“Life is one grand, sweet song. So let the music begin!” — Ronald Reagan

The music begins again Tuesday in Jacksonville State University’s Mason Hall when members of the JSU Community Orchestra gather for the semester’s first rehearsal.

The new conductor and director is Jeremy Benson, associate professor of music and director of orchestral activities. Darryl Harris, who was the ensemble’s conductor, has taken a position at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.

The new name for the orchestra is the JSU Civic Symphony, according to Benson.

String players are needed as the musicians prepare for a November concert. The orchestra will rehearse the New World Symphony by Anton Dvorak and “Flight to Neverland” by John Williams, from the movie “Hook.” Rachel Park, assistant professor of piano, is on the program to perform Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3.

Rehearsals are scheduled from 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays on the third floor in Mason Hall.

Autumn art exhibits

The definition of an artist, according to some, is one who loves art and creates it constantly. Surely, a happy, encouraged and inspired artist could be one whose work is showcased in several galleries at one time.

Such is the case with Jacksonville painter Marsha Nelson, whose works are at Nunnally’s Noble Frame & Gallery on a regular basis, and will also be at the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County in September and October and at Heritage Hall in Talladega Sept. 16-Oct. 19.

Diversity is one of the strongest elements in Nelson’s exhibits. She paints landscapes, buildings, animal portraits, still life and florals. When time allows, she will explore her creative abilities in doing abstracts, she said.

The Heritage Hall exhibit, a juried show, will feature artists who are members of the Watercolor Society of Alabama. The opening reception and awards ceremony is 1-4 p.m. Sept. 16, and everyone is invited. It is a free event. The museum is located at 200 South Street E. in Talladega.

Loft living in Oxford

There’s just something about loft apartments .People who occupy them generally agree: Lofts are welcome retreats and available without traveling a single mile.

Four loft owners in downtown Oxford are putting buildings’ re-use to the test and liking the results. Charlotte Hubbard, Gwen and Ryan Parrish, Leah and Brad Cleghorn, and Adam Maniscalco have renovated the floors above businesses on Choccolocco Street and are finding that this style of living works for them.

“This really is home,” Hubbard said. “It’s all I need, plus it’s cozy and quiet above street traffic. It’s convenient that I can walk to church and the grocery store.”

She loves old houses and the building at Choccolocco Street was constructed between 1898 and 1900. Fireplaces add to the home feeling. Hubbard is adding a balcony, too, to look out over Choccolocco Street.

The renovation and complying with the building codes was worth the effort, she said. And as the owner of Hubbard’s Off Main restaurant, she is finding the ideal balance between solitude in the loft and mixing with people downstairs.

Living above the store is an old movement that has been revived in today’s city planning. In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, most main streets in America were lined with shops and offices that included living quarters upstairs.

The Cleghorns will live on the floor above Southern Girl Coffee when they move into their studio apartment. “I like the convenience of being able to walk to the places we like and being part of a close community,” Leah said.

Gwen Parrish agrees. “We were new in town but quickly made new friends downtown and feel a sense of community. This seems more like a neighborhood than a town.” The Parrishes will use their downstairs as a chiropractic office, which will open in January. A room upstairs will be used as Abide Ministries. The ministry’s name and purpose is based on John 15:5, Gwen said. “We are about sharing the gospel by preaching and healing.”

The law firm Enzor & Maniscalco is located at 506 Main St. Maniscalco has renovated two apartments and is renting them out. Renovation took two years because the law partners had only four walls and crumbling brick to work with. Now it all looks brand new with shining floors and all the conveniences.

The building, once a warehouse, dates back to 1880, and there are historic items from its origin on display in the front office. Visitors have spent overnights there from as far away as Germany and Israel after finding the apartments online. “They tell us that this building has lots of charm,” Maniscalco said.

Hervey Folsom writes about the local arts scene every Sunday. Contact her at herveyfolsom@yahoo.com.