Local Pops Orchestra Rescues American Popular Music
by Rebecca Wallace, Palo Alto Weekly
When the curtain went up on June 4th, 2006 the California Pops Orchestra formerly the Peninsula Pops Orchestra in Palo Alto did much more than a concert. This 60-piece "entertainment orchestra" began showcasing some of the thousands of pieces of music it saved from destruction over the last year alone.
Pops General Manager, Alicia Wilmunder said the loss of American popular music for orchestras has reached an epidemic level. "With school and college orchestra programs throughout the country falling to budget cuts, their libraries of music, that set of parts each musician reads to play each tune, are being hauled off to the landfill. It's just tragic. Libraries full of historic Broadway tunes, movie music, Gershwin, Porter, Berlin and so much more have been destroyed and much of that music cannot be replaced at any cost."
And it's not just the academic collections at risk. Wilmunder explains, "Where does all the orchestral pops music go that was once owned and played by orchestras that have gone bankrupt? Where do the private, working collections, amassed over the last 100 years by orchestra conductors go?"
The Rescue in Los Angeles
It's with that sense of urgency that Wilmunder, conductor Kim Venaas, concertmaster Alan Cooper and other members of the orchestra caravanned to Los Angeles to wade through hundreds of cases of music that were soon to be destroyed by another budget squeeze.
Conductor Venaas said, "We saw yet another tragedy in the making in LA and are lucky enough to have a wonderful, supportive audience behind us. I mentioned this situation from the stage at our Valentine's show in February and within 3 days we had a few thousands of dollars in contributions to start the acquisition, storage and restoration process. Six days later we were in LA carefully packing it all into vans for the trip back to the Bay Area and to our loyal fans."
Treasures and pieces of musical history for full orchestra
Saved music included original manuscripts and pieces from 1890 to 1970's with favorites by Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Ferde Grofe, Paul Whiteman, Louis Alter, Al Jolson, Charles Previn, Piercy Grainger and even movie star Lionel Barrymore. Music sung by the stars of the day including Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee and the Ken Darby Choir. Orchestrations from several show productions, burlesque, classical parodies, comic operas even silent movie scores such as the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin). Then there's the original "as recorded" orchestrations.
Added bonuses were the creative and often hilarious pencil drawings by the musicians on the backs of their musical parts with terrific caricatures of soloists and conductors.
Some of the rescued pieces for full orchestra:
Says Wilmunder, "But the job is just started. There are so many more situations like the one in LA that need saving and it is a major part of the reason the Pops exists, to save, restore and perform this music for the families of the Bay Area. It takes money in addition to our wonderful volunteers to make it all happen and donations to this effort are tax-deductable."
During the Summer of 2012 over 330 orchestrations from our vintage Music Library were restored and preserved enabling performance.
A Few Music Treasures
Overture to an "Opera Bouffe" Written by Lionel Barrymore. Yes, he played the evil patriarch Henry Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life"!
The Pops Music Rescue Team from left: Jack Gerkin, Alicia Wilmunder, Conductor Kim Venaas, Concert Master Alan Cooper, Ernie Garcia, Alan Wilmunder and Bud.
Special Thanks to Donors of Sheet Music & Collections
California Pops Orchestra - 3790 El Camino Real, Mail Suite 341 - Palo Alto, California 94306 - Phone: (650) 856-8432