DOWNEY — Overlooking the terrace and the great green lawns of the fairways of Rio Hondo Golf Club, from tables in the event center banquet room spread with silver cloths set with silver swirls, and dozens of play diamonds sprinkled over everything- you know you’re at the Garden Party Gala celebrating the Downey Symphony’s 60th – diamond – anniversary.
Downey Mayor Sean Ashton attended, as did former Mayor Meredith Perkins, and such fans of the arts as David Devis, owner of Epic Lounge. His tastes range from the Blasters to Beethoven. A Marilyn Monroe look-alike in a white halter dress sang a breathy “Happy Anniversary Dear Symphony,” and “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” while guests checked out tables of silent auction offerings.
To raise money for its season of three concert performances in the Downey Theatre, and for the Music in the Schools program for Downey’s kids, the Downey Symphonic Society held its annual Garden Party Gala.
“It’s the first day of fall,” said Pat Gil, chair of the event, “but the temperatures are in the low 80’s, the sky is fair, and it’s summer all day long.” Don Marshall, president of the Society’s Board, welcomed the guests and then musical director and conductor Sharon Lavery gave a preview of the exciting season ahead.
Sharon, splendid in a black jacket with caviar beading, previewed the three evenings of classical concerts planned for the Downey Theatre, starting with Viva Musica! on Oct. 20. Young composer Oscar Navarro is coming from Spain to premier his new Clarinet Concerto, and Lavery will conduct pieces like Ernesto Lecuona’s Andalucia Suite, which ends with the fiery piece better known as “Malaguena.”
January 19th’s concert will feature Salzburg’s favorite son, Mozart, and Lars Clutterham, a Downey resident, who will premiere his orchestral piece, “Arc of Life.” A dramatic rendition of the whimsical Peter and the Wolf will then delight the audience.
Final concert on April 6 will be an All Gershwin!, honoring Dr. Jacquelin Perry of Downey Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. World renowned Dr. Jackie, a pioneer in locomotion studies, was a longtime Downey resident and classical music enthusiast.
Priscilla Winslow, twice winner of the baton auction, came down from Berkeley to her hometown of Downey for the party. Her father, Paul, had been a member of the Board of Directors of the Symphonic Society. Also spotted was busy person around town and tireless worker for the Downey Woman’s Club, Barbara Beard.
Barbara flew back from a Women’s Club Convention in San Francisco just to come to the Garden Party. Downey’s Women’s Club, founded in 1898, does amazing things on the cultural and education scene, and supports the Downey Rose Float Association. Barbara is an example of the cross-organization support in the community for Downey’s volunteer doings.
Adele Alexander, former president of the Downey Assistance League and long-time Symphony supporter, was there with husband, Alex, and Joe Commodore, staunch Kiwanian. Other Kiwanians were Larry Lewis and Bill Hare, both former presidents of the Downey Symphonic Society.
Bill conducted the live auction at the end of the evening, and helped raise money for Symphony projects like sending a quintet to every K-5 and Middle School in Downey, with an entertaining program written for the Symphony by the late Dr. Tom Osborn, which teaches children about tempo, melody and other musical matters.
“We use all kinds of music, classical, Romantic, jazz, mariachi, Chinese, to teach the kids,” said Sharon. The kids love it.
The pay-off for the children’s musical education comes with a real symphony concert at the Downey Theatre, one each for all the third graders in the DUSD, the other for fifth grade, to which the kids are bussed, courtesy of the Downey Unified School District. But it takes three continuous concerts each morning to give each child a chance to come.
For these concerts, the orchestra musicians are professionals and they are paid, to rehearse and to perform, and for that, the school district contributes, as does the Kiwanis Foundation, in a big way. That’s one of the reasons why the Symphonic Society produces the Garden Party as a fund-raiser each year.
White jackets and tuxedos made some of the men guests resemble the James Bond cut-out at the door, from “Diamond Are Forever.” Games played at the tables involved guessing the number of diamonds in a bottle, and the prize for each table was a rose gold pen topped with a ginormous emerald-cut diamond.
Women’s wear ranged from summer pastels to Carolina del Toro’s black number with diamond (rhinestone?) strappy neck décor. Her husband, ceramicist Jorge del Toro, sported a formal tux as did “Gil,” Pat Gil’s husband. Pat wore a simple black dress with a deep V neckline completely filled with an amazing bib necklace of “diamonds” which sparkled whenever she moved.
Joyce Sherwin of the Symphony board, who plans the 60th anniversary events, wore a striking purple silk tunic jacket with a diamond musical clef pin and finished her ensemble with classic white summer pants.
“Buy raffle tickets in a strip as wide as your arms can stretch,” said Pat, and the winners got spirit bottles. Downey Rotarian Harold Tseklenis was there: he first joined the Symphonic Society board 59 years ago. Hop Morrison of the Rotary Club of Rio Hondo was there, along with wife Karol, a board member. Bernice Mancibo Stumps, who attends all the volunteer functions and donates to all of them, won several prizes.
Twenty items graced the silent auction tables, ranging from a bottle of 15-year-old Glenlevit Scotch; a painting by Carolina de Toro; costume jewelry featuring mock diamonds; spirit baskets, a Hallowe’en basket full of masks and skeleton faces along with cookies and candy; Downey artist Terry Walker’s glass creations; and “Rum Chata.”
Tables set with silver pitchers of white hydrangeas and stalks of white snapdragons seated at least 120 guests, a healthy increase even over last years’ crowd. A sign of prosperity, and people allowing themselves to indulge? Let’s hope so. The evening moved along, with a lot of new and young faces in attendance and bidding.
While the USC Brass Quintet played bluesy and rag-time versions of “Stardust” and “My Way,” guests dined on salad and a tender and juicy creamed herbed chicken roasted with vegetables, and a raspberry coulis atop French Vanilla cheesecake. Thanks to Sharon’s position with USC’s Thornton School of Music, she is in the best position to get us talented musicians. We could hear how good they are.
For the live auction, Bill Hare cajoled and guided bidders into getting good value for their money. Bill has a knack of quickly identifying serious bidders, even in a big room, and since he knows everyone by name, there is no disappearing after you make an offer. Bill offered two premier tickets at Segerstrom Hall with special lounge privileges; tickets to “Hotel California,” the Eagles Tribute concert in January at the Downey Theatre, with a dinner certificate at The Green Olive (Dave Devis bid on that).
The grand prize which always excites the bidders and the room was the opportunity to attend, seated right on stage, a Downey Orchestra rehearsal before the January concert, and dinner with Maestro Sharon. This was so hotly contested that Sharon graciously offered to be available for the same combination for the April concert, with the Rhapsody in Blue piano soloist too if at all possible.
One of the winners was Carol Kearns: she writes thoughtful articles on current Downey matters for the Patriot and her husband, Frank, a Downey poet, operates Los Nietos Press, a bijou publishing press for local poets. Carol and Frank are active in the Downey Arts Coalition, a renaissance movement here in town.
The other winner was Bernice Stumps, who circulated information about the upcoming Aerospace Legacy Foundation October event, “Exploring the Imagination of Science” at the Columbia memorial Space Center.
Each symphony concert in the Downey Theatre this year will end with a champagne reception, the October and April complimentary to the entire audience, the winter January concert just for season ticket subscribers. Tickets are available at the Downey Theatre box office site.
“After the concert, come find your way back stage. I would love to meet you and talk with you,” said Maestro Sharon.
Auction item winners win twice, because they get the featured article for their own, plus they have the satisfaction of contributing to the quality performances of the Symphony.
Musician’s salaries plus rent, insurance and miscellaneous costs have to be paid every concert, and the Downey Symphonic Society always pays for the best they can get to come and play here.
Lorine Parks is the Downey Patriot’s society editor.