There are many ways to see live holiday music this time each year, with everyone from middle schools to retirement communities putting together their renditions of seasonal favorites - but few unite the generations like the Hamilton Township Community Band.
With more than 20 members of every age, from elementary school students to retirees, the band brings together the best of every generation for its 2012 holiday concert series.
Conductor Fred Rushmore said the variety of musicians who make up the band make for a compelling mix of talents.
"(We have) a retired engineer on tenor sax, there's a dentist on baritone horn, there's a couple local college kids, there's some high school kids, professionals of every walk, in the band," said Rushmore, who also serves as band director at the George L. Hess Educational Complex in Mays Landing.
The band will perform two holiday concerts this year. The first will take place at the Shore Mall in Egg Harbor Township at 7 p.m. on Dec. 10, and the second will take place one week later, also at 7 p.m., at the Hamilton Mall in Mays Landing. The exact location within the malls has yet to be determined, but Rushmore said finding the band should be as easy as following your ears.
The setlist includes a number of season standards such as "Home for the Holidays" and "White Christmas," as well as lesser-known songs such as "Fantasy on an English Carol" and "A Coventry Christmas."
While Rushmore is the band's conductor, it is led as much by its members as it is by Rushmore.
Flutist Olivia Ragan, an Oakcrest High School senior who has played with the community band since she was in fifth grade, picked the selections for this year's show. She said Rushmore's openness to let the band choose its own direction is one of the things that sets it apart.
"Mr. Fred is a really great guy and he's always like, 'New idea,' he's really big on that type of stuff," Ragan said. "I was given an opportunity to conduct a piece last season, and I was able to pick this season's repertoire for our concert list, and it's been really fun to do music that is much harder, usually, than a lot of things we'll be able to do in school."
Despite its name, the band is open to anyone who wishes to join, and boasts members from throughout southern New Jersey. The only criteria for membership is that members be able to play music in levels two, three and four, which roughly correlates to middle school through high school difficulty. There are no tryouts - if you want to play and can keep up, you're in.
Because the band is open to all ages, it affords its members opportunities they don't have in other ensembles. Ragan played alongside her flute teacher when she first started with the band, which she credits with making her a better musician. Now her younger sister, Sophie, 14, plays upright bass with the band, making its concerts a treat for their family.
The band, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in January, has become a popular institution in the community, performing several times a year.
For clarinet player Jim Ehrhardt, who has played with the band since its second concert almost 10 years ago, there's no better performance than the holiday concert.
"Christmas is about music," said Ehrhardt, whose wife and son also play in the band. "Andy Williams used to sing, 'It's the happiest time of the year,' no, 'Most wonderful time of the year,' and the music is a big, big part of this, and this is our gift to the community."
The band is always open to new members and will begin its next cycle in January. While all musicians are encouraged to come out, the band needs percussionists, Rushmore said. For more information on rehearsal dates or joining, see htband.com.
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