So many adults look back on their high school band days with longing. They miss the community and the creativity, and they might not realize that they have the opportunity to recapture that magic right in their own town.
Every Tuesday night, 40 musicians rehearse in the band room of Healdsburg High School. They are the Healdsburg Community Band, and on the night of Oct. 6, 2015, conductor Jon Saler lifted his baton, and the band responded with a B-flat major scale, a comforting sound to anyone with concert band experience in his or her past.
The scale is followed by a rich warm-up chorale. The band has balanced instrumentation, with full sections in both woodwinds and brass—quite a luxury for an all-volunteer group. The chorale is followed by rehearsal on a particularly difficult passage of the quick-paced “Anchors Aweigh” section of “Armed Forces Salute,” during which it becomes evident that not all the sections are full after all. The single percussionist, who had little responsibility during the chorale, now covers snare drum, bass drum and cymbals on the drum set and then dodges music stands and leaps over stick bags in order to ring the chimes right on cue.
With its drummer still busy as ever, the band rehearses “Victory Spirit,” a Warren Barker piece with inspiring trumpet fanfares, and the John Philip Sousa march “Semper Fidelis.” Then, at break time, the band members are eager to discuss community.
“When I moved here from Florida,” says trumpet player David Gilbertson, “I looked for a community band right away.” Gilbertson found the band’s website, showed up and happily recognized band member Doug Pile and the band’s other conductor, Randy Masselink, from the church he had visited.
Pile, a founding member some 33 years ago, welcomed Gilbertson, and stressed that anyone is welcome. “No auditions, just show up!” Pile most appreciates “the music, the people, and being able to kick back and learn new things.” His son Nate sits next to him. Both play clarinet. Nate had taken a break from playing when life got busy, but he joined back up three years ago.
That seems to be the story for many of the musicians. Professionals are sprinkled throughout the band, like Gary Young, director of the Rohnert Park Community Band, and Steve Dixon, former high school band teacher (and the aforementioned very busy drummer), but many of the players hadn’t played since high school and only found their way back to music years later. One woman even said that at her first rehearsal she thought she had lost too much ability and was considering not returning, but the player next to her encouraged her by saying, “Start by just playing the first note of every measure.” As the months went by, she played more and more of the notes, and now she’s the one encouraging newcomers.
Misty Eland had taken a three-year hiatus from playing the flute, and she loves how the community feeling extends to her kids. When they attend the concerts, “they are the band kids.”
Donna Cambra, Bob Benson and Paul Deas hadn’t played for years either. “It’s like riding a bike,” says Benson.
“It’s a joy,” Deas adds. “You leave feeling better no matter what your day was like before.”
And Cambra says, “They’re all such nice people. I was missing a piece of my soul until I sat down to play again. I didn’t realize what was missing in my life.”
But not everyone in the band is old enough to have taken a hiatus. Three members are still in high school. Freshman Chiara Rackerby has been playing since her dad got her into the violin when she was eight. Then she added flute, and when she switched to oboe in the seventh grade, opportunities such as playing “Peter and the Wolf” in the Santa Rosa Youth Orchestra opened up, and now Chiara doesn’t sound like she’s ever planning to stop.
And that’s the beauty of this community. Young, old, professional, beginner—they all matter here. They all belong. “Sometimes I’m tired, but they seem to like the way I play,” says trombonist Barry Smith.
And isn’t that what we all want? A place where people want us to show up? Tenor sax Curtis Smith simply says, “It’s a good experience for every one of us.” SD
Healdsburg Community Band
Sebastopol Community Band
Rohnert Park Community Band