Musical Life Preserver
By: Beth Schmidt
After a pit stop at home, I took a relatively breezy drive into Oakland to get to the classy-comfy, ushered, delightfully step-back-in-time Carnegie Music Hall (where parking in the lot behind the museum is just 5 bucks!) to see the River City Brass Band.
Tickets to the show can be had for as low as $21. For just a bit more, you can get one of the best seats in the house, like second row, first balcony, center, where I eased into my red-velvet seat between two of my favorite people in the world, Mom and Dad, and felt the lasso that binds me to the Rodeo de Ridiculousness unknot and slip away.
Lights dimmed and the band came on stage and the Best Loved Marches-themed show began. For each number, the band’s Conductor, Scotland-born James Gourlay, provides interesting, entertaining information about the song, its composer, or other historical trivia.
And they play. Lord do they play.
A brass band—a great brass band—live. It is an experience. Trumpets, cornets, trombones, tubas, a lively group of percussionists. It is so American. (And, I think, so Pittburghian.) It is music that reverberates through your ears and down into your gut before slipping out through fingertips and toes that, even among the most unmusically inclined, move throughout the show in easy, involuntary accompaniment.
The music itself would be enough. It moves you to audible ooh and ahhs, a primal appreciation, an ancient-feeling of wonderment that such sounds could come from the brassy metal implements before you, and at times, like while hearing “to dream the impossible dream” (The Quest, Mitch Leigh), sung last night by flugelhorn player Drew Fennell, tears.
Yes, the music would be enough. But there is more. This group of incredibly talented musicians also has a delightful sense of humor.
The Imperial March (John Williams), which most would recognize immediately (dum dum da dum dum da dum) from Star Wars included an appearance by Darth Vader, who used The Force to take over and conduct with his light saber.
During a medley of Scottish tunes, Gourlay conducted in a kilt. After which, he asked the audience if they were wondering what people wonder about Scotmen and kilts. And then he removed the kilt to show . . . rolled up tuxedo pant legs, from the pocket of which he swished out and twirled a Terrible Towel.
And there was a Spike-Jonesian solo on a xylophone that included notes played on a block of wood, a pot lid, and squeaky toys.
So, yes, it’s a band concert, but it’s not quite like any band concert you’ve been to before.
Offer me tickets to anything in this amazingly big small Pittsburgh town—city, pavilion, or arena—and I will choose the River City Brass Band. They are talented. They bring goosebumps, cheers, tears, guffaws, and giggles. And they bring the music. They are an affordable marvel. They create moments of purest happiness. They infuse joy.
This is an experience that reminds you that the soul you had as a child still exists. The River City Brass Band is a musical life preserver.
The band’s season runs from fall to spring, with the last show of the current season coming next month: May 10 at the Carnegie Music Hall and May 3-13 at other local high school venues, which can be found on their website, www.rivercitybrass.org.
Beth Schmidt began writing at age 8, when she penned the story Kooky House. Unfortunately, she spelled it Cookie House and readers completely misunderstood. As spelling and grammar improved, she did a stint composing very dramatic teenage poetry before going on to earn a writing degree. Subsequently, she has supported her writing habit by taking on various jobs in ad agencies and corporations in the Pittsburgh area. Life Preservers is one woman’s view about the things that keep us afloat: family, friends, community, humor. And sometimes cussing.