Thursday, July 04, 2002

Casual collection of musicians salutes Fourth

By Stacy Trevenon--Half Moon Bay Review

Fog or shine, they're out at the corner of Kelly Avenue and Main Street every Fourth of July, lustily playing patriotic favorites. And that's about the only time you'll see them.

That's because the Fourth of July is the only time they get together. And then, they only rehearse once or twice before they perform.

Folks know their music better than their name, for one very long reason: The group is called the Half Moon Bay Marching Band that Used to Ride on a Flatbed Truck but now Sits at the Corner of Kelly and Main, Otherwise Known as the HMB Fourth of July Band.

And there they sit, with a lightheartedness that belies their passionate playing.

"If you can read music, and play, sort of, you're in," says musician Bill Bates, who has been with the band since about 1988.

That sort of tongue-in-cheek homespun humor is what has endeared the band to their public just as much as their sparkling renditions of good old-fashioned patriotic tunes.

Some of them are professional musicians, but for many, the Fourth is the time they dust off their instruments. Those are the ones for whom the Fourth is their "once-a-year music thing," said trombone player Andy Michael.

When they do get together, they pull up chairs at that street corner and play a variety of well-known and not so well-known marches and patriotic songs. The ones everybody knows, like

"The Star-Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful," "Stars and Stripes Forever," and standard John Philip Sousa marches, along with ones you've never heard, but which get your toes tapping anyway.

The players add a new one every so often, and may add a couple more on this post-Sept. 11 Fourth.

The old favorites and patriotic songs aren't easy pieces.

"It's very challenging music, actually," said Michael, who is also a member of the Coastside Community Orchestra.

Challenge and patriotism are not all that keep The Band together. Fun is a big part of it, too.

"We do this for the sheer joy of doing it," said Bates. "I realized it was a fun hobby that allowed us to think of things other than the day-to-day."

As near as band members can place it, the band originated in the mid-1980s. That first group of about 15 or 16 players gathered at the home of Isabelle and Bob Mascall. Neither of the Mascalls, who are now divorced, were musicians.

"They just felt there needed to be a local band playing for the Fourth of July parade, and set about seeing that there was," said euphonium player Valerie Kruger, another founding member and former percussion player.

As word spread, more players came along. The group has always been a melting pot of people: educators, writers, hightech workers, health care professionals, salespeople, students, parents and grandparents, of all ages. Their common denominator has been the music.

The rehearsals migrated to the home of clarinet player Chris Gleichman, who showed an aptitude for handling the band's mailing lists and organizing the music.

When they had mastered four or five tunes, they began to think about the Fourth parade. "We thought, 'Why not get together and see what we can do?'" said Bates.

They did march in a couple of parades, but found that playing and marching at once was quite a trick.

"We could play OK, but to walk at the same time didn't work well," said Gleichman. "Nobody said anything, but we got some looks."

But they did try. "I remember one of the clarinet players marching along in flip-flops carrying his baby in a backpack, and me marching along playing the field drum with one hand in a cast because I'd broken a finger playing volleyball," said Kruger.

Then the band tried walking a few steps then stopping to play. That worked only a little better.

Then, somewhere in the mid-1990s, Gleichman worked out an arrangement with Half Moon Bay construction company owner and pilot Eddie Andreini for the band to use his flatbed truck. Andreini got into the spirit of the whole event.

"We were very grateful," said Michael. "He would decorate the truck and everything."

The day before the parade, Gleichman would nail two-by-fours to the truck bed to stabilize the folding chairs he had obtained. And all the band had to do was sit and play.

Until they got too big for the truck. Musicians from over the hill had heard about the band, and many were coming over to play on the Fourth.

So band members talked to parade organizers, and it was decided that the band would set up chairs at the corner of Kelly and Main, and play while the parade passed by.

The band had no formal conductor; it relied on members who were music teachers or the first trumpet or percussionists to call the count to start the pieces. Then, about four years ago, tuba player Steve Chandler said he'd give conducting a try. He did, and stayed.

The band means a lot to Chandler.

"He loves that thing," said his wife Emily Chandler. "It's a bit of Americana."

Today, the band's roster contains about 65 names, said Bates, and every year about 50 of them perform. The band had crowded into the Half Moon Bay High School music room to rehearse, but when insurance costs for the room skyrocketed, they relocated to the building at the back of Cameron's Inn.

As a gesture of thanks to inn owner Cameron Palmer, some band members repair to his inn and play for a while for customers after the parade.

Now, roughly 15 years after its beginnings, the band has matured. Its many experienced or professional musicians help out the others, and the music jells well.

"With people who read (music) well, good musicians, (the band is) able to pull performances together quickly," Andy Michael said.

This year on the Fourth, as always, the band will be at its customary spot at the corner of Kelly and Main, striking up just a little before the parade begins at noon.


What: The Half Moon Bay Fourth of July Band.

When: Thursday, July 4, starts just before noon.

Where: Corner of Kelly Ave. and Main St.

Copyright 2002 Half Moon Bay Review and Pescadero Pebble.