A casualty of COVID-19 last year, live holiday concerts are back in a big way. And the performers who make up community bands are ready to blow — er, go.
“It has been a couple years,” said Romella Rausch, a flutist from Colwich who’s played in the Senseney Community Band for 20-plus years. “It is going to be fun again. We get to visit again and catch up.”
The Senseney band last performed for the 2019 holiday season. It was supposed to play a St. Patrick’s Day concert last year but the pandemic cancelled that.
When the first rehearsal of the season was held last month, more than 80 musicians showed up.
Bill Johnson, the group’s longtime musical director, said the musicians felt comfortable playing again since many members are vaccinated. Also, the churches that host their Christmas concerts told Johnson they welcome the return of the band.
“I had no idea what to expect,” Johnson said. “Seeing all the people was very nice. It felt very good to me.”
“There’s an excitement in people wanting to get back together to play again.”
The concerts are: 7 p.m. Dec. 2, St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, Wichita; 7 p.m. Dec. 5, Wichita, Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church, Wichita; and 7 p.m. Dec. 12, St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church, Andover. All are free and open to the public. This is Senseney Music Community Band’s 34th Christmas concert.
Johnson said the concerts will offer as a medley for an American Christmas ranging from the sacred to the secular — “Silent Night” to “Jingle Bells.” Musicians dress in red or green shirts, and many sport antlers or Santa hats.
“It’s very light, very fun. It is just a good time of year to spread some joy.”
Senseney Music Community Band formed on April 7, 1987, after two employees in instrument repairs suggested a community band be formed.
“I thought that was a great idea, so I went to the boss, Denny Senseney. He said, ‘Great, I will play the tuba,’” said Johnson, who was then vice president of Senseney Music. He and Danny Senseney, who has since sold the store, are former school band directors.
Johnson did a newspaper and a radio interview to publicize the idea, hoping to attract 30 to 40 musicians. Instead, 104 people came to the first rehearsal. He continues as musical director 10 years after his retirement from Senseney.
The band’s purpose is to provide a performance opportunity for amateur wind and percussion players. It’s open to anyone who has played a band instrument. There are no fees or auditions. “Just check the website for more information because we’re always adding more new people,” Johnson said.
Senseny provides rehearsal space at its store on East Lincoln, sheet music and a number of the larger percussion instruments. Store vans transport larger instruments and equipment to concerts. Lori Supinie continued the sponsorship after buying Senseney Music in 2008. She plays bassoon in the band. Johnson is principal conductor, and George Naylor is associate conductor.
Members generally range from their 20s to their 80s, though an eighth-grade bassoon player joined in November. Musicians come from outlying towns as well as Wichita. Several are former band directors.
At a rehearsal last month, musicians greeted each other enthusiastically after almost two years apart.
Paul Bland has been a percussionist in the band since 2007. “We all have the day-to-day jobs and things to take care of. This is a great time with people you are familiar with playing music together. We all came back for one reason or another. A lot of the time it is to reconnect with friends.”
He said playing with others is a good way to improve his technique and practice regimen. Rausch spoke of friendships and of fellow musicians’ musical skills. “There is amazing talent in this band. It has been an honor to play with them.”
Rausch also noted the beauty of churches where Christmas concerts are performed. “It is truly inspirational. Sometimes during the songs, it is overwhelming. It gets to your heart. It gets you in the mood, the holiday spirit. That is what it is all about.”