High standards: Simmons coaxes Band's best
In 1945, a promising young musician named Jim Simmons was invited to practice with the Charlottesville Municipal Band. As he packed up to leave rehearsal in the Armory on Market St. (now police headquarters), band president Dallas Bailey approached with a few words of praise and advice.
"Jim, you're a fine clarinet player," Simmons remembers Bailey saying, "but you'll have to wait until you've come of age to join the band."
Eleven years later, Simmons took Bailey up on his offer, and since 1956, he has moved from "fine clarinet player" to band director in 1980.
Simmons' love of music began early. Even as a 12-year-old clarinetist at the old McGuffey School, he knew he would pursue a career in music. After graduation from Lane High School, he went on to receive a BS in Musical Education from Concord College in Athens, W.V. and a Masters in Musical Education from UVA.
Simmons, now 76, discovered a love for opera music – still his favorite to listen to and direct – at about the same time he made his precocious career choice.
"I remember spending hours by the radio as a child listening to Milton Cross narrate Metropolitan Opera broadcasts," he says, "and I still love it when I have time on a Saturday afternoon."
Although it may have been the first, opera is not Simmons' only love. He's also partial to directing John Phillip Sousa marches– he calls them "little jewels."
Folks strolling down the Downtown Mall on balmy summer evenings may have heard some of those "little jewels"– and lots of other popular tunes – at one of the Band's free public concerts.
Simmons' favorite events, however, are the Band's annual Christmas and spring shows. "These more formal concerts give the Band a chance to concentrate on a different type of literature," he says. That formality is reflected in the wide range of selections, including classical, Broadway and opera favorites.
Simmons' responsibilities as director run the gamut as well. While the task of navigating a 72-member band through a stylistically diverse repertoire might seem like Simmons' most difficult directorial duty, he says the biggest challenge is actually "keeping track of everything associated with the Band"– things such as the upkeep of an extensive music library, numerous instruments, and attending meetings with the Board of Directors.
His resume proves he's up to tackling these tasks and more. Before his retirement in 1984, day jobs as director of the Albemarle High School Band (1956-71) and fine arts coordinator for the County prepared him for the challenge.
One of Simmons' students at AHS, band member Charles S. Terry – now treasurer of the Band's Board of Directors – says his old director hasn't changed since high school days. "He makes us work hard," Terry says, "but it pays off."
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO