WESLEY CHAPEL — The evening rehearsal begins at 7 p.m. with the sight-reading practice of At Morning's First Light. Under the direction of Scott Leahy, some 30 musicians of various ages plod through the unfamiliar notes in the sanctuary of the Crossroads Community United Methodist Church.
Sight reading can be tough — particularly for those who might be a little rusty — but it is also the sound of progress. In the end, Leahy is pleased with the musicians' effort and tells them so. After that, it's on to Nathan Hale Trilogy, a more familiar selection inspired by the life of the revolutionary patriot that will be played at an upcoming fall festival.
"I really love this piece. I'm so happy that we're playing this. There's lots of horns. Lots of sax," Leahy tells the group before warning them not to come in too soon. "Trust me. Watch me. I'll cue you."
"Now from the top."
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The Wesley Chapel Wind Ensemble, with its humble beginnings, is a work in progress. Even so, it's turning out to be the little band that could. They've been chugging away since the summer of 2007, growing in fits and starts, ever since Glenn Weatherly, 44, a transplanted trombone and baritone player from Michigan, decided to get something going.
The community concert band experience had long been a mainstay for Weatherly, who first put his lips to a brass trombone in a music classroom at Edsel Ford High in Dearborn, Mich. He went on to play at Adrian College and dabbled with the notion of pursuing a career in music. But he went into information technology instead, and settled on playing his horns as a hobby.
"It's a great stress reliever and it's a way to network and meet other people with similar interests," Weatherly said. But when he moved his family to Wesley Chapel, he found slim pickings.
"I was looking for a place to play and then there wasn't a whole lot in the area," Weatherly said. "There was a community band in New Port Richey and another in Ybor City and Lakeland, too, but there was nothing local — nothing in Wesley Chapel."
Weatherly created some "musicians wanted" fliers to hang in local shops and advertised in neighborhood newsletters throughout, and got the attention of a handful of local players.
Word of mouth brought trumpet player Bob Jasper, 71, into the group. After seeing a flier in a local restaurant, Robin Jodoi, 52, was the first clarinet player to sign on, even though he hadn't picked up his instrument in about 25 years.
Most of the early rehearsals were held in a back conference room at the Hyundai dealership in Wesley Chapel. Their first performance came about a year and a half later, with a holiday concert at the Baldomero Lopez State Veterans Nursing Home in Land O'Lakes.
"Basically, we took the Salvation Army Christmas book and played songs out of that," said Weatherly, who soon after recruited his flute-playing daughters, Madison, 14, and Maggie, 11.
“I wasn't sure at first how that would work, having the younger kids play with us," Weatherly said. "But I think it's one of the best moves that we made. It really helps fill out the group. It adds something to our group that a lot of bands won't do. From the community perspective, it's an outlet for the students — kind of a mentorship."
Kenneth Watts took the baton as the band's first director in July 2010. After scheduling conflicts, Scott Leahy, the director of the R.B. Stewart Middle School band, came on in October 2010 at the urging of some students who were already band members. June Hammond, a professional bassoonist who teaches at Saint Leo University, signed on this past summer as a co-director.
"It's been really, really good," said Leahy. "Glenn Weatherly, the father of the group, was picking the music, setting up the concerts, so all I had to do was teach the music."
The direction and the setting with serious musicians of various ages has been a welcome boon to Sarah Evenson, 14, one of two oboe players who also serves as the ensemble's librarian. She also plays oboe and saxophone with the Zephyrhills High band.
"It's a lot of fun," she said. "I love the music and you get a lot done without all the talking that goes on" in the high school band.
"I think it's great that they tolerate some of us old geezers that struggle," Jasper said. "And it's nice to see some young people in there who have more upside than us. And they're improving as well, and I think it's fun to be part of that. The music is fun to play, too."
Now, on a good night, there's roughly 36 members who gather for rehearsals in the sanctuary of the Methodist church. The ensemble has also performed publicly. Past events include the Relay for Life at Wesley Chapel High, the Festival of Lights in Zephyrhills and Dade City's annual Church Street Christmas event. More are on the schedule.
"I like that it's been an open-door policy; that we have input from everyone," Leahy said, noting that members of all ages frequently make suggestions for the band's performance music.
Sprouting from the larger group is a smaller Dixieland Band that has played at local coffee shops and such. In the works is a woodwind and saxophone quartet, Leahy said.
The group recently became a member of the National Association of Community Bands and is getting more organized. Weatherly has compiled a members handbook, and the band is forming a board of directors.
"We struggle once in a while, but we still do very well," said Leahy, whose goal is to have 60 consistent players at the end of the year. "Even the adults who are not necessarily the best musicians because they haven't played in awhile are improving, and so is the group as a whole.
"It's a wonderful outreach for the kids and for the group. We have some wonderful talented musicians here. We're just trying to get out there and let people know were here."