HARRISONBURG — Claire Leeper played her flute three hours a day in college, but when she became a high school band director, she suddenly didn’t have an avenue to perform.
Leeper decided it was time to start her own band.
She founded the Valley Wind Ensemble in 2015 for local band directors and professional musicians to have a group to play with when they’re not teaching students. Leeper is the director of the Harrisonburg High School band.
“When we have the chance once a week to come together and meet with our colleagues and play great music, it’s just so fulfilling and really important and validating to what we do every day in the classroom,” Leeper said.
The ensemble has grown from 46 members in the beginning to 67. Members travel from as far as Alleghany County, Charlottesville and Shenandoah County to play in the ensemble.
The Valley Wind Ensemble typically performs two to three concerts each year at different high schools in the area. Past performances have been held at Broadway, Turner Ashby and Robert E. Lee high schools, as well as Bridgewater College.
The ensemble will perform at Spotswood High School on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. The concert is free. The ensemble will collect nonperishable food donations for Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
The performers hope their music inspires their students.
“The goal is really to provide musical experiences for our students and to make sure they understand that we want them to participate in a lifelong activity,” Leeper said. “This is not just something they’re doing sixth through 12th grade. This is something that is a vessel for a passion that they can express themselves for the rest of their lives.”
Under conductor Stephen Bolstad, the director of bands and professor of wind conducting at James Madison University, the ensemble will perform standard wind band literature. Leeper said the group mixes traditional and new.
Luke Sackett, the band director at Wilson Middle School in Fishersville and tenor trombonist in the Valley Wind Ensemble, said the ensemble is a chance to learn new skills.
“Whatever I learn in that ensemble, I’m going to take back to my classroom and teach better,” Sackett said.
The concert will open with “Fantasia in G Major” by composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
“It’s a really robust experience,” Leeper said. “It’s really fast and really upbeat to get the whole audience excited.”
The Valley Wind Ensemble will also perform “English Folk Songs Suite” by Ralph Vaughan Williams and “American Civil War Fantasy” by Jerry Bilik.
“Those are traditional songs that you would hear in a Sousa band,” she said. “We’re also doing a new piece called ‘Firefly’ by Ryan George, and it’s basically taking the audience through the journey of a firefly trying to be caught and released and then dancing with other fireflies.”
Sackett is looking forward to his solo in “Salva” by Leonard Bernstein.
“It’s very circus-y and cartoon-y,” he said. “It’s got some interesting sounds and colors.”
For some students, Leeper said it might be their first time seeing a professional ensemble perform.
“Seeing that different level of artistry is really important for them and just knowing that they can continue to get better on their instruments,” she said, “but I think it’s the most impactful to look up on a stage and see the people that are instructing them every day still have a passion for it.”