Helen Emerson has passed the baton to a younger generation.
For more than 26 years, Emerson has directed the Havelock Community Band. But now she has decided to step aside, handing direction over to Mitchell Martin.
Emerson’s affiliation with the band started quite by chance in 1987, when she was asked to stand in for the newly formed band’s director, John Tyson, who was ill.
“At the time, I had the community chorus. I went over to the band room to see if we could do something for the Fourth of July 1987 with the band,” Emerson said. “Well, John Tyson was ill, and they said, ‘Could you at least keep time for us’ and I said ‘Well, yeah, I can keep time,’ so I stood there and kept time and they said he should be here next week. So, I came the second week and he still wasn’t there. It turned out that a few weeks after that he passed.”
Emerson volunteered to continue leading the group, which started with a Fourth of July performance in 1987.
“There were only seven or eight of us, but that’s OK. We played and we had a good time,” Emerson said. “Tom Kelly said to me ‘It looks like you’ve got a job.’ And I said ‘No Tom. I’m a volunteer’ and he said ‘OK, we’ll look for somebody.’ So 26 1/2 years later, I said ‘I guess he’s not going to find anybody.’”
Emerson said she had no particular training to originally fill the position.
“I started playing the piano when I was 10 years old. At 16, I was playing around in the churches in Queens, New York, and that’s it,” Emerson said. “Everything was OJT — on the job training. That’s what I did.”
Because of the nature of the transient community of Havelock, the number of participants in the band fluctuates.
“At one point we had about 16, but you’ve got to realize in this area, they come and they go and it’s difficult,” she said. “A lot of our players are older people who are retired and when they go it’s because God wanted them. We’ve lost some and we’ve gathered some and we’ve lost some and we’ve gathered some.”
One of the original members is still in the band, that being Lee K. Allen.
Emerson said the band has played in Swansboro and makes appearances in the Pine Knoll Shores and Havelock Christmas parades, along with playing at Memorial Day ceremonies in New Bern and Beaufort. The band has also played at the Havelock Chili Festival.
And of course they still play at Havelock’s Freedom Festival on the Fourth of July.
“We have gone around and done everything, and if someone asks for us, we get no pay,” she said. “We are representing the city of Havelock all around. When we go places, people know we’re from Havelock and they appreciate us. We’re not paid performers. We’re just people who like to play and don’t think that they’re good enough to play in the big bands around. A community band is just that, a community band and we help other people in the community.
“The members come and go, but this last bunch has been with us better than nine or 10 years. We’re down to seven people, but that’s OK. They come and they play and we make good music, I think.”
She said the band, which practices at 7 p.m. Tuesdays at the Havelock Senior Center, would be in good hands with Martin as the new director.
“He’s a retired Marine band person and I’m sure that he will do good things for the band,” she said. “This young fellow has been to all kinds of music schools and he knows a whole lot of everything, and I’m sure he can take the band upward and onward. We’ve got things to do and places to go, and I just hope that he’ll keep on going and I’m sure he will.”
Emerson was recognized for her dedication to the band at a recent meeting of the Havelock Board of Commissioners.
Despite leaving her position as director of the community band, Emerson said she would remain active with activities in the Havelock Cultural Arts Committee.
“We still have the art show in February and music in the park in August and all sorts of stuff,” she said. “So you didn’t get rid of me all together.”