Bass lives on in hands of Anderson student, despite tragedy
By Liz Carey
Thursday, March 29, 2012
ANDERSON COUNTY — When Lee Street took up his new bass for the first time, it fit.
"I showed up for a lesson one day with Mr. (Brian) Gencarelli, and he said, 'Here, try this bass,'" said Lee, a 15-year-old freshman from Powdersville High School. "I asked him why, and he said, 'Because this is your bass.' It took a few minutes for me to understand what he was saying. ... Mr. G handed it to me, and after playing it two or three seconds, that bass fit me perfectly."
Friday night, Lee will play that bass, a gift from the Greater Anderson Musical Arts Consortium, as part of the GAMAC Orchestra's "A Celebration of Youth" concert.
Lee will play his new bass next to his instructor, lead bassist for GAMAC, Brian Gencarelli.
It was Gencarelli who brought the bass back to life after it sat waiting for a new owner.
For years, Lee played a bass that was too small for him. When he was in fourth grade at Powdersville Elementary School in Williamston-based Anderson School District 1, he started playing violin. In sixth grade, he switched to the bass.
"I liked that not a lot of people played it," he said.
But the instrument he was playing, Gencarelli said, didn't fit him.
"He is very talented," Gencarelli said. "He made regional and all-state orchestras on his own before he was given this bass. He was playing a bass that was too small for him, and it was really handicapping him. The new bass just kind of fit him from the day I gave it to him. His playing has improved since then too. His attitude has improved; he really has more of a sense of pride because of he instrument. I think he feels honored to have received it."
And that's exactly what the owners of the bass wanted.
Lee's bass was given to GAMAC by Amber Robey's family. Robey brought the instrument with her when she moved to South Carolina from Virginia with her boyfriend, said Marlene McClain of the Anderson County Sheriff's Office victim's services unit.
"It was something she loved to play and one of the few things she brought with her," McClain said. "When she died, her family wanted to ensure that it went to someone who would be able to use it and continue with her love of music."
Robey was 22 when she died in 2006 after an argument with her friend and neighbor, Cynthia Marchbanks. Robey was on Marchbanks' porch when, police said, Marchbanks shot her in the face. Robey died later at AnMed Health Medical Center in Anderson. She was 26 weeks pregnant at the time. When her baby, who was delivered by Caesarean section, died five weeks later, Marchbanks was charged with murder in both their deaths. In 2007, a jury found Marchbanks not guilty of murder in either death after Marchbanks claimed self-defense.
"The bass sat here for a while," McClain said. "We gave it to GAMAC so they could find someone deserving of it."
The bass sat for three years after Gencarelli restored the instrument to a playable condition while he looked for a student deserving of it.
It was Lee's talent that made him stand out, Gencarelli said.
Lee has made all-county, all-region and all-state orchestra with the new bass. He's also a member of the Carolina Youth Symphony. But his talents aren't just limited to music. He's also on the Powdersville High School football and baseball teams. He's an honor student who takes engineering classes at the Anderson Districts 1 and 2 Career and Technology Campus. "My goal is to make all-state orchestra for the next three years, and get a scholarship for bass to the University of South Carolina so I can study engineering," Lee said.
With the new bass, Lee hopes to be able to further his studies of music. Practicing when he can between other activities and homework, Lee hopes to one day play professionally.
"The week, I had to say, 'Go to bed, you can practice tomorrow,'" said Martin Street, Lee's father. "He loves his music, and he's got talent. We understood early on his love of the bass, and that this wasn't just a typical phase he was going through. He's really got talent. As a parent, it was hard thinking about how are we going to provide him with the instrument he needs. This was an incredible gift for him."
But the gift comes with a history, and for Lee that, at first, was something to consider.
"My first thought was that it's got a legacy behind it," Lee said. "Yeah, it's a responsibility, but it's a great gift. There are times when I cringe if I put it down too hard because I worry about every little scratch. But I accept that responsibility. It's my job to be a good caretaker of the instrument and continue to use it."
That's all Amber Robey's parents ever wanted.
For Martin Street, knowing his son will fulfill a parent's request is a gift as well.
"As a parent, I can only imagine what it would be like if I lost a child," he said. "I don't know how I'd ever be able to let go of that bass. But now I see that the bass will live on in the hands of another child. That's pretty touching.