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DOWNEY – More than a decade ago, her interest in doing craft boutiques as a hobby waning, Bea Romano listened to her mom’s intuitive suggestion that she look into playing the hammered dulcimer, a stringed musical instrument with the strings stretched and beaten with small hammers over a trapezoidal sounding board, said to have originated from Persia.
The idea played right into her sense of the family’s strong love of music and struck a chord. Not long after, Bea was receiving instruction “from a lady in Whittier.”
The formation of a 4-member band, When Pigs Fly, soon followed. It consisted of
Bea on her newly-learned instrument, her retired cartographer husband, Jim Romano, on guitar, Marianne Scanlon on hammered and fretted dulcimer, and Jed Cope on fiddle (the members are, in fact, individually versatile, each able to play more than one instrument, such as the autoharp, bowed psaltery, snare drum, washboard, bodhran, and mandolin, as the situation demands).
The band, with its Celtic aires, celebrates “the musical traditions of the British Isles and its evolution in America (sea chanties, folk, bluegrass, Appalachian and cowboy songs).
Indeed, with a little substitution, When Pigs Fly morphs into “Back Porch Symphony”, with Bea, Jim and Marianne hanging on to their usual instruments and Terry Guzwa joining in with his cello and washtub bass (eclectic: country, bluegrass, etc.).
If an occasion calls for only three members playing, the band again metamorphoses into the 3-member band known as Willow Bend – with Stephen Thomas on flute blending in with Bea’s dulcimer and Jim’s guitar and doumbek sounds (“producing enchanting Irish melodies, historical selections from Early Americana and eclectic music of the ‘Shaker’ community”).
Again, on occasion, such as this month’s authors’ luncheon hosted by the Friends of the Library, aware that Bea’s band usually can create individually-tailored programs to suit an event, its organizers deemed it fit to have only the husband-and-wife team of Bea and Jim provide the soothing, unobtrusive, and pleasing background music.
These different bands all operate under the aegis of Celticana, a mini-umbrella organization Bea formed to suggest the Celtic and (Early) American musical traditions represented by the bands’ instruments.
Thus Bea’s bands have over time played at parties of all kinds and every occasion (at home, at work, at restaurants, or at that special event-maybe a wedding or special anniversary), at celebrations, receptions, clubs, libraries, churches, art walks, museums, festivals. The various band configurations have played for fun – and for profit. But whether the band has played for fun, profit or charity, Bea says this her new hobby has definitely enriched her life immeasurably.
The bands’ repertoire also includes dance music – English Country dance and contra dance music, or some other “barn dance” favorites like jigs and reels.
Last Saturday, Bea, with co-organizer Carol Kearns, raised the ante as far as music in Downey is concerned by mounting Make Music Downey, a music festival held in the same mold and time frame as similar music festivals in New York and Paris, and close by, in Pasadena.
The purpose was to make Downey (or downtown Downey at least) vibrate from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the sounds of music of various genres from six different sites, and provide an opportunity for first-timers and oldtimers alike to showcase their talents and otherwise celebrate song and music.
The performers were amateurs and professionals. Everything was on a voluntary basis, except for some $4,000 to pay for “printing, insurance, and licensing, etc.”
Bea, who was born in flood-prone Johnstown, Pennsylvania and came to Downey in 1968, the same year she and Jim got married, is a graduate of St. Matthias High School in Huntington Park. She is a dietetic technician by training (Long Beach City College) and later worked for 15 years in that field. Jim was born in Pasadena and raised in Norwalk. He attended Long Beach State and worked as a cartographer for the county.
The couple raised two children. The 43-year old son, a trainer by profession, lives in Encinitas and is working on his Ph. D. in leadership and change. He has two daughters, Sophia, 11, who plays the violin, and Paige, 9, who’s into swimming.
Their 40-year old daughter, who teaches art at South Pasadena Middle School, resides in Arcadia and has two daughters of her own, Maya, 10, who plays the violin, and 4-year old Izzy, who “loves playing the autoharp.”
Bea has devoted many years in the unique music field. She was, for example, among the founding team that started the Southern California Dulcimer Heritage, at one 15-year period serving on the board (the group promotes jams and concerts that culminates in the Fall Festival held in Culver City); been a longstanding board member of the Orange County-based Living Tradition (promotes folk music concerts and jams, contra dances); hosts a hammered dulcimer practice group; plays in open bands for contra dances; founded the Downey Folk Music Jam (featured twice on CNN program publicizing the project); and started Downey Autoharp Circle, where six players meet weekly to learn new skills (adopting Lady Fingers as their name, they have played at Rancho Los Amigos’ Christmas boutique, convalescent homes, etc.).
Meanwhile, Bea presents educational and musical programs for clubs, organizations and libraries on the history of the hammered dulcimer.
“My next mission,” Bea said, “is to work with the city to bring more music to restaurants and businesses and events in Downey.”
Published: June 13, 2013 – Volume 12 – Issue 09