Most community bands focus on one gimmick, whether it's playing jazz or show tunes or marching around in formations. But the Hamilton Township Community Band is an intergenerational playground where musicians can learn a variety of symphonic, patriotic and pop pieces.
Director Fred Rushmore, who also teachers at the George L. Hess Educational Complex, started the community band on a whim in 2003, and the group's first performance was a free park concert the day before the annual Hometown Celebration. That event has turned into a tradition, and the band plays four to five other free shows per year within the township, at the Hamilton Mall and Shore Mall and other parts of southern New Jersey.
"I just felt it was the sort of thing the community needed," Rushmore said. "There were middle school kids looking for more challenging (music) literature. The high school kids were looking for something different." The band attracts many adult musicians as well.
The Hamilton Township Community Band meets every Monday night for practice at William Davies Middle School. There is an open-door membership policy for anyone over 12 years old who can play a musical instrument at the middle-school level, Rushmore said.
Rushmore said the band mostly focuses on playing symphonic works by contemporary composers, such as Robert Sheldon and Robert W. Smith. His favorite pieces include "A Scottish Ballade," "Quixotic Episode" and "Buffalo Dances," which "got crazy trombones that sound like animals," Rushmore said.
The band's repertoire also performs crowd-pleasers such as Beatles and Rodgers and Hammerstein's songs, on a much smaller basis. But Rushmore prefers introducing his musicians to newer symphonic works. "The difference from popular music and show music is this is literature, an opportunity for both young and old," Rushmore said.
Ed Bakshis, a network analyst from Mays Landing, has been a band member since its inception, and he loves the unique opportunity of playing saxophone alongside his daughter, Eva, 18, and son, Edward Jr., 16. Bakshis said the band gives him another chance to bond with his children and watch them grow.
"A lot of community bands are selective about age groups and (here) the younger players sit aside and learn," said Bakshis, who has also played clarinet for 45 years. "There's a different energy with kids around - you see the discovery when they learn new musical things."
Eva, who plays clarinet, joined the community band when she was in fifth grade and she called performing with the group "just natural."
"You become friends with people much older than you are, and you're on equal footing," Eva said. "People first pick it up and play it for you, and even if you know more, you help someone out if it's a new piece."
Flute-player Olivia Ragan, 15, said she enjoys the multi-generational aspect of the band and the wide selection of works it performs.
Her favorite pieces have been the patriotic marches by John Philip Sousa, especially "Stars and Stripes Forever." Ragan added that she was surprised at how tricky the familiar tune can be. "It's a very challenging piece. ... It's cut time and double the speed," she said.
The Bakshis and Ragan said they simultaneously play in other bands as well, but they enjoy the musical challenge of performing in their hometown band. Ed Bakshis summed up the experience the best: "Music is an addiction."
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If you go
The Hamilton Township Community Band's concert will take place 6 to 8 p.m. Friday in the gazebo at Gaskill Park, along Mays Landing Road. The event is free and open to the public. The band is also looking for new members. To learn more about the band or sign up, e-mail email@example.com or see www.htband.com