Musical Notes Graphic

What do you mean, it's almost September?

I guess so, because the last concert in August was the other night at Rancho Los Cerritos. The concert featured The Band of the California Battalion, a Civil War reenactment ensemble.

The group is led by Dr. Gary Thomas Scott, former band director and dean at Long Beach City College. Members of the band, in uniform, are all dedicated volunteers, and the instruments they play are interesting. There’s not a clarinet or piccolo in sight; this is an entirely brass and percussion ensemble, and the brass instruments are those specifically designed by Adolphe Sax, of saxophone fame, for military bands. They have the bells facing backwards, so the band could march out front with the battalion marching behind. A few of the instruments are authentic, the rest are replicas.

Sunday evening’s program consisted of marches, quicksteps, and other pieces of the period leading up to and during the Civil War. This is a Union Army outfit, and they opened with “Marching Through Georgia,” but they also played “Dixie” and the Southern favorite “Goober Peas.” There is singing as well as instrumental talent in the group, and a few spirituals were also mixed in. Possibly the highlight was band co-founder Sheldon Gordon’s moving rendition of Stephen Foster’s “Old Black Joe.”

Scott in his introductory remarks for each piece provided context, and quite a bit of historical detail about the music and instruments, leavened with considerable humor. Several of the comic songs also lightened the mood, which managed to be entertaining as well as educational.

So I also guess this marks the end of what you might call the Long Beach summer concert season. Our quality of life is greatly enhanced here by the various outdoor concert series at various venues around town.

The Rancho might be my favorite. The lawn is an ideal place for picnicking while listening to music, and the majestic fig tree at one end is a perfect backdrop for the performers. It’s a shame they only mounted two concerts this year. Another terrific venue is the Nature Center, where they have recently added a very nice stage and audience space. I didn’t get there this year, but there is always hope.

The Municipal Band, of course, plays a six-week season at various parks in the city, and otherwise groups such as Elm Street Band and Knight Rider get around as best they can. The parks are lovely on a summer evening, and only budget constraints prevent them from offering more in the way of concerts.

But September is upon us, and with it the local performing ensembles, the symphony and such, crank up their own concert series. Summer was nice, but it’s almost over.

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