Bea Romano remembered as an artist, community advocate, and friend
Bea Romano, community activist in all things musical, inspired her own memorial service at St. Raymond’s Catholic Church in Downey.
Family and friends walked out of the church to the lively hymn, “Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.” The words follow a traditional carol that portrays Jesus' life and mission as a dance. Bea’s musical group, When Pigs Fly, loved to perform it.
Earlier, in part of the service, Father John Higgins had read the Beatitudes from The Sermon on the Mount, appropriate because beatitude comes from the same root word as Beatrice, both meaning blessed.
Then, on the patio, husband Jim Romano and family released a cageful of white doves, who flew out and upward in a V formation, till they disappeared against the blue cloud-laced sky. A beautiful way of expressing a final goodbye and of letting go. Actually white homing pigeons, they will return home where they will be rewarded with fresh water and food.
Bea was born Beatrice Platt in Johnston, Pennsylvania and when she was seven, the family moved to Maywood. “We grew up together in Maywood,’ said Kathie Blackburn, a childhood friend who remembered Bea fondly, “a little square place bounded on all four sides by railroad tracks.”
Bea came to Downey in 1968, when at 19 she married Jim. Here she raised her family.
Almost 20 years ago Bea learned to play an old-fashioned musical instrument, the hammered dulcimer, and the music scene in Downey has never been the same since. “Dulcimer” originally just meant sweet-sounding lyre, but a hammered dulcimer is a percussion-stringed instrument with strings stretched over a trapezoidal resonant sound board, played with mallets. A rich, full sound and unique energy are produced by the mallets hammering the strings.
As soon as Bea was proficient, she, husband Jim on guitar, Marianne Scanlon also on dulcimer and Jim Cope on fiddle, formed the group, When Pigs Fly, a name that can suggest an impossibility come true. They delighted audiences with sweet Celtic aires, Irish melodies, historical selections from Early Americana, jigs reels, sea chanties, folk, bluegrass, Appalachian and cowboy songs.
Bea enjoyed sharing her knowledge of these arcane sounds in educational musical programs for clubs, organizations and libraries. I remember her soloing at a Friends of the Downey Library luncheon, smiling and explaining her instrument while hammering at the same time.
Bea’s group played everywhere, at parties, in homes, at work, at restaurants like the Mambo Grill, the Hollydale Library, for weddings and anniversaries, art walks, in beer and wine gardens, museums, festivals. Under the management of Celticana, they also produced a CD of their songs.
"My next mission," Bea said, "is to work with the city to bring more music to restaurants and businesses and events in Downey."
One remarkable project that Bea managed to achieve was Make Music Downey, a free all-day music festival similar to music festivals in New York and Paris. The purpose was to make downtown Downey vibrate from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the sounds of music of various genres from six different sites, like the lawn of the First Presbyterian Church, the Epic Lounge and Stay Gallery. The First Baptist Church and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church helped by providing parking and lawn canopies.
“Bea and I partnered on the event,” said co-organizer Carol Kearns, “which seems crazy as I look back. It involved hundreds of people and wouldn't have happened without her.”
“After hearing about the annual free, public music festival, Make Music New York,” said Carol, “Bea and I decided to try this in Downey in 2013. It worked just well enough that Bea and I did it again the next year, partnering with the City's Bicycle Ride. We were two idealistic ladies lucky enough to have husbands who supported us. I still can't believe we pulled it off.”
In 2012, as poetry curator for the Downey Arts Coalition, I asked Bea to help inaugurate the monthly poetry reading series, Poetry Matters, that went on for a six-year run. Bea and company entertained at Mari’s Wine Bar for an hour while poets gathered and admired her skill. When Pigs Fly also played at one of my own birthday parties, a great treat.
Always wanting to give more, Bea founded the Downey Folk Music Jam. Now, dulcimer jam is not a delicacy, to spread on toast. It’s a rollicking musical happening, as classical music lovers Joyce Sherwin and I remember with pleasure, after attending a dulcimer jam session in Bea’s home.
Bea founded the Southern California Dulcimer Heritage, and started the Downey Autoharp Circle, where six players met weekly to learn new skills. Adopting Lady Fingers as their name, they played at the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation Christmas boutique and in convalescent homes.
“She had a zest for life,” Carol said, “and was always doing something, volunteering somewhere. In so many ways, she made the world a better place.”
“We mourn the passing of a community pillar,” said the Downey Arts Coalition. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Bea’s family.” Founding members of DAC like Andrew Wahlquist, Alistair Hunter, Roy Anthony Shabla and Frank Kearns expressed their sense of loss, as did many more.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his magical poem Kublai Khan, gives us one of literature’s most unforgettable images, “the damsel with a dulcimer, in a vision once I saw.”
We will remember Bea Romano, “her symphony and song,” her dulcimer and her grace.
Read Bea Romano’s obituary here.