The San Francisco Lesbian Gay Freedom Band (SFLGFB) has been performing since 1978, founded by John Reed Sims in response to singer Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in the mid to late 1970s. SFLGFB was the first openly gay musical ensemble in the world and has been Offical Band of San Francisco.
SFLGFB has four ensembles: Concert Band, Marching Band, Pep Band, and Twirling and Flag Corps. For this concert, the Concert Band ensemble was made up of eight trumpets, five french horns, two euphoniums, three trombones, a tuba, eight flutes, eight soprano clarinets, a few smaller clarinets, two bass clarinets, six saxophones, two oboes, a bassoonist, and five percussionists. “Anyone who wants to play is welcome, as long as they play one of those instruments,” said SFLGFB Artistic Director Pete Nowlen.
On September 24, SFLGFB Concert Band performed a piece titled “Scheherezade,” a lovely musical rendition of the ancient Persian bedtime story “A Thousand and One Nights” at the Everett Middle School theater. “A Thousand and One Nights” is a story about a king, or “Shahryar” in Farsi, whose wife commits adultery, so he keeps a harem of women in a pit and marries a different woman each night and kills them the morning after to ensure that they don’t betray him.
There are several versions of the story, but the song references a translation where the daughter of the king’s advisor, a very well educated girl named Scheherazade, volunteered to marry the king. However, she entertained him with a story so captivating that he invited her back the following night, and again for a thousand and one nights. In some translations, she organizes a rebellion in the pit and saves all the remaining women, but in the translation the song references, she charms the king over the period of 1,001 nights and he makes her his queen.
The length of the piece was 45 minutes, and was the only performance before intermission. At the very beginning of the performance, Conductor of the Concert Band and Artistic Director of the SFLGFB Pete Nowlen explained the story behind the piece. He also chose to take time to demonstrate each character’s theme in the piece, so the audience would recognize the characters later on. The second piece, performed after the intermission was called “Persis,” another piece based on Persian culture but written in the 21st century. The final piece was titled “Suite Divertimento” by composer Germaine Tailleferre.
The truly impressive part of this performance is that they put all of these pieces together in only nine rehearsals despite the complexity and length of each piece. “I think it’s great for the community,” said audience member Ian Yang. “I just want to support the band and do everything I can.”
Kevin Dong, a clarinet player of 12 years, has been in the band for about three months. He joined over the summer so he could participate in the San Francisco Pride Parade. While he mostly plays for the SFLGFB Concert Band, he is also occasionally involved in the marching band as well. “Everyone is really fun to work with so rehearsal isn’t just work, we really enjoy it, and the music is great,” said Dong.
Pete Nowlen has been Artistic Director at SFLGFB for three years. While he is a french hornist by trade, he now conducts concert bands at the University of California at Davis, teaches at Sacramento State University, and conducts several other bands in addition to SFLGFB. “[Scheherezade] was a monumental undertaking as far as being the most difficult undertaking this band is ever going to do,” said Nowlen. “I can’t be happier about where we ended up.”
Much of what made the performance possible was credited to the band members. All of the band members are volunteers, as SFLGFB is a nonprofit organization, although they are sponsored by the Grants for the Arts of the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, John Sims Endowment Fund for the Performing Arts and Cumming Properties. Their commitment is what has kept the band running for 38 years, and each volunteer spends an average of 20 hours per week working for the band, according to Nowlen’s estimate. One of the band members printed the programs for the performance, and another rented the theater so the band could perform. “It’s a wonderful and welcoming group, and an amazing volunteer community of friends,” said Nowlen, “the band is a part of the fabric of San Francisco.”
PHOTO CREDIT: RACQUEL GONZALES/FOGHORN