Making music with friends

Published 9:06 am Thursday, November 2, 2017

On a sunny Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I attended a performance by the Heart of Virginia Community Band. I arrived a half-hour early because I enjoy listening as a band prepares itself to play.

At first, each of the arriving musicians takes out his or her own instrument and begins to warm up according to personal need — scales, arpeggios, dynamic ranges. Lung exercises. Fingers flex and stretch. Facial muscles and lips perfect embouchures. As musicians join the group, the blended cacophony rises in volume. I like to test my ears and see if I can find the distinctive voice of individual instruments amid the mingled sounds.

Then a magic moment comes. There must be some secret signal given, but I’ve never seen it overtly communicated. In an instant, quiet descends. Into the silence, one person from the group — in this particular concert, it was the first chair clarinetist — plays a note. Everyone tunes to that note. It doesn’t matter whether they are reading music written in treble or bass clef. It doesn’t even matter if they like the note. They have decided to align their instruments, all of them, to a specific, single sound.

Email newsletter signup

Once the band is tuned, the conductor emerges. The conductor raises a baton and brings the group of individual instruments together to produce music.

The concert I attended opened with “America the Beautiful,” which put me in mind of our magnificent country, its glorious vistas and the poet’s dream of brotherhood. The performance continued with pieces that were toe-tappingly familiar and some that were unfamiliar and even strange. After each, as the conductor lowered his baton, I played my part and joined the clapping of my hands to the audience’s appreciative applause.

Community bands are wonderful creations because their members come from diverse walks of life. The Heart of Virginia Community Band includes members from seven counties. There are music teachers among them, but also computer scientists, lawyers, servicemen, athletic trainers, respiratory specialists, accountants, moms, elementary teachers, park rangers, office workers, high school students, librarians, college professors, construction workers and retirees. Some are expert, skilled musicians. Others haven’t played their instruments for decades and are still trying to remember how. They share a common goal: To have fun making music together.

Scott and Sarah McElfresh organized the Heart of Virginia Community Band, and Scott serves as director. The McElfreshs had experience in community bands before moving to Virginia.

Scott explains, “I did not play for about six years during college and grad school. When someone suggested I play again, I did and I felt happy. A part of my life that I had not even realized was missing had been restored. I think many of us feel that way. Music has a way of bringing people together.”

Sarah and Scott are trained musically through public school programs. Neither majored in music in college but both have performed semi-professionally in their spare time, Sarah on euphonium and Scott on clarinet and saxophone. Scott and Sarah’s daughter Kathryn was 10 when the band formed. She learned to play the triangle to become a part of the band. Since then, her talents have grown and she now plays many instruments in the percussion section.

The Heart of Virginia Community Band is open to musicians of all musical ability levels. If you have an instrument that has been sitting in a closet gathering dust for years, or even decades, Heart of Virginia Community Band extends a special invitation for you to join them Monday nights at 7:30 for rehearsals. Most rehearsals are held in Wygal Hall on the Longwood University campus, but scheduling conflicts sometimes necessitate using other spaces. Complete details are available on the band’s website at:

On the other hand, if you are like me and your musical experience is limited to playing the radio, you can still join the fun as a member of the audience. The next performance will be held at Longwood University on Monday, Dec. 11, at 7:30 p.m. The specific concert site hasn’t yet been determined, but information will be made available through the Longwood Events Calendar and the band’s website.

Karen Bellenir has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from You can contact Karen at