Lodi band switches conductors amid circus theme

Monday, August 9, 2010

By Tony Sauro
Published in the Stockton Record on August 9, 2010

They should conduct a smooth baton pass. Even in a circus atmosphere.

Bob Gross hands off to Art Holton tonight as the Lodi Community Band concludes its season with a big top-themed outdoor concert at Hutchins Street Square in Lodi.

Adam Frey, a euphonium soloist from Atlanta, Ga., adds a playful touch.

“I’m a pro,” said Holton, 61, who plays clarinet in the group (with wife Kathy) and is assuming simultaneous leadership of his third band (“and a couple of wind ensembles”). “He’s done a lot of work and made a big commitment already. He wanted to just go, sit back down, and play his horn. I agreed to try and help.”

“Oh, shoot, he’s so good at working with people,” said Gross, 67, who’s retiring as conductor after six years but still will play his French horn. “He’s got a great musical background, which will really be nice.”

Lodi Community Band Summer Concert: “May All Your Days Be Circus Days”

Featuring: Adam Frey, Euphonium Soloist

When: 6:30 p.m. TONIGHT

Where: Omegua Nu Stage, Hutchins Street Square, 125 S. Hutchins St., Lodi

Admission & Parking: Free

It’s Gross’ background as a devotee of vintage circus music that inspired the theme of his 20-tune, 90-minute conducting finale tonight.

“I think it’s great,” said Holton, San Joaquin Delta College’s director of bands who also conducts the school’s concert band and the Stockton Community Band. “Bob’s got a lot of experience with circus music. He hears lots and lots of it.”

That’s because Gross, who retired in 2000 after teaching school in Linden and Lodi for 34 years, is a Windjammer.

He attends the Windjammers Unlimited convention each January in Sarasota, Fla., and has access to a library containing 180 pieces of circus-themed music.

While in Florida, the 300 musicians – who perform and record “old-time circus music” – work with producers of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (which visits Stockton Arena from Sept. 16 to 19), whose winter headquarters are there. The Ringling people teach elective classes in circus arts (clowns, jugglers, flyers, tumblers) at Sarasota High School.

“It’s a gas,” said Gross. “It’s a natural.”

Playing circus music can be a little tricky.

“If you play fast, a lot of music one tune after another – bing, bing, bing, bing – that’s the challenge,” Gross said. “It isn’t any harder to play, per se. It’s just having the stamina to play.”

Among the 17 selections Gross made from a 60-song Windjammers set are:

Carl King’s “Walking Frog March,” “The Big Cage” and “Barnum & Bailey’s Favorite”; Julius Fucik’s “Entry of the Gladiators”; Aram Khatchaturian’s “Saber Dance”; Arthur Prysock’s “Whistler and His Dog”; and Leroy Anderson’s “Blue Tango.”

Also Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”

“It actually sounds pretty good,” Gross said.

Frey, 36, who performs internationally on his “baby tuba,” or baritone, selected Giacomo Puccini’s operatic “Nessun Dorma” (from “Turandot”) – it was popularized by late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti – and “Rule Britannia.”

That’s appropriate because Frey, a University of Georgia graduate, studied at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England, and plays frequently with woodwind-less brass bands in the United Kingdom.

“A lot of what you call clinicians come up through U.S. military bands,” said Gross, who played in one himself. “He went to Great Britain and studied with British brass bands. So he’s typical of British brass-band style.”

That’ll be evident during his solo encore of Russian Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

“He wants the band just to be able to sit and listen to him playing,” Gross said. “That should be just terrific.”

Frey leaves Lodi for a concert in South Korea.

Holton, who directed three of his Lincoln High School marching bands to Pasadena’s Rose Parade before moving to Delta eight year ago, formally takes over for Gross and tunes up his Delta and Stockton bands on Aug. 16 and 17.

“I’m picking music as we speak,” he said Thursday.

The Lodi group performs in yearly concerts and on national holidays. Its 45 members range from teenagers to 92-year-old Virginia Hoskins, who plays the bells.

“When you make music with adults, you sit down in a concert hall and play,” said Holton, who did that for 25 years in the Stockton Symphony. “You don’t have to worry about discipline as much. You have to make sure you match the level of the group and challenge the group.

“They have fun with it and it’s always an evolutionary process. It’s always a fluid thing. I figure if everything comes from what they enjoy, what they’ll do is a good job.”

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