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Forty-four Years Later, Santa Monica Band Still Delivers

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Melonie Magruder
Staff Writer

February 13, 2013 -- Like most school bands, this Santa Monica orchestra has survived budget cuts, is led by a teacher and plays music ranging from classical to rock-n-roll.

But this band's French horn player is 94-years-old, and many of the musicians, who will perform at a free concert at the Broad Stage on Santa Monica College's campus, are retired.

A former member even once played with John Phillip Sousa, the famous composer who died in 1932, before joining the band.

SMC's Emeritus Band, now in its 44th year, will offer one of the most affordable chances to visit SMC's widely-acclaimed Broad Stage.

“That’s the great thing about Santa Monica,” said Craig Peterson, a semi-retired contract engineer who has been playing trumpet with the band 14 years alongside his trombonist wife Jeanine.

“Music is really revered in the schools and you come out of high school with a good musical foundation. My son played in the band when he was in high school. But there was a guy in the band when I joined who had actually played with Sousa back in the day.”

Originally founded by Wallace Umber in 1968, the band was formed with the idea of starting a community band as an adult learning continuation class for the Venice Adult School. When Proposition 13 reduced funding to schools for these types of activities, Umber kept the band together by rehearsing at Emerson Junior High School, where he taught music.

In 1979, Umber brought the band to Emeritus College. They have performed continuously since then, with a musical library of more than 800 arrangements, from Broadway show tunes to Dixieland, to John Phillip Sousa marches.

“I grew up in Iowa; you know, where ‘The Music Man’ takes place,” Peterson said. “Community love for music is really like that there. I come from a culture of bands, so it’s natural for me to play with the Emeritus Band.”

As an entirely volunteer venture, Peterson said that the size of the band can vary, but usually features about 65 musicians, led by current director Mike Corrigan. Band members are “mostly retired” local people, including the most senior band member, 94-year-old Dick Stout, who plays the French horn. Anyone is welcome to play with the band.

Corrigan, who was brought in as director about four years ago, currently teaches music with the Manhattan Beach Unified School District. However, he has been band director at a number of southland high schools and elementary school bands, including Santa Monica High. He said that he enjoys the Emeritus Band as being truly representative of a community band.

“We have some semi-professional players and we also have some people just show up saying they always wanted to play in a band,” Corrigan said. “If you want to play, you’ll play. We never turn anyone away.”

So how does a band director of such credentials manage to keep together a volunteer staff of musicians who occasionally play for free? Peterson said the whole point is the music.

“It’s just plain fun,” he said. “You know, people will take band in high school, then go on with their lives and forget music. By the time they are close to retirement, they have the time to return to playing and they realize how much they missed it. We get together to play a few notes every Tuesday night and we have a blast.”

The band is made up of brass, woodwinds and percussion instruments, and their set lists can include Aaron Copeland or newer composers, like Frank Ticheli, professor of composition at USC’s Thornton School of Music. Peterson said that founding director Umber liked to “mix it up,” so that their performance arrangements could include jazz, big band, classical, pop and even some rock and roll.

“Wally was director here for 40 years,” Peterson said. “Even Esa-Pekka Salonen wasn’t with the L.A. Phil that long!”

Santa Monica has had a long history of appreciating performance bands. The SAMOHI Band was first established in 1915 and many of its graduates have gone on to play for the Emeritus Band. Peterson said that they keep performing thanks to a community that shows ongoing support for music.

“I teach elementary school bands, and I find it very encouraging to work with both ends of the spectrum,” Corrigan said. “It shows that music stays with you. They really are a family.”

Their concert at the Broad Stage next Sunday will include traditional, popular and show tune favorites, like selections from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”

“This is one of the few opportunities to enjoy a performance at the Broad with no admission fee and free parking,” Peterson said. “I’m betting that some of the younger people who come see it will end up playing with us some day. Because this is a community band. And if you’ve ever played in a band as a youngster, you can never get away from it. You’ll want to come back and play.”

The Emeritus College Concert Band will perform Sunday, February 17 at 3:00 p.m. at the Broad Stage on Santa Monica College campus. Admission is free.

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