In Joe Miller's words, "the long, dismal wait" is just about over.
Indigo's Miller is the founder and music director of the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble, which played its debut concert Nov. 24, 2019 at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Lakewood Ranch.
Before the musical group could play its second concert, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
It was a strange time for the ensemble's musicians, many of them professionals who didn't need to practice during normal times because they were playing so many gigs outside the new ensemble. With concert venues shut down, the musicians had to find ways to keep in tune.
Their off-season work can be judged July 4 when the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble joins the Choral Artists of Sarasota for a patriotic concert at the Sarasota Opera House.
Miller said he didn't want to spend all his time at home doing "lip slurs" a common exercise among trumpet players, who change notes without pressing down the valves, and without a break in air.
Instead, Miller used iRealPro, which allowed him to play various instruments, add them to his brother Jack Miller's saxophone and mix all the music together. It allowed him to play with a group, even though he was alone.
Savanna's Jim Hill, who plays the trumpet, said it was important musicians in the ensemble stayed occupied during the pandemic.
"As a professional musician, I never had to sit home and practice before," Hill said. "But everyone had to do something. You build up muscles playing, and if you don't, you can get physically tired."
Hill, who played in the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble's 2019 debut, expects everything to go smoothly July 4.
"I've played in many community bands," Hill said. "I know this band has the potential to be fantastic. The first concert was amazing, Joe putting it all together and everyone sitting down. That's the wonder of music. From the first drum beat, you know if you have something special."
Miller began putting together the ensemble in 2019 and he held sessions where those who were interested in joining could see if they were a good fit. Since many of those who joined were professionals, it was apparent that any interested musicians had to be on their game.
"The members of this group are looking for something beyond a community band," Hill said. "We're always striving to be better, and we were looking for an outlet to play more challenging music."
Since the ensemble was so new, and the pandemic was going to shut things down for more than a year, it seemed logical it might lose some of the musicians who had just joined. Miller said that didn't happen. Instead, he has a waiting list of musicians who want to join. A wind ensemble typically has 44 musicians. The Lakewood Ranch wind ensemble currently has 38 with the need for two percussionists, two clarinets, a french horn and a string base.
The opportunity for the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble to play the July 4 concert came because Joe Holt, the director of the Choral Artists of Sarasota, attended the ensemble's debut to see his friend, ensemble trumpet player Bob Richards, perform. Holt asked Miller after the concert if he would be interested in joining the groups for a July 4 concert that was supposed to take place in 2020.
The pandemic postponed that collaboration.
When Miller contact the ensemble's members about the 2021 July 4 concert, he said everyone was willing to give up their holiday to perform.
"We play because we want to play," Miller said. "I don't need the gig money."
While approximately half the ensemble's performers are from the Lakewood Ranch area, some members come from more distant spots like Orlando and Punta Gorda.
"They just love to play," Miller said.
They will be playing at a prestigious venue.
"This is our first opportunity to get together (since the debut) and gain exposure," Hill said. "And this is my first opportunity to play in the Opera House."
Hill said the musicians are in the good hands of their conductor, Miller.
"Think of six trumpet players playing together as a section," Hill said. "That's a learning process. So a conductor has to do the most preparation and has to know all the parts in and out. We're going to be playing to his interpretation. He will bring out the different nuances of the band."
Miller knows it is an important return for the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble.
"We need the exposure," he said. "Everyone is giving up their July 3 (rehearsal) and July 4. Nobody said no. That is a great feeling."
The ensemble's regular concert season begins in November with a new host, Peace Presbyterian Church on State Road 64 in Lakewood Ranch. Miller said Our Lady of the Angels underwent a leadership change that chose not to host the concerts.