Sunday, December 10, 2017
News Roundup

Florida Wind Band working to resurrect a fading art

TEMPLE TERRACE — John Carmichael stood atop a podium, his baton piercing the air more expressively as the music crescendoed.

In front of him was a group of about 50 people from varying backgrounds, playing through a repertoire of classic Americana music for the first time in the first of two rehearsals before their "By the Dawn's Early Light" concert on Monday.

Some, like Carmichael, were faculty in the School of Music at the University of South Florida. Some taught music in Hillsborough County public schools. Some had played in bands at Disney or in the military. Some had pursued careers outside music, but played in bands in high school or college.

Together, they are the Florida Wind Band, and they hope to resurrect the art of the American concert band.

Carmichael came up with the idea for a professional civilian band in 2007, after directing a successful community band in Bowling Green, Ky., for more than 14 years. He said the Tampa Bay area, home to the Florida Orchestra and other live performing arts, was one of only a few areas in the U.S. that he thought could support a full-time, professional band.

Professional bands in the U.S. today are few and far between. Carmichael said the need for the classic notion of a band has changed as electronic music made its way into the world.

"The band's niche was they traveled. They hopped on trains to go to the people, while the orchestras built halls," he said. "When records and radio came along, the people who were going to the orchestra were already kind of committed to that . . . It was their orchestra in their town. But the bands didn't have that loyalty. As soon as you had radio and records, people didn't have to go hear the band."

But wind bands, he said, can offer a broader palette of timbres than orchestras and are at their peak in terms of new music being composed.

Roy Mitchell, 28, a euphonium player who teaches music at Mort Elementary School in Tampa, said the band allows people to understand more about the heritage of American music.

"It's important because we should know where we come from," he said.

Joe Bodiford, 44, chairs the band's board of directors, and works as a criminal defense attorney and adjunct law professor in Tampa. He played in bands throughout college and even toured Europe with his trumpet.

"The concept really goes back to the days of John Philip Sousa," he said. "That was entertainment back then in the 1800s. . . . People will understand or remember their experiences playing in high school or college bands, but this is that on steroids. This is the highest caliber you can get. You can almost taste the sound with the different variety of textural tones and sounds."

Since 2007, Carmichael has hosted auditions and recruited 150 musicians across the state to join the Florida Wind Band, booking about 45 to 50 musicians each show, for about four performances a year.

Each performance has costs associated with it. The space provided by USF for the rehearsals and performance costs about $3,000 at a discounted rate, Carmichael said, and if the musicians were to be paid at a standard unionized scale, he estimates that would cost close to $17,500 more. But for now, these musicians are playing for free.

"The ideal is to have this thing one day be the only professional civilian band in the country where we can have our musicians making a living from this group," Bodiford said. "We might be a long way away from it, but we're there with the quality."

Diana Belcher, a math instructor at Hillsborough Community College, has played clarinet for about 45 years and said the experience playing in the Florida Wind Band is different from playing in a community band.

"Most community groups are amateurs interested in playing their instruments," she said. "We're obsessed."

Chuck Boyer, 62, who retired in May after a career that included serving with the Army Band in Washington D.C., said he had put down his clarinet for years because he didn't want to play at a level that was not at his best. But he picked up his instrument again after hearing about the Wind Band and said the experience has been enjoyable.

Last week, he drove three hours each way from Melbourne to attend a rehearsal for Monday's show, to which the band will be busing in veterans from the James A. Haley Veterans Affairs hospital and residents at John Knox and University Village retirement communities.

As the rehearsal came to close, Carmichael furrowed his brow and shook his head.

"Sousa didn't like a rest there," he said, and asked the group to resume.

But as the band finished its final piece, he smiled. Being able to conduct for the band of professionals who loved their art, he told them, was one of the happiest parts of his life.

Bodiford said Carmichael's passion could result in the sound sticking around in the area.

"If this concept of his comes to fruition and this becomes a self-sustaining group with full-time members, he'll be the first one to have pulled it off in a hundred years," he said.

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