CARY — Young Jim Hammerle heard the boom of the bass and the rattle of the snare as percussionists marched by in a parade, and he was hooked. He started playing the drums when he was 8.
“My father and I were band geeks – parade geeks,” recalled Hammerle, 76. “We’d go anywhere to see a parade.”
Hammerle snagged his first paid gig, playing drums at a social club, when he was only 12. He earned $10 for four hours – more than what his father made working in the steel mills of western Pennsylvania.
The musician never abandoned his love for performing, but he opted for a career in engineering. His father encouraged him to keep his work and passion separate.
When Hammerle arrived in Cary 45 years ago to teach at N.C. State University, he was still playing music. And in 1987, he figured Cary needed its own band.
So he started one.
This spring, the Cary Town Band celebrated the 25th anniversary of its first concert at Bond Park. For a quarter of a century, local music lovers have volunteered to get together and play old-time songs.
About 40 members practice once a week at the Cary Arts Center, and they perform shows throughout the year.
There’s no shortage of community bands, full of part-time musicians who want to hold on to their high school and college band days. The Cary Town Band, though, identifies itself as Cary’s music department of sorts.
“When the town needs a band, we’re it,” said Stuart Holoman, 70, who has served as the group’s band director since 2008.
Holoman said the band has three types of members: a few high school and college students; “young somethings” who play for fun when they have time; and retired folks – the most dedicated of the bunch.
‘No sewage plant’
After years of playing music with bands in Pennsylvania, Hammerle arrived in North Carolina with a doctoral degree and life experiences that took him and his wife to Indonesia for work.
The Cary Town Band wasn’t his first local musical endeavor. In the early 1970s, Hammerle thought North Carolina needed some ethnic music. So he formed The Little German Band and Dancers, a Raleigh-based Bavarian group that has performed overseas.
In those early years, The Little German Band was mostly made up of N.C. State professors and their spouses. Hammerle played the drums, and he still does.
He also got involved with the Triangle Brass Band, and soon after, the Cary Town Band was born.
The group has set the soundtrack to some of Cary’s big moments – the dedication of a cemetery and a train station, and veterans’ return from the Gulf War, Hammerle said.
Former Cary Mayor Koka Booth once asked the band to play for the opening of a wastewater treatment plant, Hammerle recalled. That’s when he knew he had to set some limits.
“I said no – no sewage plant,” he said.
Running a community music group isn’t as easy as it used to be, Hammerle said. As a nonprofit, the band gets grant money from the town of Cary. And it plays some paying private gigs.
But equipment and practice space isn’t cheap.
Even so, the band plays on. Its next major gig is Cary’s annual Independence Day celebration, when the Cary Town Band will warm up the crowd for the N.C. Symphony.
Janet Wherry, 72, of Raleigh will likely be there, playing her clarinet. She joined the band late last year.
“I’m retired, and I live by myself,” she said. “So it’s a sense of family.”