Walla Walla Valley Bands keeps toes tapping year-round.

Jesus Vasquez, assistant Walla Walla Valley Bands director, conducts during a recent rehearsal while band while director Ron McHenry does turn on percussion.

Jesus Vasquez, assistant Walla Walla Valley Bands director, conducts during a recent rehearsal while band while director Ron McHenry does turn on percussion. Photo by Donna Lasater.



Walla Walla Valley Bands Director Ron McHenry conducts a recent rehearsal for the upcoming Spooktacular community concert.


Walla Walla Valley Bands Director Ron McHenry.

It doesn't have 76 trombones -- at least not yet -- but Walla Walla Valley Bands is hitting high notes in membership as more and more musicians join the volunteer local mainstay.

"We've just had a growth spurt; we have about 90 members," said Ron McHenry, now in his 11th year as director and the only paid member. And about 50 percent of that growth has come over the past three years -- although a few more oboe and bassoon players would be nice.

An orchestra without strings, the percussionists, brass and woodwind players can be counted on to set the tone for the season -- be it Halloween, the Christmas season or the Fourth of July.

Take, for example, the band's upcoming annual Spooktacular concert Oct. 28 at 3 p.m. at Walla Walla Community College's Performing Arts Auditorium. The musicians will be in costume and the music selected is considerably spooky: "Music For A Darkened Theater," "Dancing at Stonehenge," "Procession of the Sorcerers" and "Nevermore."

Walla Walla Valley Bands, originally known as the Walla Walla Community Band, was founded in 1989 by a small group of people who love music and wanted to put a band together. It became a nonprofit entity in 2006.

The website wwvalleybands.org describes the program as a hybrid community band, incorporating community college students playing music alongside more experienced musicians. It's comprised of a full concert band, two jazz bands and several chamber ensembles, including a sax quartet.

The organization does have a mission statement. "Well, it's very long," said McHenry.

The condensed version is "to give individuals an opportunity to play, to give the community the highest quality music. We have the reputation for having extremely enjoyable concerts."

The focus remains true to the bands' origins, a love of playing music and having fun.

"We have a template that works," McHenry said. "We're very accessible."

This band's growth has come from musicians coming to rehearsals and having fun and a desire to give something of themselves to the community.

"I bug them to share that joy with others so that we can grow our membership and have our mission impact even more people each year," McHenry said.

"Musicians typically find us by attending a concert, being invited by another member or simply hearing about us," he said. "We don't audition and are always very welcoming of new people. We want every musician in our community to have access to being able to share in the joy of making music for their neighbors."

And to maintain cohesiveness, he added, "It's been important to us to maintain our familial bonds that developed when we were smaller, so we try to schedule regular social events for people to get to know one another."

"It's an interesting mix," said Linda Howell, clarinet player and one of the original members.

For each concert there are about 70-80 performers.

"We also play for the Christmas parade," she said. "Little groups of us play Christmas music; we walk around like the Salvation Army. We've played when the Art Train came to town, for Whitman games and as a pep band for some Walla Walla Sweets games. We do a lot of community outreach."

The musicians range in ages from students on up. It becomes a great learning experience.

"We started out at the high school but now we're at CC. Now they offer it for credit," said Howell. "At any one time we may have 70 show up. Everybody has a good time."

The musicians constantly challenge themselves by learning new pieces of music.

"The concert band alone performs an average of 40 different pieces each year, so it's always a fun challenge to keep it fresh and exciting for both our members and our audiences," McHenry said.

Their winter performance, "In the Holiday Mood," is more of a mood concert rather than just Christmas music.

"People get so burned out on Christmas music," he said. "There will be some Christmas songs (and) some very jubilant and some wintery music."

McHenry selects the music for performances, weighing seasonal themes and including a mix of classic and contemporary to reach a broad audience.

Development of band members and working to increase the level of difficulty and challenges they perform also is in his thinking.

"We've actually performed many of my bucket list pieces over the last couple of years, but there are always new great composers popping up with amazing works for the band," he said.

His deep bucket ranges from pieces such as Joseph Wilcox Jenkins' "American Overture for Band" to "Variations on a Korean Folk Song" by John Barnes Chance.

"They represent some of the best classical and contemporary pieces of literature for symphonic bands in history and some of the most difficult to perform," he said. "When we reached the point where we could successfully perform them, I knew we had evolved quite a bit and I delighted in sharing my passion for the selections with our band members and audiences."

Oct. 28, 3 p.m.

Concert Spooktacular

WWCC Performing Arts auditorium

Dec. 1

Day of Caroling

Small ensembles perform at several venues.

  • 12:30-2:15 p.m., Downtown streets and Land Title Plaza
  • 2:30-3:15 p.m., Wheatland Village
  • 3:30-4:15 p.m., Kirkman House Museum
  • 5:30 p.m., Land Title Plaza, Macy's Parade of Lights

Dec. 9, 3 p.m.

In the Holiday Mood

WWCC Performing Arts Auditorium

March 24, 3 p.m.

Sports & Ports

WWCC Performing Arts Auditorium

April 25, 7:30 p.m.

A Swingin' Groovy Time: Jazz @The PAC

WWCC Performing Arts Auditorium

June 30, 3 p.m.

Wine Country Concert Band Festival

With the Yakima Community Band

Pioneer Park


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