A 130-year-old Sunday treat 

click to enlarge Long tradition: For more than a century, the Golden Gate Park Band has been playing a mixed repertoire, from marches to classical to pop, at free Sunday shows. The band regularly plays at the Music Concourse in the park. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Long tradition: For more than a century, the Golden Gate Park Band has been playing a mixed repertoire, from marches to classical to pop, at free Sunday shows. The band regularly plays at the Music Concourse in the park.

At 100, the San Francisco Symphony is considerably junior to the Golden Gate Park Band, now in its 130th season, and only a couple of decades younger than the 1,000-acre park itself.

One tune the band should play at every concert: “Tradition!” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Longevity and fierce loyalty are hallmarks of the dapper red-uniformed musicians, many of whom have appeared every Sunday in summer  for years, or even decades, earning modest wages of just $100 per week.

The legendary Richard Snyder, who died last year, played saxophone with the band for 50 years (1957-2007), stopping at age 91.

San Francisco native Michael Wirgler was principal clarinetist with the band for 25 years before becoming music director in 1999.
The group’s 30 members are in Musicians Union Local 6, and most play with other organizations.

“Two of our musicians, for example, are in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and saxophonist Jeff Sanford is a well-known jazz artist,” says Wirgler.

Two-hour concerts at 1 p.m. draw audiences of up to 1,000. The band’s $100,000 annual operating budget is funded by Grant for the Arts, other organizations and cash contributions collected in a yellow jar near the stage.

Repertory includes marches, opera, show tunes, classical and big band swing. There also are frequent collaborations with ethnic and arts groups, dancers and singers.

Sunday’s program features works by the great Norwegian master Edvard Grieg.

While the Sunday tradition always has been maintained, the venue changed for awhile.

“We were a nomadic group over the past several years,” says Wirgler, “because of repairs of the [1989] earthquake damage on the band shell, then the reconfiguration of the Music Concourse.”

When the museums flanking the concourse — the de Young and California Academy of Sciences — were under renovation, the band moved to the San Francisco Botanical Garden for a few years. Later, it presented concerts on the floor level in front of the band shell.

But Wirgler says, “Today we are back in our home, and the Music Concourse and the new museums are a magnet for people to come and enjoy our concerts.”

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Bio:
Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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