With musicians playing trombones, trumpets, flugel horns, cornets, euphoniums, tubas and french horns, it’s a rare thing to hear a live 14-piece brass band. When the concert is a Musical Bridges tribute by the Golden Gate Brass Band for the 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge (1937-2012), it is truly a “once in a blue moon” opportunity.
Bread & Roses audiences at the Veterans Home in Yountville, as well as The Redwoods in Mill Valley, were lucky recipients of two of the band’s recent community service concerts. The concerts by the Golden Gate Brass Band, founded by Professor Arlen Philpott from Fairfax in the early 80s, are part of 75 tribute events hosted by community partners leading up to a big celebration sponsored by Golden Gate National Parks at Crissy Field on May 27.
We were all travelers going back in time to the 1930’s when the bridge was being constructed and to 1937 when it first opened to the public. From Porgy & Bess I Got Plenty of Nothin’ to Duke Ellington’s Don’t Mean A Thing If You Ain’t Got That Swing to Mood Indigo from the Harlem Renaissance, there was a lot to remember.
Blue Moon, written by Rodgers and Hart in 1934,was especially appropriate with a blue moon rising at full peak in the Bay Area the night before. Everyone sang along with Ken Brungess of Corte Madera, band-leader and director of the group since 2008. “Blue Moon, Now I’m no longer alone, without a dream in my heart...”
Brungess, also a conductor as well as a composer, surprised the audience with an original song he’d written about the bridge called “The International Orange Hop” serenading the bridge’s distinctive color in a typical blues jump jitterbug style of the period complete with scat singing.
The Veterans Home concert was triumphantly capped by a special medley of songs honoring the veterans’ service to our country including Glory, Glory Hallelujah and My Country ‘Tis of Thee. The final piece, The Circumnavigators March by John Phillip Sousa, was played with buoyant feeling and a perfect ending.
The musical bridges concert prompted memories from a few of the World War II vets in the audience that day. Ken Parks remembered the live radio broadcasts along the span of the bridge.
Hal Cox of Mill Valley said, “I remember playing my harmonica on the day the bridge opened. We started on the north end and got about half way across. There were so many people that by the time we got to the middle we had to turn around.” He also recalled that Joseph Strauss, the bridge’s chief engineer, was a poet whose aesthetic sensibility contributed greatly to the building of the beautiful bridge.
Sallie Layman, one of the trumpet/cornet soloists in the band remarked afterwards that she had never seen anything like the amazing transformation in the faces of the veterans as the program progressed. Brungess noted that it is a Bread & Roses hallmark that the performers are often as moved by their audiences’ reactions as their audiences are moved by the music.
Have you been moved by a recent musical experience, either as a performer or an audience member? Tell us in the comments.
Golden Gate Bridge from Pacific Overlook, Photo by Mason Cummings
Calendar Note: Golden Gate Bridge 75th Celebration
The Golden Gate Brass Band will take part in the “Golden Gate Festival” on the main stage at Crissy Field on Sun. May 27 at 4:50 pm. The band will debut an original composition by Brungess called Musical Amalgam: Brass and Steel. During this 'overture for brass instruments, steel girders and bridge remnants', students from Tamalpais High School will play actual steel bridge pieces against the stunning backdrop of the bridge itself. It promises to be an unforgettable night.
By Marian Hubler