Michael Blackman, conductor of the Columbia Concert Band,… (Submitted photo )
No money will be changing hands when the Maryland All-State Community Band performs a concert on Sunday, July 21, at 2 p.m., at River Hill High School in Clarksville. That's because the concert is free, and the musicians are not paid.
"The magic of community bands is that they're not getting paid and are only doing it for the love of music," said Michael Blackman, conductor of the Columbia Concert Band, the nonprofit group that organized the concert.
Blackman said there are about 30 similar community concert bands in Maryland. Their members were invited to audition for inclusion in the all-state ensemble that performs at the upcoming concert under guest conductor Dr. Harlan Parker, a Peabody Institute faculty member.
Amateur musicians belonging to 12 community bands from around the state made it into the ensemble, with 23 of its 60 performers belonging to the Columbia Concert Band. Blackman is among them. Although he won't be conducting, he'll be there as a percussionist.
Blackman hopes this first all-state community band concert will become an annual event. Whether or not it does, Blackman's own Columbia Concert Band rehearses and performs concerts in Howard County every year.
These unpaid musicians are as demographically diverse as the county itself.
"It's a total mix of ages and backgrounds, and they have such a great time together," says Blackman, 44, of Columbia, adding that he enjoys "the challenge of working with different skill levels and how you deal with it."
In his own case, Blackman does have professional credentials. He received a graduate degree in music education from Peabody in 2007, where his teachers included Parker. Blackman is a music teacher at River Hill High School.
Long before he conducted the Columbia Concert Band, Blackman was a member of it. He still was a student at Hammond High School when he joined the band in 1986, and he became its conductor in 2000.
His enthusiasm for the Columbia Concert Band is shared by other members.
"It's a safe environment for those who aren't professional (musicians) and want to get together with like minds," said Jim Wesloh, who has performed as a trumpet player with the Columbia Concert Band for three years.
In his own case, Wesloh did have professional music training. He attended Peabody for two years, then received a Bachelor of Arts from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. He went on to play in Army bands for several years before deciding that a professional music career was not for him. He became an accountant and now owns his own software company.
"I stopped playing trumpet for 20 years," explained the 50-year-old Columbia resident.
Asked whether picking up the trumpet again after so many years was as easy as getting back on a bicycle, he laughed and replied, "Not even close."
These local musicians will all be putting in a lot of practice time as they prepare for an ambitious program of classical pieces by composers including Percy Grainger, Johann de Meij, Paul Hindemith, Eric Whitacre, Henry Fillmore, Michael Mogensen and Vincent Persichetti.
Parker said he guest conducted the Columbia Concert Band around 10 years ago and has worked with similar ensembles in the region.
He observed that community band members have varying skill levels, and his job is to help them do what they can.
"My philosophy of making music is to do it through inspiration and not intimidation," he said. "The important thing is to make music and have a good time.
"There are a lot of community bands," Parker adds. "They're a great avenue for people who played in high school and college, but decided to pursue different job interests. They're like weekend warriors who play football every weekend, only they're doing it with their instruments."
The Maryland All-State Community Band performs a free concert July 21, at 2 p.m., at River Hill High School, 12101 Route 108, in Clarksville. Call 301-793-0209 or go to http://www.columbiabands.org.