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Musicians of Greenbelt: Joan Rackey

Our next Greenbelt musician to get the GreenbeltOnline profile treatment is Joan Rackey, director of Greenbelt’s very own Concert Band. Here’s who Joan is and changes she’s bringing to the band.

Joan was raised in District Heights and continued her musical career playing clarinet in the band at LaReine School (a private girl’s school in Suitland, now closed). She studied Music Education at Frostburg State, and further pursued Music Education at Towson State.

Her first job was student teaching at Fort Hill High School, but by 1975 she landed the gig that lasted a whole career – at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, where in her 41 years there she taught:

  • Concert Band
  • Marching Band
  • String Orchestra
  • Two Jazz Ensembles (honors and regular)
  • Piano class
  • International Baccalaureate Music (a college-prep program)
  • Choir

That seems like a LOT of classes and rehearsals but it’s even more when you include the many competitions that her groups attended and often WON, especially her “most successful group,” the Honors Jazz Ensemble. Members of that group have included Jeb Patton, world renowned jazz pianist; Adam Neely, bassist and YouTuber; Elijah Balbed, jazz saxophonist; Rick Gordon, owner and performer in RKO Swing Orchestra; and Richard Kessler and Dave Cannon, members of the Nowhere Men and the Olney Big Band.

Joan’s other duties at Einstein included coaching varsity girls soccer and softball.

After her much-feted retirement in 2016, Joan was asked to fill in temporarily as director of the Olney Concert Band, a gig that grow into a year, during which she met a few members of the Greenbelt Concert Band, including the then-director Tom Cherrix.

The band, I learned from its website’s history page, was formed just three years after Greenbelt’s founding in 1937, with both adult and student musicians. Joan became its ninth director in 2016.

Upcoming performances of the band include June 1 for Greenbelt Day and July 4 at Buddy Attick Park.

There’s also a smaller group of 15-17, the Wind Ensemble, that practices Tuesdays and performs at many senior citizen homes and events.

What’s new under Joan’s direction? She has visions of the band performing at venues like the Mormon Temple and Leisure World, and of competing in the Community Band Festival of Maryland.

In addition, the band has enlisted some excellent new members (including a French horn player with the celebrated U.S. Navy Band) and is reaching out to area high schools to enlist their best musicians.

 

Joan lives in Burtonsville and Greenbelt was new to her when she arrived in 2016. But when asked how she likes it she declares “I love it!” because the residents and band members have been so welcoming. It’s not always easy to step in after a director’s long and distinguished tenure, as Joan did after Cherrix’s 22-year tenure, but she says he made the transition easy.

She also appreciates that community bands are filled with people who love music and want to be there, which can’t be said of all high school students who take music classes. She’s found members of the Greenbelt Band to be very committed, some commuting to Greenbelt from north of Baltimore, and their attitude is “We’re here for the community.” And also enjoys conducting a band that can perform the difficult pieces that typical high school bands cannot.

So while the Greenbelt Band gears its repertoire to its audience and includes lots of show tunes and other perennial favorites, the music itself is never dumbed down.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com and direct Good Gardening Videos.org, a nonprofit, ad-free educational campaign.

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