It’s early October, but the strains of Christmas music can plainly be heard wafting out of Culpeper Baptist Church on a crisp fall evening.
The sharp call of a flute playing “Silent Night” calls to mind a snowy winter’s’ night and one thinks the church may be practicing a Christmas play with a recording.
It’s no recording.
It’s the sounds of the Piedmont Community Band, the brainchild of famed musician Dave Detwiler and friends.
Joe Coppola, who moved to Culpeper from Long Island two years ago, quickly made friends with Detwiler and began lobbying for Detwiler to help start a community band.
“I begged him to start one,” Coppola said. “I’m from New York and I played on a brass ensemble on Long Island. There was nothing here for me. I met Dave and I said ‘we have to start a band.’”
Now in their second week of practice, the band has brought musicians from all over the region – as far north as Northern Virginia and others from Orange and Madison.
“It’s not just for Culpeper, it’s for the whole region,” Coppola said.
They’re conducted by the affable Detwiler, lead trumpeter for the The United States Army Band from 1973 to 2000. Principal Trumpet for the National Symphony Orchestra Pops, Detwiler moved to Culpeper nine years ago and began thinking of a community band.
When he first moved to the county, he saw an ad in a newspaper about a reunion for the Culpeper Community Band. He called the phone number, a Florida extension, and spoke to a man who played in the band in the 1960s. According to the gentleman, the band split in the 1960s into two groups due to the Civil Rights unrest at the time and the splintered squads couldn’t keep a foothold in the community.
At the time, he hadn’t received many calls about the reunion and scrapped the idea. However, it was a mission that stayed in the back of the head of Detwiler – if for anything to keep him at home – as he jokingly says is his wife’s main wish.
This past Fourth of July, Detwiler ventured downtown and was shocked that there was no live music. Having grown up in a musical family in Altoona, Pa., Detwiler knew now was the time to strike for starting a band in Culpeper.
“From the time I was 6, I marched in fireman’s parades all over Pennsylvania,” Detwiler said. “Culpeper should have a band, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t.”
Once a band, always a band
Turns out, they once had a strong band.
During his research into how to start a band, Detwiler discovered an old drum head stored at Eastern View High School.
He originally asked Culpeper County High School band director Duane Clore about the band, and Clore recalled seeing the drum head around. He placed a call to EVHS band director Adam Roach and Roach said the drum was stored in the school’s band storage room.
“He (Roach) said ‘I think if you look at the drum head it might break,” Detwiler said with a laugh.
Now the mascot of the community band, the drum marked “Culpeper Community Band, 1932” stood watch over the second rehearsal this past Sunday.
An eclectic mix of musicians, the new community band was put through its paces by Detwiler.
A young lady wearing a backwards Mickey Mouse ballcap played alongside a barefoot mid-20s gentleman playing the tuba.
Seventy-year-old trumpet players hit the high notes next to high school seniors.
Emma Wood, a senior at EVHS, said that music has always been important to her family.
“After high school, I wanted another way to continue with band so I figured this was the best way to do it,” Wood said. “I think it was interesting to do a band again in Culpeper because ever since I’ve lived here there hasn’t been one, and I thought it was important to have it brought back.”
That diversity among ages is part of the unique feel of a community band that Detwiler is hoping to inspire.
“We’re trying to get the enthusiasm for live music,” Detwiler said. “I want everyone to feel welcome. “I think it’s good for anybody. I think there’s a sense of camaraderie. I can’t do it by myself, it’s community.”
The community turned out en masse the first rehearsal, with more than 50 musicians showing up. The next, the numbers held steady but many were missing due to a college fair.
The interest in the musical arts is nothing new to Detwiler, who did note that the band was started to work in conjunction with the State Theatre.
The theatre suspended operations last month due to lack of funds, but Detwiler still has hope.
“I really think that the State Theatre is going to open up better than it ever was,” Detwiler said. “I don’t think they’re going to let it die. I really look forward to it coming back.”
When it does, the community band will be ready.
Detwiler conducted on Sunday with a sense of joy and self-depreciating humor. For a skilled professional, he made the young and amateur musicians feel right at home.
They danced through number to number, starting with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and continuing through “Silent Night.”
The tentative Christmas concert is set for Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. at Culpeper Baptist Church, but Detwiler hopes they may play before that at the Culpeper Baptist Retirement Home.
The older generation, he feels, has a stronger connection to live music because of the way the generation was raised.
“The 30s, 40s and 50s, it wasn’t are you going to play a musical instrument, it was what musical instrument are you going to play?” Detwiler said. “Educators realized playing a musical instrument helped the brain develop. I think there’s also a certain amount of satisfaction to be able to perform and have a skill like that. In music, they can take it up when they’re 7, 8, 9 and still be playing when they’re older. It keeps you young.”
Once the holiday season is done, Detwiler said the band will transition to patriotic music, standards and some special numbers from his father’s song book. The Brandy Station Parade has already reached out to the band about playing in June of next year.
“We’ll do it as much as we can,” Detwiler said.
Want to join?
For more information about the Piedmont Community Band, contact Joe Coppola at 540-825-1412 or email email@example.com.