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PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT


Pearl River County Community Band is a
dream come true for founder

S TEXT BY LOUIS A. GALIANO


PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRANDI HEAD
Sometimes happiness takes a circuitous
route. So it is with Johnny Baker and the Pearl
River County Community Band. If you’ve never
heard it, you should, and in the process you
will become a believer that success comes with
commitment, passion and a devout conviction
that to be the best involves a dedication
toward perfection.
The band has only been in existence since
October 2008, but within two months it was
giving its first concert to an amazed audience
But the road to the Community Band was not
a direct one.
Baker at first studied for the ministry.
Realizing that such was not his calling, he
turned to music and was the band director at
Picayune Memorial High School from 1971 until
1978. But at that time he was made an offer he
could not refuse. His family had always been in
the jewelry business and he was presented with
a job by a major New York jewelry firm, Kasper
and Esh, as a distributor at a salary far in
of steadily growing aficionados who await the excess of his income as teacher. Still, his heart
next performance with increasing eagerness was directed toward music and the thought of
and steady devotion. one day directing a band.
The director of the band is Johnny Baker, a Following the distributorship, he opened his
former instructor in music at Picayune Memorial own jewelry shop in Picayune which he man-
High School who is remembered by his students aged for 10 years until realizing that the retail
as the best there was and who not only insisted business was not for him. A short stint in mag-
on flawlessness but inspired his pupils in that azine sales put the finishing touches on vend-
direction, as many testimonial letters from that ing, and in 2005 he retired from the commer-
period and after indicate. cial world, his hopes for a band unrealized.

12 a cc e n t s o u t h m i s s i s s i p p i
admonitions and praise, the group was told
what pieces they would be playing that night.
Sheet music was brought forth and the band was
called to order.
Suddenly the movement of his hands brought
forth the powerful profound haunting beauty of
a Bach chorale that filled the room. I wondered
about the pleasure one would receive from tak-
ing such a disparate collection of sounds and
personalities and producing such stunning and
abiding harmonies. But Johnny Baker was not
completely satisfied and the chorale was played
once more - deeply, more radiant. With each
playing, the piece appeared to attain a more
striking depth, until it satisfied Johnny’s ear.
Baker’s stint as band director left its impres-
“That was pretty good,” he said. The band
sion and when in 2008 he attended a football
knew a compliment when it heard one.
game at Picayune High School, a former student
At one point he had the band sing a passage.
suggested to him that the town should have a
He told me later that singing would impress the
community band and that Baker should be its
movement within their minds in a precise way
director. As other students began arriving at
which could not be attained otherwise. It
Baker’s home with the same suggestion and
became obvious that playing music was more
after a bit of arm-twisting he finally agreed. A
than merely reading the scale and reproducing
friend told him that he was lucky if he could
what was written there. There were specific
find 30 musicians. Within three days he had 67.
tones, beats and sounds that Johnny required.
My first exposure to the Community Band was
“Don’t soften the note,” he said. “Make it
a patriotic concert given in honor of 9/11 which
bounce.”
included an incredibly strong memorial piece
The following day, I interviewed Johnny Baker
complete with chorus. Upon leaving, I was con-
and we spoke generally about the high price of
vinced that this was no ordinary band, but
musical instruments, the intellectual nature of
rather a dedicated assembly which in all seri-
music, the dedication of the band, the possibili-
ousness had accomplished something special and
ty of taking the group on tour and his
had offered the community a gift which it could
unabashed affection for the musicians. What
look upon with pride.
interested me most, however, was the feeling of
I have always been interested in a behind-
satisfaction of a man, now 68 years old, who
the-scenes look at things and Johnny Baker was
had finally fulfilled his dreams.
kind enough to let me attend a rehearsal held
When I asked that question, he did not hesi-
at Picayune’s First United Methodist Church in
tate in his answer.
advance of the band’s upcoming Christmas con-
“I’ve come home,” he smiled. “I’ve finally
cert. I arrived early and watched as the musi-
come home.”
cians entered, greeted each other, assembled
their instruments, and assumed their seats. The CHRISTMAS CONCERT
ages seemed to range from grandparent status Picayune Main Street will sponsor “Community
to the very young, while the scene was accom- Christmas in the Park” featuring the Pearl River
panied by the dissonant sounds of flutes, tubas, County Community Band and Chorus at 6 p.m.
and trumpets running through some notes. After Dec. 14 in Jack Read Park in Picayune. For more
information, call (601) 700-3070.
what seemed to be the customary reminders,

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