SELMA – Sounds of Freedom’s director, Monte Gmur, was glad to be back at the helm of the military band he’s been directing since 2003.
I’m back now and it’s been just a couple of months. I’m still getting my feet under me,” Gmur said after a medical hiatus. “I was very happy that Julia Lucero was able to step up and keep things going for me.”
Gmur shared his thoughts during intermission of the finale performance for the Selma Chamber of Commerce’s summer concert series on Aug. 25 at Lincoln Park. The military band performed not only a variety of patriotic music, but also a mix of popular tunes as a Beach Boys medley, a score from Disney’s “Moana” and songs from Led Zeppelin and Santana.
Typically, the Clovis-based band is known for its more formal performances at such events as change-of-command ceremonies at area military bases.
Gmur said the musical roots of their military band instrumentation can be traced back to such composers as John Phillip Souza from the 1880s. Some of their members are former military, such as euphonium player Bob Clark, who is a World War II veteran who previously performed in the U.S. Navy band. Others are not, such as 14-year-old trumpet player Francisco Cardinale, who attends University High at California State University, Fresno,
“We’re a military band but not necessarily because of our affiliation with the military or the music that we play, but because of our instrumentation,” Gmur said. “We’re seeking to preserve that music. We don’t want that to ever die or people to ever forget. So along those same lines, we do a lot of patriotic selections.”
Gmur said it’s difficult to pick just one patriotic song as a favorite. It’s his hope that the performances inspire a sense of patriotism in their audiences.
“When the band is firing on all cylinders, it’s chill-inducing," he said. "It makes you ecstatic, it really does. We don’t want people to forget who we are, where came from and why we exist.”
Gmur himself has been a tuba player for 50 years and loves the fact that the Chamber of Commerce still hosts its annual Band Review after all these years.
“I think that’s really something, because I’m so much for the school musicians. The Band Review is not an opportunity that all the communities in the area have preserved, and Selma has,” he said.
Gmur said he was also impressed with Selma’s thriving theater and arts scene and its effort to preserve musical history, such as the very bandstand upon which they were performing.
“I love Selma," he said. "For one thing, you’ve preserved this band shell. It was in a state of disrepair and about to collapse, but the community got together and said 'no, that’s not going to happen. We’re going to rebuild it and make it better than ever.' And your town did,” he said of the Russ Noble Band Stand in Lincoln Park.
Sounds of Freedom’s youngest performer encourages other young musicians, some in the audience from Selma schools, to keep learning and growing as musicians. After all, that’s exaclty the same advice he’s received from fellow band members, some as old as 95.
“I hear on occasion, ‘Don’t stop playing your instrument,’ or ‘don’t buy your instrument until you’re almost done with school,’” Cardinale says of words of wisdom from the more experienced musicians.
Cardinale says he likes the style of music that Sounds of Freedom performs, even though he didn’t grow up listening to it beforehand.
“I’ve played a lot of different types of music but none like this," he said. "People think if it’s military, it’s uptight and super formal. It’s still very fun to play. We do other pieces, too, and most likely they’ll get to play it for experience. Some of the best musicians are in the U.S. military band.”
Gmur said the band would also play a song that harkens back to Selma’s earlier history as a peach-growing area.
“We’re going back to the beginnings of Selma when they grew peaches here before the time of the grapes," he said. "It’s a song, ‘Selma, the Home of the Peach.’ For the Pan American exposition, the Selma Municipal Band traveled to the Bay Area and premiered the piece. So we’re going to play that.”
Selma Chamber Executive Director Bob Allen said the night’s performance was especially meaningful considering the political tension in the nation, and around the world, at present.
“I think everybody loves to hear the music that brings us back to the thoughts of what this country was founded upon — equality for all of us," he said. "People have fought for many years to make sure we’re a country that's diverse, yet equal. As the world situations gets more tense, I think it’s important for us to realize that we’re a nation that pulls together in the tough times."
As far as the concert season overall, Allen said the heat has made it a challenge for some to come out to enjoy the music.
“The heat has always been a deterrent, this year especially," he said. "It’s been so hot but when we get out here, we forget the heat and we get to see people we don’t see all the time. It’s a community thing, so it’s worth it.”
Allen says the food, vegetable and farm vendors have added to a new dimension to the concerts. Plans are already under way to think about bringing in different musical performance styles next year.
“We’ll probably sit down at the drawing board next week and start thinking about next year," he said. "We’ll spice it up a little bit. There’s a variety of music styles in this community, and we want to serve those, too.”