- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

STAUNTON, Va. (AP) - Bob Moody was in fifth grade when band came into the public school system in Staunton.

That was 1951, and Moody was 10, when he picked up a woodwind instrument.

Moody has a history of music that runs through his veins, going back to the Civil War and one of America’s oldest playing ensembles - The Stonewall Brigade Band, which is celebrating 160 years. One of Moody’s ancestors, Edwin Cushing, was an original member and president of the band, back in 1855.

As a former Buffalo Gap band teacher, Moody has been the director of the Stonewall Brigade since 1975, the longest running tenure in the band’s history.

Moody is also the first Staunton native in the band, the first student of a former director to become director of the band and the first director to have a son write music for the band.

The band’s history stems from David Drake, who formed what was called the Mountain Saxhorn Band, before it became the Stonewall Brigade.

The band flourished in the Valley, but then Civil War broke out and the members enlisted. In 1861, most of the band members were mustered into General Thomas J. Jackson’s First Brigade, Army of the Shenandoah, thus giving it the name the band has today.

Since Moody took over, a small band of 30 has grown to more than 90 members, all volunteer, from 13- to 84-year-olds.

“In the early days of the band, it was for life,” Moody said. “If you wanted to be in the band, you had to wait for someone to die.”

“My philosophy on trying to build it up is to have enough depth in case someone takes a vacation and there isn’t a big hole,” Moody added.

The band specializes in sight reading. They have rehearsals for their summer concert series and perform for various events from January until May. The 12 summer concerts only allow for few to no rehearsals in between.

Some members of the band have only been playing for three years, either after taking a hiatus from music or just starting out, Moody said.

“We play what we can play, and we play what the audience likes,” he said. “There are some pieces it doesn’t matter with what band, you can screw up. We don’t play anything we can’t sight read.”

For their season, the band learns more than 150 pieces.

“When I took over 40 years ago, I changed it over,” Moody said. “It’s a variety program.”

Mixing marches, patriotic songs, major works, Americana, jazz or music from Broadway makes the audience happy, he said.

It’s definitely a family, Moody said. Even his two sons were in it, and one of whom met his wife in the band.

“It’s one of the few musical groups I’ve been in that you’re not intimidated by the person you sit beside,” said Donald Dollins bass clarinet player.

Dollins had been in the Waynesboro High School band and joined the Stonewall Brigade in 1997, before taking a break and returning a few years ago.

“In high school it was all my peers. Here, it’s just fascinating to learn from the experience others have had … it’s musical respect,” he said. “I think the neatest thing about the band is you can have a student from middle school sitting next to someone who’s retired from a Marine band, like that’s top notch. It really just ties everybody together.”

“For me, it’s important for the community to hear about (the history), most people don’t know the history of the band,” Dollins said.

According to the band’s history, in 1875 the band was formally recognized as the Stonewall Brigade Band and included ten Civil War veterans and eight of the original founders of the band.

By the late 19th century, the band started to be known nationally, and it has marched in six presidential inaugural parades.

The Stonewall Brigade Band is the nation’s oldest continuous community band sponsored by local government and funded, in part, by tax dollars.

The Federal Music Project in Staunton under the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s employed a dozen bandsmen and is credited with helping the band survive the depression, Moody said.

The band’s history is on display at the R.R. Smith Center in Staunton, featuring a Revolutionary War-era bugle and nearly half of the original collection of the band’s Civil War-era instruments.

The exhibit runs through Aug. 22 at the Smith Center.

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Information from: The News Leader, https://www.newsleader.com

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