College musicians celebrate Christmas at home in Damascus -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected at 1 p.m. on Dec. 26, 2013.

College students returning home for the holidays blew the roof off Damascus United Methodist Church on Sunday night with their second annual big-band Welcome Home for Christmas Concert.

“It’s just fun, that’s the reason we do it,” said Dylan Howe, lead singer with DSG, a 13-piece band that includes young graduates of the music programs at the church and at Damascus High School.

Howe, who graduated in 2012, is studying marketing at the University of Maryland, College Park, but he also keeps his hand in music by singing with the university’s a cappella group, Generics.

Other Damascus High grads plan to make music their careers, including band co-founder Ben Constantinides, who is majoring in music education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

He writes music, plays the guitar and also is principal trombone with the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra.

Constantinides co-founded the band with Ryan Celli, a freelance film and TV production assistant and Damascus High grad, who plays tenor sax and was looking to play in a group.

“There are so many good players in the area,” said Celli, who said the concert is a good way to showcase local talent.

“It started with Ryan ... and we thought, let’s start a band,” said Constantinides, who knew Celli through the church’s music programs under former pastor Walter Edmonds.

The two started with Constantinides’ twin brother, Jon Constantinides, on drums and a bass player, and added members from there, including Charlie Doherty, trombonist and the band director at Damascus High, who taught Constantinides.

“There’s such a collaborative spirit between the church and the high school [programs],” said Susan James of Damascus, whose son Thomas James plays the piano in the DSG band and also is in the concert choir and a jazz combo at the University of Maryland.

“We could not be more blessed to have the program at the high school,” she said.

The DSG band first performed at The Music Café in Damascus, which opened Sunday after the performance.

On Sunday night, the band performed more than 20 songs, a mix of Christmas music, rock classics and original songs by Constantinides.

There also was a guest performances by Polly Baldridge, the church’s minister of music and worships arts, singing “Please Come Home for Christmas.”

“It’s a great celebration and an opportunity to show that you can have a great time in church,” she said.

Also performing was Terrence Brown from Hagerstown, a musician who operated the sound system. Jamaican born, Brown played the guitar and sang Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.”

“My Dad was a pastor, and when Ryan asked me to [do the sound] for the church, I didn’t hesitate,” Brown said.

The band’s set list was diverse, with songs like “Blue Christmas,” featuring bluesy-sounding horns, and a Latin-sounding “Noel,” written by Constantinides, with Ryan on tenor sax.

Their big-and brassy sound came to the fore with Chicago’s classic, “Make Me Smile,” and they also played Stevie Wonder’s hit “Superstition” and the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody.”

Constantinides on guitar and Ross Thompson on harmonica also took a turn playing off each other during the song “Fever,” raising enthusiastic applause from the crowd in the church’s Great Hall.

Thompson is studying trumpet performance at the University of Maryland with the goal of playing professionally. His mother is a music teacher at Damascus Elementary School.

“I appreciate how it makes me feel, and I like feeling I’m making other people happy when I play,” he said.

The band also played Gary U.S. Bonds’ hit “Quarter to Three,” and wrapped up the show with Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph.”

Other band members on Sunday included: Kenny Hunsley (guitar), Joe Dobrzanski (bass), Sean Kallungal (trumpet), Matt Fitzsimmons (trumpet), Nick English (baritone sax) and Shelby Carow (organ).

“It is just a good holiday tradition that brings a lot of people out,” Celli said. “We hope to expand and have some future concerts to benefit local causes.”

An earlier version of this story had an incorrect spelling for Ben and Jon Constantinides’ last name.