Making beautiful music
● By J. Chambless
Landenberg residents Ken Tonge, Ken Sharp, and Barbara Hoffman are in the String Theory Band.
Collectively, the eight men and women who make beautiful music together in a local group called The String Theory Band have more than 375 years of experience as musicians.
At least that’s the estimate that Barbara Hoffman can come up with when she’s asked on the spot. Hoffman is one of three members of the group who live in Landenberg. The actual number of years that the String Theory Band members have been making music might be a little more or a little less than 375 years. The actual number isn't important. What does matter is that these accomplished people are sharing their love of music with each other―and with audiences throughout the area.
The String Theory Band started to come together more than seven years ago when a few people with connections to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Delaware decided to get together to celebrate their love of music by playing for others. Most of the members were teaching music at that time, sharing their knowledge about something they love with others.
One thing to know about the String Theory Band is that there is no way to label this diverse group of people, or the music that they play. The members have diverse professional backgrounds―they are teachers and librarians and professional musicians. There are even three scientists in the group.
It was Ken Sharp, another member of the band who lives in Landenberg, who came up with the idea of naming the group of musicians the String Theory Band. It just made sense with three scientists―Sharp, Barbara Wood, and Don vonSchriltz―on board.
The music that they play when they get together is as varied and interesting as the individuals themselves, which is probably why the group has continued and evolved through the years, even though they all maintain busy schedules.
“Even early on, we were very diverse,” explained Sharp.
The group plays what can loosely be described as world music on a variety of folk instruments, which include the dulcimer, accordion, string bass, guitar, two violins, percussion, and horns, among others.
“I call us a classy band,” explained Hoffman. “We play a lot of classical music. We’re not going to be loud. We often play acoustically.”
The String Theory Band plays local gigs at the Kennett Area Senior Center, the Cokesbury Village, Kendal at Longwood, the University of Delaware, the Wilmington Music School, the Hardcastle Art Gallery, the Southern Vermont Art Gallery, the DVFA Art Association, among other places.
Each show is unique, depending on what the band members want to showcase on a particular day. All the members are musicians' musicians―they love to make music and have a wealth of knowledge and experience to help them in the endevour.
“Most of our members,” explained Hoffman, “also play in another band.”
The most recent person to join the group is Ken Tonge, who is a vocalist. He may have the most professional musical experience among the members of the group. He said that his first paying job as a musician was when he was in sixth grade.
Hearing this, Sharp quipped, “I was playing in the sixth grade, too, but nobody paid me. They might have paid me not to play.”
Tonge plays guitar, the saxophone, the clarinet, and the reeds, too. He taught instruments for about five years, and then went to work repairing instruments before transitioning into a career as an IT manager for a major bank. When he joined the band, he brought great versatility with him.
“I have a closet full of instruments,” Tonge said with a grin.
The addition of a new member always adds to the fun that this band has.
“Every time we add someone new, we add new music to our repertoire,” Hoffman explained, noting that the band members have knowledge about many different styles of music.
Sharp, for example, has taught world music, while vonSchriltz taught flute, recorder, and concertina. Rick Wellons is a violinist and teacher of strings. He has a classical background.
Cindy Chadderdon has a blue grass background. She is a violinist. Sid Datskow is the percussionist. Kathy Owen sits in with the band for specialized performances.
Put them all together in the same band and amazing creativity is generated.
“Our repertoire,” explained Hoffman, “is unique and varied, and includes Irish, Swahili, German, Klezmer, Spanish Swedish, Faroese, Russian, Cherokee, Jazz, and others. We practice every Monday evening in the theatre at Cokesbury Village. Individual band members bring music suggestions to work on. The band members then decide which pieces to add to our gig book.”
The new projects the band is currently working on include an original song by Hoffman and Sharp called “The Jig is Up” and two originals by Hoffman called “I Remember You” and “When the Music Comes Down.” The words, melodies, and chords are by Hoffman. Collectively, the band comes up with harmonies and arrangements. Tonge is currently working on the harmonies for “I Remember You,” a song that is intended to raise money for Alzheimer's Research.
Hoffman noted that another major project that the band has undertaken, which is being researched by concertina player vonSchriltz, involves finding a state waltz for every state in the union.
“We haven't a clue yet how we will use them,” Hoffman said, “but in the meantime we have discovered and played some really lovely waltzes.”
The musicians have a lot of fun working with each other. Hoffman said that she’s been trying for years to get the band to include “Danny Boy” in the repertoire for St. Patrick’s Day. She didn’t have any luck convincing the other members until she included a piece of “Danny Boy” in “The Jig is Up,” which is about how the band members try to sneak in their favorite pieces disguised as an Irish jig.
They all have their favorite memories of performances. For Hoffman, one show at Cokesbury Village stands out because rains forced the show inside. This group doesn’t have any trouble adjusting on the fly, and they were just fine playing inside. As they performed, a rainbow appeared in the sky, perfectly aligned over the band.
“I figured God had a hand in that, saying bless this band,” Hoffman said with a chuckle.
Sharp’s favorite show was one about three years ago when the group performed and his mother was in attendance. The band is always able to plan the programs to suit the circumstances and different occasions.
Any fees that the band charges go into a band fund that is used to purchase sound equipment, band equipment, and pays for a sound person at events.
“We also donate our services for our favorite charity fund raisers and a yearly St. Patrick’s Day concert for the University of Delaware as our way of giving back,” Hoffman explained.
The band likes being together, and that’s especially true when they are on a stage entertaining people. It’s not always easy to get such a large, talented, eclectic group of people together. But whenever one member isn’t able to make it to a gig, there are other people who want to perform with these musicians.
“We have musical buddies who can fill in,” Sharp said.
The band will be performing at Kendal at Longwood at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27. The concert is open to the public.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email firstname.lastname@example.org.