Sonoma’s Hometown Band to play at Memorial Day celebrations

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The 58th annual Sonoma Valley Joint Memorial Day Observance and All-American Picnic

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, May 30, at the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Building at 126 First Street West. The event will start out with a Grand March of veterans and will be followed by other speakers to honor veterans, including the band playing. It will be immediately followed by a free picnic (hamburgers and hotdogs). Seating has been limited in the past and it has been know to be quite hot, so arriving early for covered seating is recommended.

The Sonoma Hometown Band thrives on the idea that music can bring people together – whether old or young, musician or listener.

The band first started in 1967, when the Sonoma Valley High School music director Richard Schneider got his students to play in the town’s Fourth of July parade. After that performance, locals and graduates wanted to join.

“It was just sort of a random thing, but everyone liked it,” said Mary Wimberley, who has played flute and piccolo in the band for 24 years.

Today, not only has the size of the group increased, but so has the age spectrum. The group has everyone from high school students to septuagenarians. Even Schneider played tuba and baritone into his 80s, before recently relocating.

“It’s a pretty big span; it’s a really nice mix,” Wimberley said.

Once the band started growing, the its needs grew as well. That is when the band decided to apply to become a nonprofit and now survives by seeking donations and grants. The band’s board of directors, with Wimberley as president, uses the funds to buy chairs, stands, music, instruments, to rent practice space and more. The band typically features about 35 musicians, said Wimberley.

“We’re sort of an informal group,” she said. “It’s one of those things where people come and go. We all play in different things so we often bring in friends if they’re available.”

The band does a limited number of performances a year. This includes the upcoming Memorial Day celebration, the Fourth of July parade, Christmas performances and springtime festivities. The music is usually themed to the holiday but is ultimately picked by the director. Wimberley said they often play movie and showtunes as well.

“Things people have heard over the years,” she said.

For its Fourth of July performance, the band practices every Sunday starting eight weeks before parade – but for Memorial Day they simply practice the night before. They’ve been playing the same songs for years, she says.

The Memorial Day concert is May 30 and is a favorite performance for the band.

“I feel privileged to be part of that ceremony. I really appreciate what the fallen have done for us, so it just feels good to give back in little tiny way,” said Chris Severson, a Sonoma local who has played trumpet in the band for 22 years.

Wimberley describes the event as magical, often bringing people to tears.

“It’s a moving event. Whether people agree politically, there are people putting their lives on the line,” she said.

The band is always open to incoming musicians, Wimberley said, despite their experience.

Severson remembers thinking he couldn’t join the band because he hadn’t played in 11 years, but his friend jokingly said that was a prerequisite for the band – rusty musicians.

“There is something about playing music together that bonds you,” Wimberley said. “We kind of all need each other and it’s nice. The more the better, with music.”

The 58th annual Sonoma Valley Joint Memorial Day Observance and All-American Picnic

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, May 30, at the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Building at 126 First Street West. The event will start out with a Grand March of veterans and will be followed by other speakers to honor veterans, including the band playing. It will be immediately followed by a free picnic (hamburgers and hotdogs). Seating has been limited in the past and it has been know to be quite hot, so arriving early for covered seating is recommended.

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