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Pawleys Island Concert Band: Musicians are upbeat on the downbeat

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

If Gary Mason, founding member of the Pawleys Island Concert Band, could wave a magic baton, his wish would be for everyone on earth “to sing or play the music that is in their heart.”

Mason, president of the concert band’s board, sings the praises of Carson Turner, it’s conductor.

“We are fortunate to have him. He elevates us all,” Mason said

Indeed, Turner has big plans for the band of 30-plus musicians. His goal is 60 members. More players are needed in every section, Turner said. There are no French horns. Only one trombone player. And he sure could use four or five more clarinet and trumpet players.

“Back in the early 1900s every major town in the country had a town band. There were many thousands of them,” Turner said. “Only about 2,500 bands exist today, and, sadly, many people don’t know that they exist. So many people graduate from high school and never play an instrument again the rest of their life because they don’t know that there is a town band they can play in.”

Well there is. The Pawleys Island Concert Band just began fall rehearsals. They meet every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Litchfield Exchange.

“Anybody can come play with us,” Turner said. “All are welcome. There are no tryouts.”

With a bachelor’s degree in music, Turner spent most of his career playing in the Army Band. Although he can play most any instrument, he prefers the flute. Upon retiring from the military, he and his wife moved to Pawleys Island, where he eventually joined the community band. He took over as conductor two years ago, replacing Chris Graham, band director at Waccamaw High. Graham launched the group in 2004 with 13 musicians. Under his direction, it grew to a schedule of about 10 concerts a year.

“When Chris got too busy with his high school marching band and had no extra time, I just stepped forward,“ Turner, 50, explained of the volunteer position. “I’ll continue until someone else steps forward.”

Today the band’s musicians range in age from 14 to 80. Some in the group played in high school and didn’t play for many years. Others are professional musicians. A few have degrees in music and a few are retired music teachers.

“We don’t care if you haven’t played in 20 years,” Turner said. “It will come back. It’s like riding a bicycle. Come and get the joy of playing music again.”

Turner adapts the musical scores to the band’s instrumentation and abilities. “If I have no French horn, I write around it and we still sound good,” he said.

Jan Wurst is a devoted musician who joined the band just two years ago. Among the band’s more polished performers, she played clarinet in the Women’s Air Force Band for six years, taught music in Fairfax, Va., for 22 years and continues to play in several other area community bands.

As a Pawleys Island Concert Band associate conductor, she delights in her conducting assignments. She, like Turner, prepares by knowing her score, instruments and players. She said it’s also important to get her body primed.

“Conducting is very physical work. It’s very aerobic. Because of the physicality, conductors have longer life expectancies, which suits me fine,” Wurst said.

She is doing her best to encourage more musicians to sign up.

“Playing music keeps the mind sharp, the body sharp and gives you something to look forward to, like our rehearsals and concerts,” she said.

Enthusiastic audiences flock to the band’s performances, said Turner. “A lot of people really enjoy this old band music. It’s not rock and roll or symphony, it’s a little different. People like to get out and see a little culture. We improve the quality of life. We exist for the community.”

Next on the band’s program is an Oct. 13 concert at the Lakes of Litchfield showcasing Broadway music, marches, along with Octoberfest and Halloween themes. Musical selections vary according to the event and include the works of John Williams, Leroy Anderson, Vince Guaraldi, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and George Frideric Handel as well.

The band plays for free whenever they are asked. Their focus is on special community occasions, in particular a patriotic event.

Traditional performances include Fourth of July and Memorial Day. This year they have nothing planned yet for Veterans Day. Turner said they are available.

Without a bandstand, concert venues include churches, schools and outdoor settings. Electricity isn’t essential. “Bands sound better outside,” Turner said. “We end every performance with the ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ and start with the national anthem. Right now we’re working on the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’ ”

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