band, which boasts an amazing 21 clarinets and 10 French horns.
"The Bel Air Community Band is not your average community band," Sharnetzka said, adding that in 1987 the band was chosen to represent Maryland in Philadelphia at the bicentennial of Maryland's ratification of the Constitution, and, by audition, was selected to perform at the National Association of Concert Bands convention in 2006.
The band also helped found Maryland Community Band Day, and hosts it every five years in Bel Air. Throughout the year, the band plays various concerts and performs at events like Memorial Day ceremonies and the Fourth of July celebration in Bel Air. The Bel Air Community Band Jazz Ensemble, a small group of musicians from the band, plays at more intimate local functions. During his tenure as band president, the late Bill Humbert began the practice – which still continues – of presenting award pins to members for each five years of service.
"Serving in the Army for 26 years, I have been around a lot of places around the U.S. and the world, and never witnessed a band with the professionalism we have. I would go out on a limb and say we have the best community band in the state of Maryland, if not in the U.S.," Retired Lt. Col. Bob Veidt, who plays Alto saxophone and has been with the band for 28 years and served as president for 20, said.
Does he speak too highly of the Bel Air Community Band? If, as the old saying goes, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," music lovers can judge for themselves at the anniversary concert.
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"The popularity of our band has really blossomed in the last 20 years," Veidt said. "A lot is attributed to the great leadership under Scott."
Principal flute Phyllis Fowler, who has worn a lot of hats during her 31 years with the band – 20 years as vice president, 25 plus as librarian, personnel manager and 20-plus years as stage manager – agrees.
"I made a deal with Scott," she said. "I will remain personnel manager and librarian as long as he's the director. He's not allowed to retire."
Why do busy people choose to give up two hours a week to rehearse?
"It's my two hours of therapy on Monday night," Fowler said. "When I don't get my band 'fix,' my family notices."
Walt Kulis said, "For the fun of it."
B flat clarinet Bob Wooters may speak for most every time he makes this announcement at band concerts: "We love to make music, and that's why we are here."