It’s more than opinion: The Sand Hills String Band stands a cut above other local ensembles for a number of reasons.
For one, they have the distinction of being led by Carl Purdy.
A master musician and instructor of viola, violin, chamber music and humanities at Georgia Regents University, Purdy served as principal viola for the Augusta Symphony for more than 20 years. His musical track record includes recording and touring internationally on the viola, jazz violin, and recorder. Most recently, he took up the bagpipes, and he’s quickly established himself as one of the CSRA’s best players.
But Purdy isn’t the only ace the Sand Hills String Band has up its sleeve.
Drs. Debra van Tuyll and Hubert van Tuyll, professors of communications and history, respectively, are also SHSB members. Their unique insight into their respective fields, Purdy said, makes the SHSB that much stronger.
“We play to our strengths,” said Purdy. “Hubert will often lend us the history of whatever piece we’re performing, and that really helps us get into that feeling of an era gone by. We recently put on a performance of Don McLean’s “Starry, Starry Night,” for example, and Debbie arranged a presentation of van Gogh’s art that really added a great deal to the piece.”
The van Tuylls aren’t the SHSB’s only faculty members, though.
Dr. Don Cleary, a part-time instructor in the Department of Music and former drama instructor at Paine College, helps to manage the stage during productions. Cleary also wrote an original bluegrass musical titled “The Pickin’ Parlor,” which the band performed in 2011. Cleary’s wife, a talented costumer, has made dozens of costumes for SHSB productions.
Family is a running theme in the SHSB. According to Purdy, it’s one of the things that makes their playing so special.
“We’re a very family-oriented band,” said Purdy. “And I mean that literally. There are a lot of brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. There are four generations of one family in our band, and that really helps us to bridge those generational gap in music.”
In the case of the SHSB, that gap had potential to be very wide indeed. The band’s oldest member is 83. Their youngest is nine.
Taught privately by Purdy, many of the band’s members have been playing for years. Purdy said once he feels his students are ready to play, he offers them the chance to join the SHSB.
“It’s a good opportunity for them,” he said. “Practicing is only half of playing music. Playing in front of an audience brings out things you don’t get to see in practice.”
In addition to its unconventional makeup, the Sand Hills String Band is also the only local ensemble to perform year-round.
“They’re so gung-ho about picking that they can’t put it down,” said Purdy.
The Sand Hills String Band puts on three major shows a year. Their spring show, as a tradition, is always a “radio show” in the vein of “A Prairie Home Companion.” Don Clearly, assuming the role of Don Simples, narrates for the stage.
Purdy said he couldn’t be more proud of the band.
“They all play for the right reason,” he said. “We try to show how important music is to society and how there’s a great deal of humanity and history involved with every piece. Retelling that history and making it empathetic and real, that’s the goal of music. The band works hard, and people love what we do.”
The Sand Hills String Band’s next performance will be held Sunday, Aug. 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Maxwell Theatre on the Summerville Campus.