The acclaimed ensemble known as Gate City Brass has a very interesting tie to the east metro area.
The Atlanta-based quintet, which was founded nearly three years ago by trumpeter Wayne Bennett, has a harmonious working agreement with the Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal in Covington.
“We have a partnership with Church of the Good Shepherd on Clark Street in Covington,” said Bennett during a recent telephone interview. “It’s an arrangement a previous group of mine in North Carolina had made use of.
“And that arrangement is we agree to perform for them certain times of the year and in lieu of payment they let us use the space for rehearsal. So we don’t pay them and they don’t pay us, but we all enjoy the benefits of each other.”
Bennett, an Augusta native who played in the Georgia Redcoat Marching Band while studying at the University of Georgia, has been a professional musician for 20 years and spent much of that time in North Carolina, where he taught at Elon University and directed the Elon Brass Quintet, taught at Guilford College and was the music education coordinator for the Music Center at City Arts Greensboro.
He also performed as a soloist, chamber musician and freelance artist, performing with orchestras, chamber ensembles and brass quintets.
When Bennett returned to his home state a few years ago, he said one of the first things he wanted to do was start a new group.
“I was (in North Carolina) studying performance and got two graduate degrees in trumpet performance and a big part of my education was playing brass quintets,” he said. “I also played in a quintet when I was in school and had another group on the side, which is where my performance idiom has been.
“When we moved back to Georgia two and a half years ago, one of the first things I wanted to do when we got to town was put a group together. The nice thing about that is having lived here before was I had a lot of connections here.”
Bennett didn’t have to look far for collaborators, starting with longtime friend and trumpeter Chris Savage, who also attended UGA and played in the Redcoat Band and is the band director at Jasper County High School in nearby Monticello.
Trombonist Ray Buck, the band director at Jasper County Middle School, is another UGA alum, and tuba player Randall Brewer played with Bennett in North Carolina and is now the director of bands at Davidson Fine Arts School in Augusta.
Horn player Taylor Helms, a Griffin native who joined the group in January, has an extensive performance, composing and teaching background.
Gate City Brass (named in reference to Atlanta’s nickname during its days as one of the Southeast’s main railroad hubs) gathered earlier this year to record their first album, a Christmas-themed collection of songs titled “’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime,” which is set for release on Friday, Nov. 15.
Bennett said members of the group decided to record only holiday-tinged tunes (many of which were written by Bennett, Savage and Helms) based on the number of Christmas engagements they book each year.
“We’ve been doing concerts since the group has been around, and most of the year the concerts are a little bit sporadic,” he said. “We plan particular programs and had a fall program that was called ‘Music of the Americas,’ but the one that really attracts audiences is the Christmas program.
“We did it several times last year and all over the city and as far south as Griffin and as far east as Augusta. And we thought (Christmas music) is obviously what the fans enjoy, so let’s explore our own voice.”
Gate City Brass has a host of concerts scheduled in the metro Atlanta area between now and Christmas, culminating with a Christmas Eve Concert at St. James United Methodist Church in Atlanta.
While he spends much of his time teaching, writing and arranging, Bennett assents that he’s happiest when he’s performing.
“(The concert stage) is the best,” he said. “I think you could safely say we have all had portfolio careers and some of our members are band directors, but people like Taylor and myself are teaching a little, some at universities, some private, we’re playing gigs, we’re freelancing. I think I can speak for everyone when I say this is the best part of that portfolio. We have a blast.”
“‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” will be available on CD and all digital formats, including Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Bandcamp and You Tube. For more information, visit www.gatecitybrass.bandcamp.com/releases.