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Steele Creek Community Band Continues Musical Tradition
By Beth Bargar

(November 17, 2004) Tradition lives on near Lake Wylie with different faces and both fresh and seasoned talent.

The Steele Creek Community Band has been reborn after an absence of nearly 75 years. The band means different things to its members, ranging from middle schoolers to middle-agers to a retired Marine colonel.

To the band’s volunteer director, Keith Paulus of Steele Creek, the band evokes memories of childhood music making and stories by his Uncle Harvey, who gave him his first band instrument. Paulus still plays the “peck horn.” Similar to a French horn but with a more varied range, the instrument was once played by his uncle in a community band in Pennsylvania.

Band director Keith Paulus signals the upbeat.

While the facts are uncertain, Paulus and other band members think his uncle’s Allentown Community Band may have been the oldest community band in the United States.

“They don’t make peck horns anymore,” Paulus said. “I saw one pictured in ‘The Music Man’ movie, but nowhere else.”

Paulus, along with the other 20 or so band members, “hope to start a legacy here,” he said, and maybe playing his uncle’s horn will help to build the new tradition.

With assistance from members such as euphonium player George Cumpston of Lake Wylie and the student and adult band members, the Steele Creek Community Band is well on its way to founding a new tradition in the region. Begun just last spring, the band has played several concerts and will perform at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14 at the Southern Christmas Show in Charlotte.

Cumpston plays the euphonium, or baritone horn, and many other instruments. Trained in college to teach music, Cumpston is a retired Marine

Corps colonel who flew for a career but always led a choir or band at his postings. “George is our professional,” Paulus said. “He is the one we call on for help” with arrangements or sight-reading of music.

  Drummers Kevin Cochran (seated left) and Christopher Paulus. Kevin’s mother, Debbie, plays keyboard in the band.

  Band director Keith Paulus plays his “peck horn,” a gift from his late Uncle Harvey.


Paulus has two sons in the band. Elder son Michael, 16, plays trombone, while Southwest Middle Schooler Christopher is a drummer. Another family connection is between bass clarinetist Jayme Zupko and her daughter, Bethany, on flute. Bethany also plays oboe at Olympic High School. In fact she comprises the oboe section, so rare are oboe players.

“It’s fun,” Bethany said of playing with her mother, who herself played as a schoolgirl. Her mom became so involved with the new band that she bought a new instrument, providing the clarinet’s deep, mellow woodwind tones to contrast with the crisp notes of trumpet and the rich contributions of trombone and other horns, keyboard and drums.

  Bethany Zupkow, left, on flute, and her mother, Jayme Zupkow, on bass clarinet.

Bobby Zike, a seventh grader at Southwest Middle School, and older brother Steven Zike of Olympic High School, are trumpeters. Steven says the community band helps him and other players with their performances in school groups and introduces them to new friends. “It makes us better,” he said, “and it’s fun.”

Director Paulus believes the community band is about just that – community. “People of different ages who like to play make up the band,” he said. “It’s not about top-level skills, although we have very good players. But anyone is welcome. We don’t hold auditions. If someone has an instrument and wants to play with us, we want them.”

Coming events include a 5:30 p.m. concert on Friday, Dec. 3 in a courtyard behind the Red Brixx Pizza at Ayrsley Center, on Tryon Street near Westinghouse Blvd. The band plans a “pops” program and other events in the spring and summer and welcomes invitations from area organizations to play.

“In the old days, the first Steele Creek Band played for the community, and that’s what we want to do,” Paulus said.

He refers to the original Steel Creek Community Band (so-named before the final –e was added to steel), founded in 1883. That band wore colorful uniforms and played Sousa marches and patriotic music.

Founder Robert Collins Freeman, an organizer of the original band and its director for 42 years, was quoted in the Sept. 4, 1938 Charlotte Observer. “… I was instructed to order 17 instruments … and not one of us knew how to play them,” he said. “No affair of consequence took place … that we did not furnish music,” he recalled. No members “were ever known to be in trouble or arrested for a violation of the law,” he added. The last public performance of the original band was at a Wadesboro courthouse dedication in 1925.
Nearly 75 years later, the Steele Creek Community Band, with its cadre of musicians ranging from junior high students to seasoned players, continues the original group’s endeavor “to exert a wholesome influence at all times.”

For more information about the original Steel Creek Band, see the story on the Steele Creek Historical and Genealogical Society web site.

This holiday season the band, attired in polo shirt uniforms, plans a play list of holiday favorites. At the suggestion of Col. Cumpston, the “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” number will include a vocal addition. Secular and sacred songs relating to Christmas and Chanukah will round out seasonal concerts.

The band’s strongest number, however, remains their throat-tightening rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Paulus said patriotic tunes are much requested by audience members. “We plan to be the voice of patriotism in Steele Creek,” he said. “As a community band, we want to provide what is important to our community.”

That includes playing music, but also offering instrumental instruction, support for school band booster organizations, and the opportunity for people to get involved. “Instrumental music fills an interesting void,” he said. “Some of us haven’t played since we were kids. Some are accomplished in their school bands now. We invite people of any level of skill to join us. We’re all learning together.”

To become involved, contact Keith Paulus at 704.408.1118 or visit www.steelecreekband.com. The band can use new members, used instruments from residents’ attics, and audience support. As membership has grown, Sunday afternoon rehearsals have been held in the historic one-room schoolhouse the Steele Creek Athletic Association uses as a community center.

(Originally published in the Lake Wylie Pilot November 9, 2004. Reprinted here with the permission of the author. Photographs by Beth Barger.)

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