After 30 years in the U.S., Almut Wilson still gets nostalgic for her hometown of Frankfurt, Germany, when she hears the Augusta Concert Band play at the annual Empty Stocking Fund Benefit Concert.
“My mother loved classical music,” she said before Sunday’s concert at First Baptist Church of Augusta. “It reminds me of home.”
She and her friend Catherine Prysiazny watched the concert from the second row.
About 400 people attended the event, which marked the 21st year of the concert benefiting The Augusta Chronicle’s Empty Stocking Fund. The charity, which is in its 82nd year, has raised more than $1 million over the past decade, the Chronicle’s Bill Kirby said at the event. Last year, $104,481 was raised to help more than 1,800 families and individuals during the holidays.
For Wilson and Prysiazny, getting to the concert each year is a must. At 9 a.m. Sunday, Wilson called her friend.
“I couldn’t believe it was time for the concert already,” Prysianzy said. “But we weren’t going to miss it. It’s a great cause and such a wonderful way to start the season.”
The Augusta Concert Band played a variety of holiday music, including the Ukrainian bell carol Holiday Piece and Chanukah is Here.
The band had been practicing for about six weeks for its biggest holiday show, said guest conductor and trumpet player Tom Strayer, a former military musician and Nebraska public school teacher who spent 23 years serving in Army bands in Maryland, Germany, Bosnia, Korea and Georgia. He said the band mixed in some pop arrangements this year with the standard holiday hymns.
“It is really important to get in the giving spirit this time of year,” he said. “We are happy to be a part of that.”
Jason Harriman, the other guest conductor, is a past president of the band and a graduate of the University of Georgia. He spent 10 years as a music educator in Augusta and now serves as an instructional technology specialist with the Richmond County School system.
Attending for the third year in a row, Mary Ann Nevarro said the concert was a good way to start the Christmas season and she was happy to support an important cause.
The newspaper covers the costs of administering the charity, so all donations from individuals, organizations and businesses go directly to those who need help. An envelope will be included in next Sunday’s newspaper for readers to make donations.
Applications for help must be returned by Dec. 7.