When she was a fifth-grader in South Dakota, Barb Rollins decided what she wanted to be when she grew up.
And she never strayed from her chosen career path.
“I started playing a trumpet because my dad played the trumpet, and we had two trumpets at our house,” Rollins said. “And the minute I picked the trumpet up, I knew that I wanted to be a band director. There was never a doubt. It’s what I became and what I still am.”
Rollins, 73, conducts and performs with several musical groups in the Aiken area. They include the AAA Home School Band, South Aiken Baptist Christian School Band, Rollins’ Brass Ensemble and Rollins’ Christian Big Band.
Before the novel coronavirus pandemic disrupted many activities, Rollins and her groups collectively made more than 40 appearances a year at a variety of Christian, community and patriotic events.
“It’s just a passion that the Lord put in me,” she said. “Music is a way for me to express myself.”
Her schedule isn’t quite so busy now, but COVID-19 hasn’t caused the music to die for Rollins.
Along with her husband, Roger, and some of her band students, Rollins has been regularly providing entertainment for the residents of Cumberland Village, a senior living community, since March.
“Every Friday I take two students and we go and play secular music,” Rollins said. “And then on Sundays, Roger and I go and take one student, and we play Christian music.”
She has never – even during the outbreak of a scary disease – regretted her decision to pursue a form of art that she loves.
“Music has opened a lot of doors for me,” Rollins said. “I’ve traveled to the Czech Republic, Germany and France – and the Bahamas and Trinidad – while playing my horn.”
Rollins was born in Mitchell, South Dakota, which is the home of the Corn Palace, a building decorated outside with murals made of corn, other grains and grasses.
Her family later moved to Rapid City, where she met her future husband.
Immediately, when Rollins spotted Roger, she was determined to win his heart.
“He was walking though the band office with his trombone case on his shoulder, and I knew he was the one for me,” Rollins said. “I was a freshman, and he was a junior. It took a lot of prayer, and a lot of help from his sister who was my age. A lot of hints were dropped.”
The young couple played in the Rapid City High School band together, and they also were members of the Rapid City Ranger Band.
As performers in the latter, Rollins and her husband-to-be would march in weekend parades during the summer in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
“We would get free tickets to the rodeo and free tickets to the carnival and free tickets for lunch,” Rollins said. “And we got paid besides that. Those are neat, neat memories.”
After graduating from high school, Rollins attended Western State College (now known as Western Colorado University) for two years.
“Then Roger and I got married,” Rollins said.
She transferred to the University of Illinois, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in instrumental music education.
Roger earned a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the same school.
“For his fellowship at the University of Illinois, he had to work somewhere one summer,” Rollins said, and Roger ended up at what now is known as the Savannah River Site.
After he received his doctorate, “it was just natural for him to apply for a job there,” Rollins said.
That brought the couple to Aiken to live in 1972.
Their first daughter was a baby, and Rollins was pregnant with their second.
“I was used to going to school full-time and teaching full-time,” Rollins said. “As a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t have much to do, so I got involved in everything. I led a choir, and I played bridge.”
She also joined clubs.
“But the one thing that Aiken didn’t have was a community band,” Rollins said. “There had been one prior to then, but it hadn’t been functioning for probably 10 years.”
In 1974, Rollins and her husband established the Aiken Community Band, which is known today as the Aiken Concert Band.
“I conducted it until 1979, but I had to give it up because it had become my God,” Rollins said. “It was part of my spiritual journey. The Holy Spirit said to me, ‘Who are you going to serve, the Aiken Concert Band or me?’ It took me a long time to make that decision. But finally I did and I said, ‘God, it’s yours. You can take it or you can give it back.’
“After that, He gave it back to me for a year or two, and then I knew I really had to give it up for good. For 25 years, I couldn’t go see it. I couldn’t listen to it because it was like my baby.”
Eventually, she and Roger rejoined the group, and they are still members.
“I enjoy it,” Rollins said.
Meanwhile, she and her husband launched other music programs.
In the 1990s, they founded the AAA Home School Band. Rollins said she got the idea for that group after a woman asked her to teach her son how to play the trumpet. The boy was a homeschool student.
The AAA Home School Band “started in my laundry room,” Rollins remembered. “When we added on a back porch to our home, I taught there. And then we added on our band room, which is where I spend most of my days now.”
In 2014, the South Aiken Baptist Christian School Band was born when Rollins started a band program at the private school.
Currently, the AAA Home School and South Aiken Baptist Christian School bands “rehearse for and present most of our big concerts together,” Rollins said. “There are right about 30 students (in the combined group).”
Rollins’ teaching philosophy is to focus more on the individual and less on the big group performances.
“If my kids go to college, I want them to be prepared to do well in music on the college level,” Rollins said. “If they leave the AAA Home School Band and go to a public school with a band program, my goal is for them to be first chair. I want them all, individually, to be able to play their instruments for the glory of God, and if they do well individually, we should sound good as a group.”
Many of the parents – and even grandparents – of AAA Home School Band students are members of the Rollins’ Christian Big Band.
“They used to play horns in high school and still have them or they went out and bought horns,” Rollins said. “We play contemporary Christian music, but we also play hymns in the Big Band style of the 1940s.”
In the Rollins’ Brass Ensemble, “there are four or five or six of us. It just depends,” Rollins said. “We play at churches, and I organize it.”
For nearly 20 years, Rollins was the entertainment chairwoman for the Aiken’s Makin’ arts and crafts festival.
Outside of music, Rollins likes to read. She also freezes and cans some of the vegetables grown in a backyard garden.
Rollins and her husband attend Calvary Chapel of Aiken.
“Roger and I have always tried to live a very balanced life – family, church and the community,” Rollins said. “Music is one of the ways we can give back to the community.”