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Community bands unite for melodious Greenwood festival

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On a single Saturday in August, music aficionados will gather in Greenwood to listen to everything from marches to symphonies to beloved showtunes.

They’ll be able to tap their feet to the upbeat works of John Phillip Sousa and Robert Hall. Oboes, violins, tubas and timpanis will recreate the scores from “My Fair Lady” and “Sound of Music.”

The best symphonies and operas will be honored by amateur musicians from across the state.

Greenwood will become the epicenter of Indiana’s community bands and symphonic musicians in August. The city will host the first Greenwood Community Band Festival, bringing together eight groups from Zionsville and Terre Haute, Syracuse and Bloomington to perform classic orchestral music.

The festival is a chance for the bands to come together for a day-long celebration of music, and to emphasize the benefits of a community bands.

“We want to try to promote community bands in this state. We’ve invited some of the top bands from throughout the state, and we want to stress that this opportunity is there for people,” said Ora Pemberton, associate director of the Greater Greenwood Community Band. “We’re trying to make it attractive to the public and let people know about community bands.”

Community bands provide an outlet for musically inclined residents to continue performing as adults. A majority of members were active in the high school marching bands or ensembles, while a lucky few carried their participation into college.

But very few find actual careers in music, Pemberton said.

“We have doctors and attorneys and other professions in our band. They still want to play, and we provide that opportunity,” he said.

The Greater Greenwood Community Band has been performing for more than 20 years.

Its founders wanted to foster that idea, to gather those interested in music together to play throughout the area.

Since 1993, membership has grown from 27 to more than 80 people. The band plays summer concerts at the Greenwood parks, and performs before the Freedom Festival fireworks display and holiday lighting.

Shows have been conducted in the Irvington neighborhood of Indianapolis, Garfield Park and at amphitheaters throughout the state.

But this is the first time the members have hosted a festival of community bands, Pemberton said.

The event stems from similar festivals in communities around the state. Last year, the Greenwood band performed at a similar festival in Carmel, hosted by the Indiana Wind Symphony.

When the symphony’s director, Charles Conrad, indicated they wouldn’t be hosting one again this year, Greenwood officials jumped at the chance to bring bands to the southside.

The participating bands were excited to have another opportunity to gather as one, Conrad said.

“And for all of the people who come out, you’re hearing a day’s worth of terrific music,” he said.

In addition, area bands were interested in using the festival as an educational tool and recruitment event for potential new members.

“What I see as a major benefit is that it’s an example to all of the student musicians to see how they’ll be able to participate all of their lives in music,” Conrad said. “The age range in our symphony is 22 to 83, so it’s an opportunity to learn how to keep playing when they’re done with school.”

The festival will feature opening and closing ceremonies for the bands to participate in. A pancake breakfast will allow the community to mingle with the musicians.

Then, each band will put on a different program. The groups have been given an hour to play, and have crafted a mix of classical, pop and patriotic music that suits their members.

“We don’t want a band to come and leave after an hour because there’s nothing else for them,” Pemberton said.

To wrap the entire event up, all eight bands are going to provide members to play together for a kind of musical supergroup.

Between 200 and 300 people will share the stage for a rousing edition of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Leading the group will be Bill Kisinger, a Purdue University band professor and director who heads the Lafayette Citizen Band.

Organizers from Greenwood are hopeful that the festival can become a regular item on the summer concert schedule. Even if the city alternates between sharing hosting duties with Carmel or other area bands, it has the potential to grow, Pemberton said.

And any chance to expose the public to new artistic events is a positive.

“The more arts that you have in the community, the more you can help that community grow,” Pemberton said.

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