The Pomona Concert Band’s summer shows have been a staple at Ganesha Park since 1948, with an audience lined up on the lawn in front of the bandshell as the band spins through favorites by Chopin, Sousa and Copland.
This summer is the first where the music stopped. the The band’s 73rd season has been canceled due to coronavirus.
This hit a little close to home. Not only am I a fan of the band, but I was going to be the guest emcee, for the first time, for the band’s concert on July 9th. Well.
But the group’s summer musical creation has not completely stopped.
Five members, a sort of subgroup within the Concert Band, meet weekly on Wednesday mornings, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, to practice outside on the lawn at 240 E. Columbia Ave.
Practices began in early July, shortly after what would have been Ganesha Park’s first concert of the season on July 4, and have continued ever since, through record heat and smoke from nearby fires.
In fact, the band’s season would have ended on Labor Day. But it’s now October and the quintet is still playing, with no end date in sight. His annual Christmas concert is almost certainly over.
Bandleader Linda Taylor invited me to attend a rehearsal and let the audience know that the band didn’t give up.
“We want people to know that we may be down, but we haven’t come out. And if they want to come by and listen, that’s great,” Taylor said.
Crowds are almost non-existent, but walkers can enjoy the rare sound of a marching band. A few fans will park their cars, roll down their windows, listen for a while, then honk their horns and drive off.
I showed up last Wednesday morning to find the Pomona Concert Band Brass Quintet in chairs in an alley under a pop-up tent. A pecan tree provides a leafy canopy.
“The squirrels are throwing nuts at us. That’s why this tent comes in handy,” Taylor joked.
Members include Taylor, 77, and her husband, Norm, 93, of Covina. She plays the tuba, he is on the euphonium. Their license plate reads IPLA2BA (“I Play Tuba”).
Two members play the trumpet: Allan Small, 72, of Glendora and Steve Collins, 65, on whose Pomona lawn they gather. And then there’s Isaac Gonzalez on the French horn. He too lives in Pomona and just celebrated his birthday.
He is 27 years old. I said, “Not 72?
They were about to embark on “A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.” Norm, who has a laid-back sense of humor, said to me, “Would you like to announce it to the public, please? I looked around and saw no one. My second chance to be master of ceremonies, foiled.
Soon the next door neighbor approached. Marcos Padilla has four children at home – aged 5, 8, 10 and 14 – and like him, they enjoy the weekly mini-concert while they study.
He appreciated not only the range of music, but the ingenuity of providing it.
“You always find a way. If you don’t have space, you find space,” Padilla said. “If you can’t use a space, get out, it’s free.”
At the end of the track, Padilla jokingly asked if they wanted to play ska. Small deadpan: “We’re going to do a medley dedicated to Van Halen.”
We were in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Pomona’s most distinguished. The homes date from the 1890s through the 1940s, in a mix of Victorian and Tudor styles at Craftsman and Spanish. The streets are lined with mature trees and period lampposts. Almost all houses have porches.
Steve and Teena Collins’ home was built in 1915 by Steve’s great-grandfather and is still in the family.
Teena and two neighbors, Donna Brons and Barbara Knudsen, were listening to music and chatting on the stone porch.
“We had to have a place for them to practice,” Teena said of the quintet. “We like to hear them. Neighbors like to come and visit.
Brons, a nurse at the hospital, said her colleagues told her she should move to nearby Claremont, which has a better reputation. She suggests that they visit her street. They leave convinced that she is fine where she is.
“’It’s like Mayberry.’ That’s what everyone tells me,” says Brons.
Like Lincoln Park, the Concert Band harks back to another era. It has had only two conductors in 73 years: founder Stan Selby, later the city’s mayor, and Taylor.
This summer’s outdoor rehearsals began because the members were tired of being cooped up. The full group, 65 strong, is too big to rehearse together, and many are older people at greater risk from the virus.
“We thought we could do it safely, six feet apart,” Linda Taylor said of the quintet. “Being outdoors we find it quite safe.”
I asked about spraying aerosol droplets, given that they sit in a circle and are blown into wind instruments.
“Very little wind escapes from the end of the instrument,” Collins said. “Droplets tend to stay inside, as any horn player can tell you.”
The droplets are expected to pass through four feet of Collins’ trumpet and 14 feet of Gonzalez’s French horn, a mass of coils.
A second subgroup, a quartet consisting of the Taylors, David Schaafsma and Lylah Bradford, train Monday nights at the Bradford Hangar at Cable Airport in Upland.
“It gives us a reason to train again,” Small said of the rehearsals. “The first two months of COVID, my instrument was sitting in the corner. I had no incentive.
Rehearsals are not concerts. It’s five friends running through their favorite numbers or trying new ones, stopping and starting again, good-naturedly complaining about the tempo and losing their place as they read the sheet music in front of them.
“Is this the last measure?” Norm broke down during a tough number.
“If we rush,” Allan said, “we’ll get there faster.”
They ran a little long. No one was in a hurry.
Speaking of outdoor music in Pomona, the city Repertory Opera Company is hosting free concerts Oct. 18 and 25 in the parking lot of the Pilgrim Congregational Church, 600 N. Garey Ave., at 5 p.m. I recommend waiting until you’re absolutely sure the opera music is over before you honk your car horn in appreciation.
David Allen writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, three ass notes. Email [email protected], call 909-483-9339, visit insidesocal.com/davidallen, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook, and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.