An old band is flourishing under new leadership.
The Salem Band, which was founded in 1771, has been growing steadily since Eileen M. Young took over as the group’s music director and conductor in 2011.
The community band’s annual budget has increased from $6,000 to about $9,000. “It’s been growing every year,” said Bart Collins, the group’s treasurer.
The band, which will present the first concert of its summer season on Tuesday, has also landed a couple of season sponsors, including Wells Fargo, Young said. It secured a $1,500 grant from the Winston-Salem Foundation and instituted an advisory board to help with fundraising.
The band’s membership has grown from 46 to about 55. “We’re just about at full capacity,” said Young, who has made an effort to diversify the group by adding members of various ages, races and backgrounds, including students and faculty members from area universities.
“I’m really proud of the work a lot of people have done to get us to this point,” said Young, who also teaches at Wake Forest University and Salem College and performs with the Winston-Salem and Salisbury symphonies. “And artistically, I’m really pleased with how the band has improved.”
For example, the band will play a difficult work by Shostakovich at its concert in August, something she wouldn’t have attempted a couple of years ago, she said.
David Pfaff, who has been playing trumpet in the band since the 1940s, said that Young has really challenged the musicians.
“She’s doing very well,” he said. “She’s taken us up a notch.”
Allen Goslen, who plays the baritone, agreed. “It’s a lot harder music,” he said. “But it sure is fun to play…. This first concert is going to be a humdinger.”
The band will present a Centennial Celebration on Tuesday at Salem Square, one of several free concerts that the band will present over the course of the year.
The theme is both a nod to the city of Winston-Salem’s 100th birthday and to the 100th anniversary of one of its sponsors, Pfaff’s Auto Glass, Young said.
Mayor Allen Joines will introduce the works, most of which have some sort of tie to 1913, the year that the towns of Winston and Salem merged. “Either it’s music from that era or music by composers who were born that year,” Young said. “I’m a big fan of having something that ties everything together within a program.”
The program will include an assortment of big band music; Sousa marches; American Symphonette by Gould, who was born in 1913; and some Broadway hits. The soloists will include soprano Virginia Browne and Jeff Whitsett, director emeritus, on euphonium.
“Jeff’s an incredible musician, and I was really pleased to have him step out front and play,” Young said.
Salem Band is a true community band, Young said. “Anyone who plays at an intermediate level can participate,” she said. No audition is required. “People either weed themselves out or they fit right in,” she said.
The band members develop a sense of camaraderie, something that was apparent at a recent rehearsal, where Richard Saylor and Donna Rothrock, both French horn players, were joking around with each other.
Saylor was spelling his last name, when Rothrock cut in to say, “unless he starts cussing, then it’s Sailor.”
Saylor laughed at what was clearly some familiar, well-intentioned ribbing.
He’s been involved with the band on and off since the 1950s. “Probably more off than on,” he said. “It’s just an enjoyable musical experience. And I like the people, too.”