Whether he's conducting at competitions and graduation ceremonies or instructing in the classroom, Nick Caldwell is pretty busy as Wilson High School's band director. But when Kristin Rencher approached him about taking on a new musical project, he was all in.
So there he was, Sunday evening, June 2, directing the Southwest Portland Community Band at "Blues, Brews and BBQ," its semi-annual concert, on the main stage of the Multnomah Arts Center.
The band performed two sets, the first highlighted by a performance of the American standard, "Beale Street Blues," featuring a clarinet solo by Rencher. During the intermission she explained how the band's debut at the Wilson High School Auditorium was "terrible, but only because the sound was so bad." So she's put together a fund-raising drive to vastly improve the acoustics. See www.swportland.band.
The second set included a medley of songs from "The Blues Brothers" movie and from the musical "Porgy and Bess." The concert closed with a rousing version of the Ray Charles classic, "Hit the Road Jack," which included a soulful trumpet solo by Don Jahne.
The band, which plays just two concerts each year and rehearses every two weeks during the school year, has been around for four years and is made up of 35 to 40 musicians playing a dozen different instruments. Among the musicians are Wilson parents, friends, community members and a few Wilson High School students. Many of the mature band members played in high school or college then gave up music when "they had kids and got real jobs," according to Caldwell. The youngest member is a freshman at Wilson; the oldest is 65.
"Many haven't played since high school or college," Caldwell said. "The horns have been sitting under the beds for 20 or 30 years. So just seeing them when they first get their horn out and they play that first note…and how their eyes light up and they say, 'Oh my God, I remember that,' as the music comes back to them is just awesome. I like leading this band as much as my actual job at Wilson as band director because these musicians all want to be there. They're volunteering their time and they're very passionate about it."
Anyone who's ever cringed at the sound quality in the Wilson High School Auditorium will be glad to know that money raised at "Blues, Brews and BBQ" will be spent to fix that.
As Rencher recalled in an email, " I remember walking off the stage in a daze from how difficult it was to hear across the band. I have performed in hundreds of band concerts in my life and that venue has the distinction of being the worst acoustics I've ever experienced. "
She's hoping to raise $15,000 for the acoustic make-over. The next concert by the SW Portland Community Band will be in December.
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