Only in Fernandina Beach: The Eclectic Band Sonofarious

    Scott Kessler, Marcus Yew. Bottom: Brenda Kayne, Nora Wittman, Munsell McPhillips

By Wilma Allen

With backgrounds in engineering, music, marketing, web design, yoga and more, the musicians in the unusual quintet, Sonofarious, are as eclectic as their repertoire. Sonofarious combines two flutes, guitar, harp, guitalele (a guitar/ukulele hybrid), and other instruments to create original music that is mostly classical, traditional and folksy with contemporary surprises. To me, they epitomize the spirit, vitality, and harmony to be found in our community.

The group was organized six years ago by Fernandina Beach residents Munsell McPhillips and Brenda Kayne.

Munsell, on harp, is a nationally recognized biomedical engineer who focuses on restoring threatened coastlines and waterways. When she speaks about threats to our barrier islands, you listen. But like the other Sonofarians, Munsell is multi-talented. In addition to advocating for the environment and making music, she also bakes muffins from scratch every week for snack bag deliveries to the homeless.

Brenda is a life-long musician, composer of music for radio plays and special occasions, popular yoga instructor, alto in Amelia Island Singers, and has been an unofficial backbone of several community action projects. She plays guitalele and other instruments with Sonofarious, composes, and arranges all the music for the unusual mix of instruments.

On bass guitar is Scott Kessler, a mechanical engineer formerly involved with the Department of Defense at Charleston Naval Shipyard and Kings Bay Submarine Base. Scott also plays a variety of instruments, stays involved with various community groups, and serves on the Board of Amelia Community Theatre.

Flute players, Marcus Yew and Nora Wittman, are the newest Sonofarians. Marcus is an independent website designer and marketing pro with a youthful international vibe. Nora just retired from corporate life, teaches yoga and plays concert and alto flutes with the Nassau Community Band, Jazz Band, and Sonofarious.

All five are happy to be here and we are lucky to have them. They bring together different age groups, origins, backgrounds, musical styles and familiarity with Amelia Island. Scott has lived here for 27 years; Marcus, 9; and the rest somewhere in between. They welcome other performers to join their concerts, and happily play in the background for special events.

They also experiment with different instruments: tone chimes, keyboard, ukulele, handbells, even didgeridoo and bongos. Last year, their variety-style show, “A Sense of Home,” featured folk songs and traditional music as diverse as the Ukrainian National Anthem (in recognition of the turmoil there) and a soulful gospel solo from Fernandina Beach native Nanette Autry. Percussionist Phyllis Free joined some of the numbers on West African djembe.

The group’s venues are also varied. They play inside and outside in parks, gymnasiums, churches, private parties, memorial services and more. Last month they were all set to perform by the boat launch at Kayak Amelia, but unfortunately, a sudden squall intervened. The occasion was “Arts on the Marsh,” organized by Susan Dodge, founder of the Amelia Island Dance Festival. Before the squall, dancers performed on an offshore floating dock, and Robyn Lamp, a fabulous soprano and founder of the new Amelia Island Opera company, sang Louis Armstrong’s languorous ballad, “Summertime.” The audience fled when the rains came, but the good vibes lingered and when the sun came out, the remaining dancers kept dancing.

On August 31, Brenda, Munsell and Nora will play music evocative of the 14th century to get you in the mood for author Marie Laure’s talk, “Return from Exile,” about an English visionary. This will take place at Story and Song Center for Arts and Culture, another important new part of our growing arts scene.

Later this fall, Sonofarious will be performing at New Vision Church in Yulee, the $1,000 Startups Small Business Fair at the Peck Center, and more. In September, the Amelia Island Dance Festival presents a slate of nationally recognized and local artists, and in October, the Amelia Opera Company kicks off its biggest season yet.

With the well-established jazz and chamber music festivals, these newer groups have a firm foundation to build on, and art lovers have a lot to look forward to. Follow them on Facebook and in the Fernandina Observer for news on upcoming performances.

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Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
8 months ago

Thanks for alerting us to what sounds like an awesome group. We need more live music other than rock and singer/songwriters on a restaurant deck (nothing wrong with those! just want more variety and diversity).