Lynchburg Pops Community Band, a growing organization started up just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that was forced to pause operation after just two rehearsals, is about to hold its first concert.
Jim Meredith and Steve Aiello, Lynchburg residents who had careers in music before they retired, noticed the lack of a community band in the city years ago.
Organizations including Opera on the James and the Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra existed, along with independent artists and concerts by bands at educational institutions, and all provided valuable music events in the area — but a community band similar to ones in Charlottesville, Northern Virginia communities and elsewhere seemed lacking.
Meredith was a high school band teacher with Lynchburg City Schools for 40 years before retiring in 2013. He is a composer and specialized in low bass instruments. Over the course of several years, Meredith said different people approached him and said he should get up a community band.
“People would say, ‘Hey, you need to start a community band.’ And I would say, ‘Yeah, you need to run it. I’ll conduct it.’ It’s an organization,” Meredith said.
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Aiello, a transplant to Lynchburg from Warrenton in Northern Virginia, said he would be willing to handle management and business matters to start up a community band, as long as he did not have to conduct.
“When we decided to move to Lynchburg, I said, ‘The first thing I’m going to do when I move to Lynchburg is to join the community band.’ Well, there was no community band,” Aiello said.
As if by providence, Meredith was connected with Aiello through a mutual friend: the director of Charlottesville Municipal Band. Meredith was exactly the partner Aiello was looking for, and the feeling was mutual.
“A gentleman named Steve Aiello contacted me, and he said, ‘Hey, I understand you’re the guy to talk to. I will run a community band if you will conduct it.’ I think I said, ‘Where have you been all my life?’” Meredith said.
Aiello started playing the saxophone around age 15, then transitioned to focus on chorus. He taught chorus in the Warrenton area for 20 years, then moved to Lynchburg with his family in 2017 following retirement.
The musicians quickly got to work on the community band.
Within a day of creating a Facebook page for Lynchburg Pops Community Band, Aiello said, about 30 people were following it. Interest in joining the band grew rapidly as other local musicians approached and said how thankful they were that someone was starting this type of community band.
“Lynchburg is an arts-centered community,” Meredith said, and added the local music community is relatively small. Word about the community band, therefore, spread rapidly.
Fifty people showed up to the first weekly rehearsal on March 7, 2020, Aiello said.
“That first night was amazing, because there were so many gray–haired people coming in like, ‘I haven’t played in years!’ And when they said ‘years,’ they meant it. Like, ‘I haven’t played in 20 years. I haven’t played in 30 years, and I’m so nervous.’ We heard this over and over and over again, and we’re thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t know what this is going to be like.’ But at the end of the rehearsal, all these faces reminded me of my elementary school children. Just absolutely beaming. Just joy on their faces. It was just wonderful to see,” he said.
By the band’s second rehearsal, 60 people attended. They expected even more for the third week, Aiello said — but then COVID-19 broke out and shut down live entertainment, music, and almost everything else. The band that had been gaining traction was forced to halt in March of 2020
During the time of isolation, limited gathering abilities, and other pandemic upheaval, Aiello focused on getting the community band its nonprofit organization status, crafting bylaws and taking care of other paperwork involved after becoming officially incorporated and obtaining liability insurance which corporations need to have.
The experience of launching a nonprofit organization was new to Aiello. The closest he had come to experiencing something like it, he said, was being part of the board of directors for another music organization. Aiello said he had some local experts to thank for helping educate and guide him through the process, including a lawyer and an individual Aiello said was instrumental in starting Opera on the James.
Since starting back up full-swing in January, Meredith and Aiello said they average about two to three inquiries a week from people interested in joining the community band, which is now “65 members strong.”
Lynchburg Pops Community Band is mainly comprised of wind instruments, percussion, and chorus, Meredith and Aiello said. They fill the band’s rehearsal space at E.C. Glass High School once a week.
The majority of participants are adults, with an average age Meredith estimated to be about 35, but there is also a high school student and a retired professor, now in his 80s, who holds a doctor of music degree.
Daniel Curran is a band member who attended the first two rehearsals prior to the pandemic. He “jumped right on” the chance to join a community band after he heard about it.
Curran said he played baritone in high school band, and sometimes for church, but eventually stopped playing so much.
The Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra did not have need of a baritone player, Curran said, so after some time looking around for local opportunities, Lynchburg Pops Community Band came on his radar. He showed up for the first rehearsal, and said walking into a high school with his instrument again made him feel “50 years younger.”
“I was exhilarated to have the opportunity again,” Curran said.
Curran’s sons, who are now grown, were taught band by Meredith during their school years. Curran said Meredith has now taught two generations of his family — though somewhat in reverse from the usual order.
The community band has not only gotten Curran back into playing music but has allowed him to make new friends and gives him something to look forward to every week.
“It’s been fun and educational at the same time,” he said.
Curran encouraged others to come to a rehearsal and join the growing band.
The band’s first concert will be held at E. C. Glass high school auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 21.
A “wide variety of music” is slated for the 10-song affair, Meredith said, including some selections from a Broadway play and select movies; an original composition by Meredith; a “secret” piece; and a special tribute to members of the armed forces in a medley of the themes for five branches of the United States armed forces.
“It’s very, very exciting to be able to play standard band music – marches, transcriptions, and that kind of thing – but also to be able to do original music is very exciting,” Aiello said.
This concert is also in memory of some area friends: Steve Canard, who died of COVID-19 complications, and his sister, Karen Canard Quarles, along with Karen’s husband, Jon, and daughter, Emily, who were killed in a mass shooting in Appomattox in January 2010.
Friends of the families are some of the major sponsors of this concert.
Tickets are available for $12.50 online at lynchburgtickets.com or can be purchased for $15 at the gate, discounted to $7.50 for students and senior citizens.
“We want to give to the community,” Meredith said. “Music is life-giving.”