There is a thoroughly delightful phenomenon in Marin, a volunteer band fondly called the “Sewer Band”. This 70 piece band, and by band I don’t mean long-haired rockers in the garage but rather the old fashioned musicians in a bandstand in the park wearing straw boaters playing John Philip Souza while everyone’s drinking lemonade and fanning themselves gently. The Sewer Band is formally known as the Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District Non-Marching Band. It was started 51 years ago by 7 local folks who were musically inclined in a band-like way, and when they realized that they were all patrons of the aforementioned sewage treatment facility the band was “born”. I would really like to know how that topic came up in the conversation but some details like this are just lost in the mists of time and are part of the Sewer Band mystique. The non-marching aspect came about because most of the members had bum knees!
I became familiar with the Sewer Band because a dear friend has been a member for the last few years and with a barely perceptible amount of urging (basically just mentioning he was a member was enough impetus) I began attending their free concerts at irregular intervals.
Can I just say how delightful it is to listen to a generally professional band playing marches and the like? Well, it is just delightful and they have the nerve to thank me, ME, for attending when it is I who should be thanking them.
That said, last night was the Sewer Band’s 51st Annual Spring concert. What a remarkable group of musicians they are! Comprised of members ranging in ages 20 to 90 they represent a broad spectrum of generally white collar types, from lawyers to doctors to several retired judges to housewives and young professionals. Their love of their instruments and all thing band-ish is remarkable as are their performances. It’s a large loving group and they have a lot to toot their horns about, so to speak.
Now my very dear and modest friend plays a rather unusual instrument, the contrabass clarinet. It’s what you’d expect to see if a tuba and a clarinet met under a bleacher one dark summer night and had a love child. It has a dandy deep toodling sound and is rather rare in the wind world.
I enjoy these concerts so much. Not just because the music is wonderful, which it is, but it is so much fun to see someone you know up on a huge stage filled with other musicians! I feel like I’m stepping back to a quieter more innocent time when you would take your best fellow to the park and hear the band and perhaps clap along and then go somewhere and feel your heart go pitter-pat as your heads almost touch while sharing a brown cow at the soda fountain. Funnily enough my friend was also a soda jerk but that’s a story for another day.
I was luck to attend that evening with my friend’s wife, and also a dear friend. As we attained our seats in the auditorium and I gazed around and realized that there was a large age disparity in the attendees. Most of the audience were older, grey haired people, and here and there was a young family with small children, a few teens here and there but mostly the more aged. I presumed that probably most of the younger people were family members of friends of either the band or fellow audience members and probably not there of their own volition. This made me feel sad and rather nostalgic, because once this generation of music lovers passes who will be left to organize these kinds of concerts…. will anyone? The older generation knows how to sit and enjoy themselves by just listening to music. I was delighted to see an actual contingent of The Red Hat Ladies in the audience! What hutzpa!
The Concert! Imagine that you are watching the Stanford Band after they have grown up and have grandchildren, that is the Sewer Band. It was a giant sing-along at the Marin Civic Auditorium and the Master of Ceremonies was hilarious. Dick Spotswood was pithy, informative and very amusing, I wish I could relate his bantering manner here but you will just have to come to a concert someday and hear him yourself. The band’s conductor is the very talented Benedetta Dalbesio and the program this year was “Take a Trip”, a musical tour around the world, and several band members trotted out holding a giant cutout train and airplane while other band members waved signs from their positions, such as Route 66 and Hawaii. They performed several band standards and some more unusual pieces. Hearing this concert brought me the realization that most of my musical education for this genre comes from watching Turner Classic Movies!
My favorites were the Roller Coaster, Otto Schwarz and The Hounds of Spring, Alfred Reed, and some wonderful Benny Goodman selections: Let’s Dance, Stompin’ At the Savoy, my personal favorite Moonglow and Sing, Sing Sing. During the last song, the talented Stan Kane was playing his clarinet like a snake charmer. I could almost see his horn bend and sway like a mesmerized cobra. The Golden Jubilee, John Philip Souza went particularly well, as did music from The Incredibles, Michael Giacchino. My friends have not yet seen the movie and we instantly devised a plan for movie night soon, with truffled popcorn of course! The crowd was highly enthusiastic all evening, the thunder of the kettle drums was echoed by the thrumming tapping feet telegraphed through the auditorium’s risers. The most fun performances included a special medley of Hawaiian luau songs by their ukulele band (complete with Hawaiian shirts, straw hats and a hula lesson) and Casey at the Bat, Randol Alan Bass & Ernest L. Thayer, narration by Sven Ostling. The evening ended with a rousing rendition of The Stars and Stripes Forever, John Philip Souza, which brought tears to my eyes. Dick Spotswood’s introduction to this piece reminded us that during these troubled times now more than ever a song like Stars and Stripes Forever carry more meaning to us as Americans. Good thing I had a hanky and I saw I was not the only one similarly moved.
Following the concert was the after-party for the musicians and their families. The band members bring homemade treats and lots of beverages to share. I was delighted to bring a very special contribution to honor my friend in the Band, homemade bread by Danny Gabriner of Gourmet Gastronomer, who is starting a bakery and very kindly offered free bread to all takers via Twitter. I was, of course, quick to raise my hand and say I’d love some bread and earlier that morning headed over to The Bakery.
It was a beautiful sunny day in the Mission District and Danny is as charming as he is talented with dough. Earlier that morning he prepared for me a batch of part whole wheat sourdough from his starter nicknamed Blarf. He also prepared a loaf of Amadana bread, which is sourdough with cornmeal and molasses, yum. While the breads were rising we relaxed in the garden with his neighbor and their plumber who had unfortunately cut his hand while working and needed a touch of first aid. All was well in the end and we headed up to Danny’s capacious kitchen to bake off the gorgeous loaves. While sipping a chilled glasses of wine, Danny shared his plans for his emerging bakery which is tremendously exciting. I learned all about Blarf and was gifted with a tub of him to take home, which I naturally named Son of Blarf (reminiscent of my favorite B sci fi movies from childhood – and today, who am I kidding!). Danny taught me how to tell when the bread had been kneaded enough and his rising techniques. Then he started to make corn tortillas, what a fascinating process and surprisingly simple! I jumped in with both hands and soon learned what to do (and what not to do) and managed to create about 6 decently shaped and cooked tortillas. The flour tortilla process was also great fun, rolling out the dough into rounds then baking on a hot stone until puffed.
(flour tortillas cooling with Blarf in the background)
(Danny and the delicious sourdough loaf)
Alas my brief time at The Bakery came to an end and I absconded with two amazingly scented gorgeous loaves of bread and headed to Marin. First we stopped for a delicious dinner at Sol Food in San Rafael, what a find! Amazing Puerto Rican food, I will be back.
(at Sol Food)
For the reception I sliced the Amadana loaf, isn’t it gorgeous?
(sliced Anadama, note the perfect crumb!)
We served up this delicious bread with a huge chunk of Blue Castello cheese. The musicians at the reception fell upon the platter like locusts. I went for a glass of wine and came back to find this:
(where did it all go?)
A brief moment later all of the bread had vanished. I am exhilarated to say that Danny has invited me back to help him bake and I plan to avail myself of this gracious invitation as soon as possible. All in all a most delicious and satisfying day on all accounts. And the following morning, we toasted the part-sourdough loaf with jam and hot tea, what a great way to start the day!
(Behold, Son of Blarf… or SOB!)