UVA Wise Brass Band To Perform at National Festival In June

Members of the Wise Guys

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise) brass band, the Wise Guys, are making a little history by getting invited to play at the Gettysburg Brass Band Festival in June.

“We are all so excited because we’ve never played at a national music festival like this before. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the students to experience this kind of performance venue and to engage with place that is so important to our country’s history,” said UVA Wise Professor Rick Galyean, founder and member of the Wise Guys.

The Wise Guys is one of 25 bands set to play at the Gettysburg Brass Band Festival, which hosts hundreds of musicians for a two-day event celebrating brass bands. Last year, the event attracted 4,000 attendees to the historic town of Gettysburg, Penn.

The College brass band consists of six students—Colton Mills, Matthew Dunson, Ian Maxie, Jenny Cornett, Max Turner, Conner Hill—and Galyean, UVA Wise director of bands and music education.

“This performance means a lot to me. This will be one of the biggest performances I have ever performed at,” said UVA Wise senior Maxie, a music major who has played the tuba for four years with the Wise Guys. “I am excited to be doing my part in helping UVA Wise bring more prestige and potential recruitment to our school.”

Maxie said he enjoys working in an ensemble group.

“All of us have the ability to pick up parts and run off of each other, which helps our cohesiveness as an ensemble. Professor Galyean does a terrific job in leading us–whether it be in class or outside of class–if we need help with a part in our music,” Maxie said. “Being in Wise Guys also helped me to learn about life, whether it be by just playing music or by having a strong sense of camaraderie.”

The Wise Guys will make their debut performing on the main stage on Saturday, June 8, at 3 p.m. They will play several songs including an arrangement of "Ashokan Farewell” by Galyean. The song was popularized by the 1990 PBS miniseries, The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns, and is often associated with the Civil War.

“To play at an event such as the Gettysburg 2024 Brass Band Festival is a real honor. I have watched videos of previous festivals, and the bands and ensembles that are asked to perform are just amazing. I see it as an opportunity to show up and show out. Our group only has seven members, but the talent, personality and perseverance will definitely gain some attention,” said Jenny Cornett, a UVA Wise music major who is minoring in education. 

Cornett said playing with the Wise Guys has helped her persevere in college. 

“No matter how hard the music is, I just keep playing and practicing. I will finally get the hang of it. The same is true with the rest of my classes. If I do not understand something at first, I keep studying and pushing forward because eventually I will get it. There is always someone there to help me figure things out as well through both the music and my classes,” she said. 

For English major Max Turner, of Bridgewater, Va., playing in the band has helped him make incredible friendships, find a different way to challenge himself, and identify a place to “de-stress“ from college classes.

“It means a lot to play at a big event like the Gettysburg Brass Band Festival, but more than anything it means that all of our hard work has really paid off. To get to play at a festival with so many other incredible brass bands is a really amazing opportunity,” Turner said.

Music Education Major Colton Mills has played with the group for five years. 

“Playing in the Wise Guys has been a highlight of my time here at the College. I have met many friends through the ensemble and it has provided me with a way to get away from all the stress of being a student,” said Mills who is from Elkton, Va. “It is a really cool opportunity to play in Gettysburg since we only really play for schools and for some events at the College. It is something different and I’m excited for the experience.  I have never been to Gettysburg before and I am excited to visit such a historic place for America.”

The opportunity to play at the festival came after Galyean’s wife picked up a brochure about it on a vacation. Knowing how much he loved Gettysburg, she showed it to him. Last summer, they attended the festival and this past fall Galyean applied for the Wise Guys to perform and were accepted.

“It’s thrilling to perform at this festival. I keep pinching myself because this is the first time I get to take the students to a place that is so special to me—Gettysburg,” said Galyean, who is a U.S. Civil War history enthusiast and has visited the Gettysburg National Battlefield numerous times since his youth.

While in the historic region, students will also learn about Civil War history and visit Gettysburg battlefield locations, museums and other historically significant attractions.

Hill, a Wise Guy member who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in government, is excited about visiting Gettysburg. 

“I am looking forward to going to a city with that much history. I have heard about Gettysburg since elementary school in history class,” said Hill. “It’s where the bloodiest battle on American soil happened and a lot of people lost their lives there. So it’s a humbling experience to go there and see what was fought for.”

A Haysi native, Hill said he is also looking forward to playing for a big audience at the festival. He started playing euphonium in middle school because he “loved the way it sounds.” The Wise Guys performed at his high school and invited him to play a few songs, which “cemented” him playing with the band and attending UVA Wise.

“It has certainly helped me grow as a musician and it has taken me to a lot of places I had never been before, including Washington D.C., twice,” Hill said. “It’s enriched my experience here at college.

Chilhowie native Dunson has played the tuba with the Wise Guys for two years and is excited to visit Gettysburg for the first time. 

“I'm most excited about learning more about the history of Gettysburg,” said Dunson, who also sings in the College choir. “Playing with the Wise guys has definitely impacted me as a musician—making musical decisions in the moment and finding what fits the ensemble more as a whole.”

Galyean said the band performs for high schools throughout Virginia and Kentucky.

“These experiences are invaluable for students,” Galyean said. “They get to meet other people and musicians, see new places and enjoy the excitement of performing at a well-attended festival.”

To learn more, check out https://www.gettysburgbrassbandfestival.com.