Amy Jo Parish
Contributing Writer

The Charlotte community has been filled with music for the past six years, thanks to a group of volunteer musicians who make up the Charlotte Community Band, which is set to present a concert on Dec. 14.
The band, under the direction of James McRae, began after a group of art enthusiasts from the chamber of commerce brainstormed the need for a community band.
Initially, McRae volunteered to lead the band for the first few rehearsals to get the music playing. His leadership of the band, however, continues to this day.
“I said that I would be happy to conduct the first few rehearsals,” recalls McRae.
At the first rehearsal in 2013, just 16 musicians showed up to play at the Charlotte Middle School band room. Although not enough instruments to perform a concert, it was enough to ensure a community band was just what was needed. Through all the rehearsals and concerts, McRae said being part of the band has been a joy.
“I’ve just had a lot of fun doing it,” said McRae. “I enjoy making the interpretive and creative decisions, and I just have a really good time being part of the band.”
A graduate of Charlotte High School and member of the band under Gary Sullivan, McRae has played in various band, including Albion College, Marshall Rotary Band and the Lansing Concert Band. Under his leadership, the band has grown from that first 16 to today’s band, their largest. That band will present a free Christmas concert at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center on Dec. 14 at 7 p.m.
“At the December 14 Christmas concert, we will have the largest band in community band history,” said McRae.
The band has never before played with more than 50 members. However, 54 will take to the stage for the concert. McRae said what brings the musicians together is quite simple — a love of  music and playing.
“I think one of the things that is really special about our band is that we’re a group of people who are there who just really love to do it,” he explained.
Always eager for new members, McRae said musicians of varying abilities are more than welcome to join the band. Rehearsals are held each Thursday from 7 – 8:30 p.m. in the Charlotte Middle School band room.
“Whatever your ability, we will find a place for you,” assures McRae. “We work really hard in rehearsal, but we work together.”
Dr. Heidi Hansen–Castaneda has played baritone with the band since 2013 and looks forward to the performances due to the positive aspects they bring to the community.
“I look forward to the Christmas concert and the June concert at Lawrence Avenue Methodist Church the most because they just bring so many members of the community together,” said Hansen-Castaneda. “The community band is a great outlet for musicians of any talent, and playing is good for the brain.”
The benefits a community band brings to residents are almost immeasurable to those on either side of the performance, explains McRae. Not only does it provide the opportunity for residents to give back in a nonmonetary way, the band also provides a creative outlet. Looking at the bigger picture of community-building and place-making, a community band serves as an ambassador when concerts are held in other towns.
“Civic institutions can be a really key way in how others view your community,” said McRae. “It’s a point of pride to represent the community well.
“It gives others the feeling that people in Charlotte are doing it right.”
For more information about the band, contact McRae at or (517) 667-1678.