Symphony's 60th year ends with a barbecue

Bill Hare on drums and Mark Artusio on electronic double bass. Photo by Lorine Parks

Bill Hare on drums and Mark Artusio on electronic double bass. Photo by Lorine Parks

“Our 60th year ends – and our next 60 begin,” said Don Marshall, president of the Downey Symphonic Society. With its summertime barbecue, the Guild and the Society ended the year’s festivities in style.

At a companion piece to the year-end Pops in the Park concert at twilight on June 26, symphonic music lovers treated themselves on Sunday to a grand finale dinner in the elegant Downey Women’s Club.

The afternoon venue, with its sparkling brass chandeliers and bright felt place decorations bookended the glamorous opening reception of a year ago on the stage at the Downey Theatre, when many of the same crowd enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, cheese and fruit while sitting where orchestra members usually perform. Déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say.

Anything in existence for 60 years deserves parties, and this has been designated as the Diamond Jubilee. President Don Marshall gave a roll call from the past, thanking many of those present since the early 1980’s. Honored by this recognition were Barbara and Dick Sterling, Ruth Hillecke, Lea Fratello, Harold Tseklenis, and your truly. And Elizabeth Wilson, it turned out, has been here since the beginning, in 1958.

Elections took place recently for officers for 2019-20, and the present Board will serve again: Don Marshall as President; Carol Kearns, Vice President; Ruth Hillecke as Secretary; and Bill Hare Treasurer.

What do classical music aficianados listen to, when it’s not Mozart or Mahler? For this occasion, it was soft jazz by Three’s Company that greeted guests as they entered the room. Later patrons would be entertained by country and western songs as played and sung by Steve Roberson and his composing buddies Paul Marshall, who came all the way from Topanga, and guitarist and singer Karen Tobin.

Joyce Sherwin with her name tag up front and visible. Photo by Lorine Parks

Joyce Sherwin with her name tag up front and visible. Photo by Lorine Parks

Three’s Company featured Lars Clutterham on piano, with Bill Hare at the drums setting the beat. The symphony orchestra’s principal double bass player Mark Artusio, the third member, appeared to be strumming a guitar.

So I thought, but professional musician Paul knew better. Even though he was sitting in a far corner of the room, Paul could see it was an electronic double bass. The long neck was the giveaway. Though less glamorous than an upright big fiddle, with its gleaming mellow wood, the electronic model must be easier to bring to a party to perform.

“This trio came together specifically to celebrate the Downey Symphony’s 60th anniversary” said Lars, “so our two performances—one at the beginning and one at the end of this yearlong celebration—will be the extent of our playing together.”

“Incidentally” said Lars, “the bass is performed almost exclusively “pizzicato” - that is, plucked without a bow--as part of the soft jazz style. And drums are generally performed with brushes rather than sticks, for a softer non-military sound. Piano is normally responsible for the melody and for filling out the harmonies.”

With Lars on piano to lead the way, the trio played easy listening songs from 1958, top pop tunes from the year the Downey Symphony was founded, by Buddy Holly, Pat Boone and Perry Como, The Kingston Trio too.

Lars is resident composer for the Downey Symphony Orchestra, and has given us several original compositions, notably The Arc of My Life performed in January for this commemorative year.

“For today’s performance” said Lars, “since jazz is fundamentally improvisator, all three of us will be making up what we’re playing, within the constraints of the basic harmonies and melodies of the tunes we’re playing.” The Sound of Music never sounded better.

“What’s your contribution here?” I asked Board and Guild member Cindy Kovach, who was stationed at the door to the banquet room that decorated with many-colored balloons, thanks to Celia Santana.

“I’m on Joyce’s team, and Joyce told me to get here early and hand out programs,” said Cindy, the manager of US Bank in Downey. “It’s good to be on Joyce’s team. We spent weeks planning this day, and I do whatever Joyce says.”

Other members besides Joyce Sherwin who were on the 60th Anniversary Planning Committee included Katie Hare, Mark Keller, Don Marshall and Mary Stevens.

Seen at tables around the room: sitting with long-time member Harold Tseklenis and wife Anna, were board member Ryan Keene and wife Jessica, chatting with entertainer Steve Roberson. Karol and Hop Morrison made their way around the silent auction tables, as did Carol and Frank Kearns, and Joanne Gronley. Dorothy Pemberton arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the music.

“Is Ryan a new Symphony Board member?” asked Steve. “Yes,” I replied, “and he’s also a new member of Rotary.”

“I won’t hold that against him,” said Steve, a past president and stalwart of Downey Los Amigos Kiwanis.

Steve Roberson, and Ryan and Jessica Keene. Photo by Lorine Parks

Steve Roberson, and Ryan and Jessica Keene. Photo by Lorine Parks

Bernice Mancebo Stumps sat with Barbara Briley Beard, just as she had a year ago at the party on stage, and also with Elizabeth Wilson, whom Bernice enthusiastically described as “an incredible teacher with the Downey schools.”

Dinner was tender chicken breasts and sliced braised beef, with several amazing sauces: a thick cream of mushroom, a spicy mango medley, and a teriyaki mix. Poured over with the meats, with the pasta salad or on the baked beans, they also made one wished for a soup bowl, to taste the delicious textures on their own.

Silent auction items lined the wall, items like spirit baskets and a treasure chest of gift cards. Red opportunity tickets were offered by the arm’s length. A live auction conducted by Bill Hare also brought in funds which go to the Symphony’s lively Music in the Schools Program, as well as for enhancing the concert performances.

Steve Roberson’s trio closed the evening entertainment, and Steve played some of his own compositions, such as “Four-Year Old Cowboy,” a song he and wife Darlene wrote for their grandson in Texas. Steve closed his program with that perennial feminist favorite, especially requested by Janet Hare, “I Like Older Women.”

Everyone let out their cowboy belts a few notches after dinner, and put away their noisemakers and kazoos till next year. Or the next 60th. Whichever comes first.

Features, NewsLorine Parks