Mark Wick started his journey into music with piano lessons and then, at the age of 8 or 9, with the trumpet. But like a multitude of school-aged musicians, he put away his instruments after graduation.
As fellow Sequim City Band members warm up prior to a rehearsal at the newly-constructed rehearsal hall at the James Center for Performing Arts, Wick says it was more than four decades away from playing with groups.
“There was life,” Wick says, “and then a chance to get back into music.”
In September, the Sequim City Band was selected one of the the honorees of the 2023 Governor’s Arts & Heritage Awards, a group whose work spans fields such as glasswork, music education, community murals and more. Established in 1966, the Governor’s Arts & Heritage Awards are the highest honor bestowed by the Governor’s office for accomplishments in arts and culture.
The band’s honor came in the Organization Award division for performing up to 10 free concerts each year, promoting musical opportunities to students and senior citizens alike and enriching the lives of attendees since its inception in 1992.
“The Band attracts members ranging from high-school aged members to octogenarians and demonstrates exceptional commitment to and engagement with their local community,” the Governor’s office noted.
The band earned high praise in nomination letters from Jonathan Pasternack, artistic director with the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra, and Beth Pratt, director for the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce and a founding member and former board president for the Sequim Community Orchestra.
On Nov. 15, band representatives will accept the award at a special presentation at the Governor’s residence in Olympia.
“It was a pleasant surprise for me,” Sequim City Band director Tyler Benedict says. “It’s spectacular; it’s quite an honor.
“We put a lot of work in the community [and] it’s nice to be acknowledged.”
Much of that acknowledgement, band members note, should start right at the top.
“He’s amazing,” Wick says of Benedict. “He’s been building up the quality of what we do; it’s quite a balancing act.”
Despite many members like himself spending years away from a band room, Benedict manages to make it work for the longtime musicians, newbies and “returning” musicians.
“I don’t want to pick something too hard; there’s a happy medium, something welcoming to all levels,” he says.
Benedict is the kind of director, says saxophone player Debbie Soderstrom, that doesn’t ask musicians to do more than they can do, and yet finds a way to stretch and increase their skills.
“We play things we never thought we could play,” Soderstrom said.
And that word — play — is an apt one for band members such as Carla and Dan Powell, longtime Olympic Peninsula residents who began trekking from Port Townsend to Sequim to perform in the community band with their daughter (and fellow Sequim City Band musician) Maria.
“Having people playing around you is fun,” Carla says. “We’re all a bunch of band kids again.”
Formed to ‘perform, promote, preserve’
An all-volunteer community concert band, the Sequim City Band — no formal connection with the City of Sequim — was formed in 1992 “To Perform, Promote, and Preserve Concert Band Music” with 14 musicians.
Since then, the band has had just three directors: Chuck Swisher (1992-2008), Sanford Feibus (2008-2012) and, since 2013, Benedict.
A Port Angeles High School graduate who studied under Doug Gailey, Benedict earned a bachelor’s degree in music and music education from the University of Washington, and a master’s degree in conducting from Southern Oregon University.
He initially played tuba with the Sequim City Band for two seasons and served as the assistant music director before taking the baton in 2013.
“You could not ask for a better director,” Herrick says.
Thirty-one years since its start, the band boasts of about 80 active musicians, with 65-70 on stage for any given concert. Members hail from Sequim, Carlsborg, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Marrowstone Island, Port Hadlock, Port Ludlow, Quilcene, Forks and Bremerton.
A registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, the band operates only on donations from the community and its members, and spends money each year to provide scholarships for high school students who perform with the band and are pursuing a post-high school degree. They also make occasional donations to school programs, gifting instruments for student use.
The band hosts two concert seasons: The “Concerts at The James,” performed outdoors at The James Center for the Performing Arts just north of Carrie Blake Community Park monthly, from May through September, and the “Indoor Concert” series, held at the Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center or in the Donna M. Moore Theater at the Field Arts & Events Hall in Port Angeles.
Among the “Concert at The James” series is its popular “Patriotic 4th of July Concert” that kicks of the City of Sequim’s afternoon and evening festivities.
The band also hosts soloists, small ensembles, and other concert bands and orchestras, and performs for events such as the Hometown Holidays event that welcomes Santa to downtown Sequim each year.
Soderstrom, now in her ninth year with the Sequim City Band, helped form a quartet of saxophone players (The Saxologists) that in recent years has entertained the community and in-house residents as venues such as Camaraderie Cellars, Sherwood Lodge and The Lodge at Fifth Avenue.
“The friendships are precious,” she says.
New rehearsal space
Soderstrom also got involved with the band’s board, serving for six years as board president until this past September.
For three years, she recalls, she’d hear Benedict harp on the fact that the band was struggling in the (now former) rehearsal space tucked in behind the James Center’s bandshell.
Expansion of the rehearsal space was amplified in early 2020, when COVID restrictions forced band members to abandon thoughts of trying to play in its current space.
As Soderstrom applied for a grant, fundraising began in earnest, and in three years a combination of state grants, band member donations and community support raised $1.4 million to construct a rehearsal hall expansion that opened in April of this year — a complimentary piece to the James Center for Performing Arts structure the band planned and built in 2005.
“It was a push for three years … but we did it,” Soderstrom says.
Benedict, for one, says the push was worth it.
“It’s wonderful; it sounds so much better,” he says.
Soderstrom recalls the first evening the new rehearsal space opened. She stood at the back of the room and took it all in. A woman came up to her and hugged and cried.
“I’m so thrilled for the band [to have this],” Soderstrom says — not just for the make-up and health of the band but for all the work put in along the way over the past three decades.
“Everyone contributed to that,” she says.
A band for all
A few minutes before joining fellow band members in preparing for “Haunted Harmonies,” the band’s first indoor concert of the 2023-24 indoor series, Carla and Dan Powell reflect on getting their start with the Sequim group.
The couple was looking to support their daughter Maria — now a college student pursuing a jazz performance degree at the University of North Texas — after realizing she needed additional experience outside of the traditional education offered in Chimacum, particularly when the district’s music program was cut to bare bones during the COVID pandemic.
“Maria had already been enrolled in private lessons for many years, but we wanted her to experience a large group with good direction,” says Dan, a former music educator. So he and Carla, both Port Angeles High grads, picked up their horns and joined the Port Townsend Summer Band, as well as the Sequim City Band — with some encouragement from their daughter.
Carla found herself playing saxophone again next to Maria while Dan was not far away in the trombone section.
“She sits right next to me … telling me everything I’m doing wrong,” Carla jokes.
While the Powells have been with the band about a year-and-a-half, Susie Herrick is a Sequim City Band veteran of about 22 years.
Herrick plays the flute exclusively except once a year, when she plays the piccolo for the band’s Patriotic Fourth of July Concert.
She says she started with music in the fifth grade but didn’t play after high school until 2002, when she moved to Sequim.
“Quite a few people have the same story; they take years off,” she says.
In a group loaded with professionals and/or former music educators, Herrick found herself able to get up to speed with others after taking lessons from fellow Sequim City Band member Signe Crawford.
She later became the uniform coordinator, served on the band’s board of directors, served as the band’s liaison to the City of Sequim, and was overseer to engrave the memorial bricks that grace the cobblestone area in front of the James Center for the Performing Arts outdoor stage.
The band, Benedict says, seems to be a draw for all sorts of experience and ages. He noted, just prior to a late October rehearsal, that the band had added three retired music teachers in the past month.
“It’s a good outlet for folks,” he says.
Despite a 47-year absence from the music scene, Wick says he was able to recall plenty when he joined with the Marysville City Band and other groups near Everett a few years ago.
“I was surprised I could recognize the notes,” he says.
A Port Townsend resident for a spell and now living in Port Angeles, Wick joined Sequim City Band immediately after moving to the North Olympic Peninsula in August 2019.
“A major factor in my decision to move to the area was availability of music ensembles in which I could participate,” he says.
“I sometimes project down the road: What will I regret more? That I tried it and it didn’t work, or that I never gave it a chance?”
View the 2023 Governor’s Arts & Heritage Awards presentation via livestream at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at tinyurl.com/SEQgovawards.
Governor’s Arts & Heritage Awards, online
The 2023 Governor’s Arts & Heritage Awards will be streamed online through TVW. To watch the awards, tune in to the streaming page (tinyurl.com/SEQgovawards) at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 15.