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Christmas Eve… and ‘all that brass’

An editor’s note to this article: As I was looking up the history of the Christmas Eve caroling in the park, I came upon an article I wrote in November, 2003, about the original British Brass Band. It was my first Christmas in Bainbridge and my first as a writer with the Post Searchlight, as well as my first time to play with the band. I thought it would be fun to reprint portions of it; but with some updates.

When Ed Mobley retired as the director, it was taken over by Paschal Ward, who was at that time the BHS band teacher. The name and composition of the band changed to the Bainbridge Community Band. The tradition of playing Christmas Eve in Willis Park has continued each year and will happen again this year, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it will be held at the Boat Basin to allow for keeping a distance. The band will be under the leadership of Will Parker, band director at Bainbridge Middle School, and assistant director at BHS. Caroling begins at 6 p.m. As always, the event is sponsored by The Post Searchlight, as it has been since Mobley first approached the late Sam Griffin for support in the early years.

As traditional as Christmas trees, eggnog and Santa Claus, the Bainbridge British Brass Band playing for a community carol sing on Christmas Eve in Willis Park is a must in Bainbridge.

Since 1986 the BBBB has been playing carols in the park on Christmas Eve. Even before the band became organized, a few volunteers gathered there to play and add some Yuletide cheer. The crowds have continued to grow over the years as it has become a tradition for many families to go downtown and sing before going to church or to a family gathering.

Beginning in October of this year, new and old volunteer band members dusted off their horns, tightened up their lips and gathered upstairs in the old Firehouse for practices. While other organizations held meetings in the downstairs of the building they were treated to the strains of Jingle Bells and Silent Night.

Over the years there have been many fine articles written about the BBBB and their performances at Christmas, as well as other events. The public is well acquainted with the history of the group’s beginnings. What seems important is that the band continues to play on through the years, even though personnel may change. Dr. Ed Mobley, organizer and director of the band, has committed the group to play for the Riverside Artsfest in March. His vision is to pattern the performance after the baroque tower sonatas of the early 1700’s, by having the sounds of brass resound from the veranda of the Bon Air.

There are two new faces in the group this year. Jonathan Kelly, a senior at BHS, is playing the tuba. Kelly teaches seventh-grade band at Hutto Middle School as part of an internship program and preparatory to his attending college next year. He has been accepted at Troy State University, where he plans to pursue a degree in music education.

This writer is also a new member. As a long-time sometimes trombone player, I confess that the existence of the brass band was one of the factors that influenced our family’s decision to move here.
Four of “the originals,” Joe Livingston, Avery White, Paul Risto and Frank Flowers are still with the group. They recently reflected on Christmases past and their experiences playing in the park.

White, originally a trombone player, remembers the days he was a pilot for Eastern Airlines., Often on Christmas Eve he would fly late into Tallahassee, speed up the road to Bainbridge and end up climbing over the railing of the gazebo mid-concert, horn in hand. White was a music education major at FSU and served seven years in the Navy before he became an airline pilot.

Another music major, Risto, plays first trumpet. He began playing in high school and continued while on vacations from attending Valdosta State and Georgia Southwestern Colleges.

Flowers says he was “before the beginning,” playing with the pickup group as a high school student before the BBB was organized. He went off to college, where he played in the Red Coat Band all four years. When he returned to Bainbridge as an optometrist, the official band had been organized. Ed Mobley showed up at this door with a horn, and he’s been playing ever since.

Livingston, another former Red Coat Band member says he and his wife both played in the band originally, before she started having a family. He remembers one particular night when it was about 8 degrees and so cold the band only played about 15 minutes, then went in search of some hot chocolate. The crowd was slim that year, but people still showed up. It is expected, Livingston says that is when you see everybody you haven’t seen for awhile. He recently ran into an old friend from out of town who told him he only sees Livingston’s father once a year. . . . on Christmas Eve at the concert.