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Community Jazz Band Jams at PHC

February 18th, 2010

By Sarah Pride; photos by Tony Cavicchi

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

PHC freshman Tara Bennett (center back) on the alto sax, flanked by two community members

On a typical Monday evening after dinner, freshman Tara Bennett lugs her alto saxophone down the sidewalk to PHC’s Town Hall. She joins an impressive array of musicians and their instruments: four trumpets, three trombones, four other saxophones, drums, keyboards, rhythm guitar, and bass guitar. For the next two hours, intricate, big-band jazz music wafts out of the PHC facility, creating what freshman guitarist Michael Brooks calls “tasty jams.” The group, known as the Franklin Park Big Band (FPBB), has formed real bonds between PHC and the local community. It hopes to strengthen those connections further as it gears up for its first charity concert, February 26, 7pm at the Franklin Park Center for the Performing Arts.

The FPBB represents an innovative, entrepreneurial idea. It began as the brain-child of two people with strong PHC connections: alum Isaiah McPeak and Gil Paist, the parent of another alum, Brittainy Paist (2009). Since moving to northern Virginia in 2004, other than Sunday morning services at Blue Ridge Bible Church, Paist had not found an outlet for his skills. As he says, although he went to school for music and met his wife on a two-year music tour, “once you get out of your high school or college music playing experience, for most people, that’s it!” At Blue Ridge, however, he met McPeak, and the two first discussed the idea of forming the FPBB in 2007.

The duo finally found time to make their dream a reality last summer. They approached Franklin Park, which agreed to sponsor the band. Then they put a notice on Craig’s List and started to track down members. Finally, since their band included so many people associated with PHC, they asked the College if they could practice on campus.

The Franklin Park Big Band rehearses in PHC's Town Hall on a Monday night

“We did a lot of it through networking,” says Paist, who plays with the Loudoun Symphonic Winds. The news of the band spread through McPeak’s and Paist’s circles, connecting people who knew other musicians. Altogether, now the Big Band includes freshmen Bennett and Brooks, freshman drummer Joe Pisacreta, PHC alumni McPeak and Daniel Watson, Gil Paist, and many other northern Virginia residents from Purcellville, Lovettsville, and Sterling. Says McPeak, co-founder with Paist, “What’s really cool about this is that this is how real community involvement can occur . . . relationships with people and some common bond . . . are how strong ties are made.”

The band “operates democratically,” McPeak shares, with all members having the ability to call out ideas and suggestions during performance. Members range in age from the PHC students to senior citizens—some who are picking up their instruments after a long hiatus, and some who have never stopped playing. They are performing, says McPeak, “pro charts in their original, like Garland’s In the Mood and Glenn Miller’s Pennsylvania 6-5000.” McPeak and Watson practice at least 30 minutes a day, “working over each piece’s articulation and phrasing note by note, phrase by phrase.”

Freshmen Joe Pisacreta (L) on the drums; Michael Brooks on the guitar

For the current PHC students in the FPBB, even though it is an extracurricular that does not earn any college credit, the band provides a needed release. Pisacreta, for example, has played drums for ten years and has taken professional lessons for five. Previously, he has participated in three separate bands and three worship teams.

“I love playing the drums more than anything, and I know that the Lord wants me to use this to glorify Him in some fashion in my life. He has placed a passion for music in me, and I am open to where He wants me to use it,” he explains. “I want to play drums for my whole life, if it is His will.”

Similarly, guitarist Brooks states that “music will always be a part of my life.” He has formerly played in a few jazz ensembles, as a show tune accompanist, and in a fusion-rock band. His teacher insisted he study jazz theory.

“If you can play and understand jazz, everything else is easy,” he asserts.

For their first official concert at Franklin Park on February 26, the FPBB wishes to make further connections to the community by gathering food for the Tree of Life Food Pantry, serving Western Loudoun County. Along with the $5 ticket cost for each individual or $10 for a family, they ask that each person bring one food item. They hope to organize many more concerts and to play for some PHC events.

“So far the Franklin Park Big Band has worked out really well,” says Paist, “because it has made the community feel like they’re even more a part of the College.”