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Prime Time Band keeps music alive

By Michelle G. Lyerly

Kannapolis Citizen

What do you do with those old band instruments from high school?

This question plagued church choir director Jon Hutchinson and pianist Nancy Sloop back in the summer of 2002.

“We were just talking one day and Jon said something about wanting to form a community band. I said I did, too,” said Sloop.

Three weeks later, Hutchinson and Sloop organized a meeting. Seventeen musicians showed up, and the Piedmont Prime Time Community Band was born.

“It’s an opportunity for people to use their talents, improve their playing and play for the community,” said band director Hutchinson. “Our motto is ‘Come Discover the Music in You’.”

The band, consisting of trumpets, clarinets, flutes, woodwinds, brass and percussion, holds practices every Thursday at 7 p.m. at NorthWest Middle School.

“NorthWest Middle allowed us to use their facilities, and we’ve grown ever since,” Sloop added.

The band performs all types of music — patriotic, jazz, show tunes, marches, classical, religious — “we do it all … except bluegrass,” said Hutchinson.

“For a community band, it sounds good,” said tuba player Al Suite.

“It’s a great opportunity. When you get older, it’s hard to find a place to play music. A band makes you think of old-fashioned, around the gazebo in the county square — fun,” said Krickit Shoemaker, vice president of the band and a flute and piccolo player.

Shoemaker, like so many who played in the band in high school and college, was looking around for an opportunity to use her talents.

“Once you’re out of school, the opportunities aren’t there,” the Navy retiree added.

Husband and wife team Steve and Gwen Sembrowski of Kannapolis have been with the band since its second rehearsal.

“It’s been a great bunch of people to play with. We play such a variety of styles and different venues. Jon does a good job of finding music to fit the audience,” said clarinet player Gwen Sembrowski, who also played in high school and college.

“My mother would be proud of me,” added Steve Sembrowski, speaking of his deceased mother, formerly a music critic for Holyoke Transcript newspaper in Massachusetts.

As a child, Steve Sembrowski, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree in tuba performance from Carnegie Mellon, remembers his mother taking him to Tanglewood Pops Concerts.

French horn player Roberta Garcia, who has been with the band one year, said that she first read about the band in the Salisbury Post and then decided to join.

“We’re very lucky when we get older to still be able to play music like this,” said Garcia. “It’s wonderful fun, the whole thing.”

Robert Keeney, secretary of the band and vice president of administrative services/chief fiduciary officer at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, responded to an ad in the local paper when he moved to the area from West Virginia in January 2005.

“Next thing I knew, I was playing a clarinet solo for ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ ” a popular Gershwin arrangement.

Band member Ralph Hair of Salisbury plays the euphonium — a fancy European baritone.

After majoring in music at Catawba College for three years, the 1959 graduate decided to switch to history and French. Referring to his wife of 47 years, Hair joked, “My fiancé asked me if I’d ever heard of a well-to-do baritone player. I thought, well, I’ve never even read of one.”

Still a musician at heart, Hair also plays for the Catawba Band as well as singing in the Catawba Chorale, and he enjoys playing with the community band.

“It gives me a chance to perform for people rather than just playing in an empty room myself,” said Hair.

Band membership is not just confined to adults. Stephen Emminger, 14, a freshman at A.L Brown, is proud to play baritone for the band.

“It’s fun and exciting. That’s about all I can say,” said Emminger.

This is not Emminger’s only band commitment. This year, he was one of four freshmen to make it into the A.L. Brown symphonic band. As far as he knows, it has been difficult for sophomores to make the band.

In addition to the symphonic band, Emminger plays in the marching band and will be playing in the Trinity United Methodist band — also led by Hutchinson — when it starts up again.

Sean Boyle, 15, flutist and sophomore member of the Jay M. Robinson High School symphonic band, has been with the community band since early November. He enjoys going to practice and meeting new people.

“It’s fun, you get better at playing your instrument,” said Boyle.

Boyle enjoys playing with the older band members and says he learns a lot from them.

“They’ll tell you something about the songs you never knew and they teach me new things on the flute,” Boyle added.

Speaking of director Hutchinson, Boyle said, “I think he’s funny and really nice. He’s pretty courageous for leading a band like this.”

The band is always looking for new recruits.

“We’re at the beginning of our season; we’ll take anybody we can,” said Linda White of Kannapolis, who has been playing the flute for 46 years. “This (music) is a language that goes across all age barriers,” White added.

White taught private flute lessons for years in the Concord/Kannapolis area. She also traveled to area schools to work with woodwind sections.

“I had two years where all my seniors went to Governor’s School and won top awards in the state,” said White.

After seeing an ad in the Cabarrus Neighbors section of the Charlotte Observer, prospective trumpet player Jerry Shurig looks forward to practicing with the band next Thursday.

Shurig came to see the band play at the 25th anniversary of Cooperative Christian Ministry held at the Historic Gibson Mill in Concord on Jan. 25.

“It just seemed like a good opportunity coming here to hear the group play and meet a few people. I’m looking forward to it … a little variety, a little spice. My daughter’s been encouraging me to do something like this,” said the Collins and Aikman retiree, speaking of his daughter, who plays trumpet for the Charlotte Youth Symphony.

The Piedmont Prime Time Community Band will perform its spring concert on May 12 at the Kannapolis Performing Arts Center.

Contact Michelle Lyerly at 704-932-3336 or news@kannapoliscitizen.com.

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