The sound of music led longtime Corte Madera resident Gwyn Lister away from the stuffy conference rooms she was supposed to be in and into the streets to listen to the numerous bands playing in Chicago that St. Patrick’s Day. The energy and spirit of those bands gave her an idea that is still going strong 15 years later.
“We didn’t have a band for the Fourth of July parade,” Lister says of Corte Madera and Larkspur’s annual celebration. “I came back from Chicago and thought, ‘We need a band.’”
So in 1996 Lister and a few friends joined with the Corte Madera Community Foundation and started a town band with two accordions, a snare and some bongo drums, and a few horns. The newly minted town band played the Fourth of July parade that year and just kept performing; it’s celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. “I didn’t know it would keep going,” the saxophone player confesses.
But the band has become a big hit in town, growing to more than 50 members who practice every Thursday and play a large repertoire of songs at some 12 concerts each year in Corte Madera and beyond. “It’s a band for people who want to play music,” Lister says. “Maybe they played in college and decided to pick up that horn and get back to playing.”
Corte Madera councilwoman Carla Condon is certainly a fan. “The town band really contributes to the unique character of Corte Madera, along with the unique and colorful hanging flower baskets, the views and the shops we have,” she says. “It is terrific having them out there. They are an enormous crowd pleaser; they are so good.”
Condon still remembers venturing down to the Victorian-styled Piccolo Pavilion bandstand at Menke Park in the Old Corte Madera Square on a warm summer day and discovering the band. “All these memories of when I was little came flooding back,” she says. “My father would take me to band concerts like this at Lake Merritt.”
Band president Jack Tyler had a similar experience after he ventured just a few blocks from his house to watch the band and caught the eye of the band’s former conductor. “She said, ‘Come on Jack, join the band,’” he recalls. So Tyler, who has been playing trumpet since fifth grade and was the section leader for the College of Marin Community Band for 20 years, joined up. “I was looking for a fresh experience,” he says.
The self-confessed “child of an earlier era” loves the challenge of playing the hundreds of concert band, Broadway, standard and orchestral pieces in the band’s repertoire. “I just like to play,” the 75-year-old Tyler says. “Playing is it.”
And the band, which accepts brass, woodwind and rhythm section members of any age from all over the Bay Area, is growing and flourishing under the direction of its new conductor, Anthony Gallardo — a retired music teacher and member of the Golden Gate Park Band. “He is really improving the caliber of the selections and the playing that we do,” Tyler says.
“There are very few good concert bands in the Bay Area,” Tyler adds. “If you have a good band you attract players who didn’t even know they were in the market.” As for the town of Corte Madera itself, Tyler knows that residents love having a band with their name on it. “When we appear you can hear people say, ‘That’s our band.’”
Clarinetist Nancy Hansen of Marinwood also enjoys the interplay with the public during performances, particularly during the Summer Concert Series at Town Center. “To see little kids dancing is great,” says Hansen, who plays in the band along with three of her children. “And every time, almost without exception, we see shoppers walking in time to the music. It’s amazing to see your music have a physical effect on people in a good way,” she says. “Not many people get an opportunity to do that.”
The Corte Madera Town Band is community supported. To learn more or to donate to the band visit cortemaderatownband.org and be sure to check out the band in Old Corte Madera Square on July 4.