St. Marys Community Concert Band Going Strong
What began as a band formed to celebrate the St. Marys sesquicentennial in 1999 has become a community institution attracting members from several counties.
Every Tuesday the 45 to 50 members of the band, some traveling an hour or more each way, gather to practice at the St. Marys Marina.
“We bring them in from everywhere around here,” said David Burton, one of the band’s directors.
Burton said the founder of the St. Marys Community Concert Band was Bill Duer, who was band director at St. Marys High School on two occasions.
“He was here in the 1960s, he left and taught in Ohio for several years and then he retired in Ohio and came back to St. Marys, then moved when he was semi-retired and was director at Parkersburg South High School.”
Burton said the community band is always looking for new members.
“We have a situation here where you might not be able to be here all the time,” he said. “All we need is if you are dependable we are tickled to have you.”
Burton said the band does around 10 concerts a year for different groups.
“We have our concerts in Belpre, Marietta, Williamstown and other places,” he said. “At least five are in St. Marys at The Marina and others in Paden City or Sistersville. We are a sit-down band, no parades.”
Burton said the community concert band is a rare thing today.
“It all depends on the interest in the community; there are maybe a half dozen across the state right now,” he said. “There is one in Wheeling, maybe one in Morgantown, Charleston and Beckley and a few others. We are probably the most active of the bands.”
Burton said the band plays a lot of different music, about 60 different pieces each year.
“When we go to the schools and talk with the kids, I tell them you’ll do more in one of our concerts than you will in high school,” he said. “We do 10 concerts and maybe repeat a few items.
“I think this band is a terrific opportunity for high school kids. We have three from Paden City this year and one from Tyler County.”
Burton said the music programs at some schools are limited and the students have the opportunity to be exposed to more music with the St. Marys Community Concert Band.
Mary Blaker, of Parkersburg, has been a member of the St. Marys Community Concert Band for 11 of its 19 years. Vicki Ruble, of Mineral Wells, has been a member for nine years.
Both started their music experience in the sixth grade, Blaker in Virginia and Ruble in Texas.
Blaker’s family moved to Wood County after she began learning to play the clarinet.
“I began in Virginia and we moved up here,” she said. “I played at Vandy and PHS. I was in the Mountaineer Band when I was in college.”
Ruble said she played music through high school.
“There was a long pause where I did everything out of order,” she said. “Then nine years ago I decided I needed some stress relief and this is it.”
“Then I said ‘come to band,'” Blaker said.
“This is for everybody who just didn’t get enough band in high school,” Ruble said. “We’re the band nerds.”
“That is what is so all about this band,” said Blaker, who plays clarinet. “I remember hearing people say they hadn’t touched their instrument in 35 years. For me it was three or four years, but to walk away for 35 years and come back and play, that’s a lot.”
Ruble said playing an instrument like her alto saxophone is something you don’t forget, kind of like once you learn to ride a bike you don’t forget.
“You don’t forget, no!” Ruble said. “You may be a little rusty, but it comes back – quick.”
Ruble said the community band is not a competition to see who the best players are in the area.
“We don’t have tryouts or anything and that’s what makes it good,” she said. “You can come and get back into playing form easily.”
Ruble said nobody is embarrassed about their playing.
“We try to sound good and I think we sound good,” she said. “There is no shame if you make a mistake; those things happen.”
“Rocky (Wiseman) and Dave work us,” Blaker said.
“We play all kinds of music,” Blaker said. “We play classical stuff, soundtracks from movies we play everything.”
Blaker said they play selections she remembers from her days as a member of the Big Red Marching Band.
“We were all about the Sousa marches,” she said. “Rocky was band director in high school and I always get really excited during the summer time when we play Sousa marches. In the spring and winter concerts Rocky picks some good ones like ‘American Folk Rhapsody;’ it is like the best.”
Ruble’s taste is for more modern items.
“I like the jazzier pop music type of stuff,” she said. “It’s where they can use saxophones to their best capability; we were designed for certain things.”
Blaker said practice for the band begins in March until August, then they take a break, then start back in October to the first Tuesday in December and they stop.
Ruble said the first Tuesday of December is the day for their Christmas concert.
Blaker said the ages range from high school age to Homer Ruckle, who in his 80s.
Homer Ruckle is the oldest band member and has been a member since it began in 1999. Ruckle said at the first practice they had eight musicians.
Ruckle was in band in high school, playing the trombone at Follansbee High School in Brooke County. He relocated to Pleasants County several years ago.
“When we had the sesquicentennial band here somebody decided to get a band together and we got a band together,” he said. “It turned out really pretty good. We decided this was too good to let go so we decided to make it a community band.”
Debra Price, band director at Paden City High School, got involved after deciding she wanted a chance to play again.
“I wanted to play again, since I hadn’t played for a long time, so a friend of mine, who is not here anymore, suggested I come here and I did,” she said. “My oldest son, Isaac, played first and then some of my students started coming and then they needed some more percussion so my daughter joined.”
Isaac, who graduated from high school this spring, said being in a band with family is not bad.
“We are across the room from each other, so we might look at each other during rests in the music,” he said.
Rachel Price is in her first year with the band. Spending the time with her mother and brother is a good thing, she said.
“It’s a great experience. I’ve been here a couple of months and one concert,” she said. “I have mom at school, home and here. I’m always around her. I love her, so it’s perfect.”
* June 21: Marietta-Muskingum Park, 7 p.m.
* June 25: St. Marys Marina, 7 p.m.
* July 3: Belpre Civitan Park, 7:30 p.m.
* July 5: Paden City, place and time to be determined
* July 28: St. Marys Marina, 7 p.m.
* July 31: Williamstown Tomlinson Park, 7 p.m.
* Aug. 11: St. Marys Ice Cream Social, 7 p.m.
* Nov. 3: St. Marys Marina, 7 p.m.
* Dec. 4: Christmas concert, 7 p.m.