Thursday, June 21, 2012

Community Bands Give Much to the Public--and the Musicians, too

Castro Valley Center for the Arts - a fine community venue
I had the pleasure last night of hearing a performance by the Castro Valley Adult and Career Education Community Band. It was just a bit over an hour of rousing, happy music from a variety of sources. From the National Anthem (we all stood) at the beginning to Gershwin's American in Paris (a band version), to a medley of music from the band Chicago, it kept going and seemed to move the 300 to 400 in attendance.

Community bands and chamber orchestras are fascinating in their purpose and in their contribution. Members, who are mostly over 55, are nearly always not professionals, or even former pros, but are people who perhaps took up an instrument as early as grade school and then, if they were lucky, kept playing their whole life. Some have taken a long break, resuming after years--or even decades--and are finding pleasure in renewing their commitment. Some, like me, are late bloomers. I began my instrument, the upright bass, at 51.

Although many ensemble members are along in years, but there is nothing missing in these folks' musicality or endurance.Gordan Pappas, who arranged five of the selections the band played last night, had a long career in music education locally and elsewhere. He is a youthful 89. The fine trumpet soloist, Harry Hanover, is 85. He showed off his excellent tone and cascades of notes in one of Mr. Pappas' arrangements of themes from Mozart's Die Fledermaus.

All the pieces had interest, but some were remarkable above that. Young Choi Ying Chiu stepped away from her percussion assignment to solo on the xylophone in Tico Tico. She ran through the challenging piece with her hands a blur while putting out a crowd-stirring performance. Kathy Catanho played a sensitive saxophone solo in What a Wonderful World (originally made famous by the voice of Louis Armstrong). During the Clarinet Polka, the entire clarinet section (and bass player) put on men's fedoras before they took on the up-tempo rendition.

I was impressed when the group took on the Chicago Medley. I tried to restrain myself from singing along to Searching (for an Answer), Color My World and Does Anybody Know What Time it Is?

An encore of  Stars ad Stripes Forever brought the crowd  back to where the show had started and was a well chosen finale.

Kathy Maier directed the nearly 50-person band with vigor and flair. For comic relief, Master of Ceremonies Mark Morelli read from the concert notes and made wisecracks about the conductor and at one point before Fledermaus, cracked a saxophonist joke.

Playing in organized musical groups like this not only please audiences but keeps the musicians young. The effort, discipline and mental stimulation surely make a big difference. Did I mention that this concert was free to the public? I would have paid to hear it.

Be sure to contact the Castro Valley Adult and Career Education office to learn the upcoming schedule for the Community Band and the Chamber Orchestra season, which begins in September. And-- if you once played and want to resume, the band (and orchestra) are always looking for more players.

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