<b>NEWBERRY, S.C.</b> - For nearly 90 minutes, the jingle of holiday music filled the historic Newberry Opera House during a concert held Dec. 12.

From the sounds of a Mariah Carey holiday melody to more traditional seasonal music, Kathy Lyden guided an enthusiastic audience through a magical journey as the 208th Army Reserve Band from Concord, N.C., brought holiday cheer through their musical arrangements.

The Saturday evening began an hour before the performance as small groups of 81st Regional Support Command bandsmen gathered in hallways, stairwells and large closets in the small concert hall to rehearse for the final time before playing to a sold-out performance.

With 30 minutes left before Chief Warrant Officer Tim Lyden, the unit's bandmaster, raised his music baton for the first time during the evening, three "Wildcat" Soldiers surprised guests in the main lobby as they played a variety of Celtic holiday music for the growing crowd waiting for the concert hall doors to open.

"This is great," said Debra Smith, the opera house's executive director. "I can't remember when someone has performed for our guests before a show. The band really went the extra mile to make this evening special."

The opera house was built in 1881 at a cost of $30,000 and has served as the city centerpiece for 118 years. The structure recently underwent a $5.5 million renovation which restored it to its historic splendor and converted it to a state-of-the-art performance facility, according to Smith.

As near-freezing rain pelted the Newberry area, the community slowly arrived at the front doors under the bright lights of the overhang as if they were at a premiere red carpet event in Hollywood, Calif.

With everyone seated and the lights dimmed, the soft spotlight focused on Kathy Lyden, the unofficial "band mom" who was standing at the far left corner of the stage. After her brief introduction, her husband, Tim Lyden, raised his small ivory music baton which brought the bandsmen and their instruments to the "ready" position - seemingly on autopilot.

"Every time we play music, we make a connection and touch the audience," said Tim Lyden. "They appreciate the music they hear. Sometimes it is original music that has recently been written by a composer or standard band music that is performed by all bands."

With the swift swoop of his hands, the musical journey through time began for the opera house located 30 miles outside of Columbia, S.C. For the next 90 minutes, the cold air outside disappeared and all worries seemed to vanish as the audience sank back into their plush red chairs for an evening of musical tributes to the holiday season.

From "Sleigh Ride," composed by Leroy Anderson, to the always popular "Hallelujah Chorus," composed by George Frideric Handel, Lyden said military musicians enjoy playing festive music.

"Holiday music is really recognizable by everyone that hears it," he said. "I think people appreciate having that extra connection to the band because they can sing along with almost every song."

Lyden said, as musicians, the 208th Army Reserve Band seems to find favorite songs that personalize the performance for everyone in the audience.

"When we make a connection to someone through music and make their day, it lifts the spirits of the listeners and the performers," he said after the performance. "Music expresses the most personal feelings and emotions -- if even for a moment."

Lyden said he always tells the band that it doesn't matter if there's one person in the audience or a thousand, we give them the best performance we can.

"Mission complete each and every time," he said.

During the performance, Kathy Lyden took time to introduce Newberry to Maj. Gen. William Gerety, the commanding general of the 81st Regional Support Command.

"Isn't this an amazing band," Gerety asked the crowd. With a warm round of applause from the receptive audience, Gerety turned toward Tim Lyden with a simple nod of approval, and the band took another bow.

"They truly are musicians first, but, most importantly, they are a part of your community here," he said. "They come together for two days a month to practice, and it amazes me how they are able to pull off a show like they did tonight."

After a few more remarks, the holiday concert kicked back into full swing, and the evening reached a high note when the band performed a refreshing, upbeat service melody.

As Kathy Lyden introduced each branch of the military service and invited former servicemembers and their families to stand, Tim Lyden would turn around and salute the past and current members of America's armed forces and their families.

As the last note was played, audience members stood up for a standing ovation. Afterwards, band members set their instruments aside and greeted the Newberry community and answered numerous questions about the Army Reserve band and the history of the "Wildcats" of the 81st Infantry Division.

"I want to thank you for bringing the Army band here tonight," one gentleman said to Gerety after the show. "This really was a special concert."

With a firm handshake, Gerety said, "It's my pleasure. Hopefully, we will see you again this time, next year."

Page last updated Fri December 18th, 2009 at 08:11