Whether music is the soundtrack to your life, a balm for your soul, a pleasant diversion or your reason for being, those who appreciate it share a common bond. But finding places to make music can sometimes be difficult.
That’s where Sonoma County’s many and varied hometown bands and choral groups step in. Drawing from novices and pros, they fill the county with song.
Sonoma Hometown Band
Sonoma’s best-kept secret isn’t much of a secret at all.
Tourists may be fooled, but locals know there’s truly only one Sonoma Hometown Band.
The Other Hometown Band is a bunch of musical jokesters who disguise themselves in funny hats, Hawaiian shirts, tie-dye tops and whatever adornments it takes to dupe spectators during Sonoma’s old-fashioned Fourth of July parade.
Those with a keen eye — and ear — recognize the same musicians rounding the historic town square twice.
“The word’s been out,” said Mary Wimberley, 62, president of the nonprofit band’s board of directors. “We enjoy how much attention we get, and we all love it. We feel it’s such a cool part of our town.”
The marching band was established in 1967 by Richard Schneider, the now-retired Sonoma Valley High School music director. He gathered student musicians to perform during the town’s popular Independence Day celebration. Before long, graduates and local musicians joined the fun. The Sonoma Hometown Band has been a fixture ever since.
When parade officials long ago wished for another marching band to entertain crowds along the route, the Sonoma Hometown Band obliged. After a quick change from their matching blue jeans, white shirts, straw boaters and red, white and blue sashes, members reappeared in an assortment of crazy costumes with the banner “The Other Hometown Band” to perform rousing patriotic music all over again.
“You’re exhausted, and it’s usually 90 degrees, but it’s something I’ve always been told we’ve got to do,” said Wimberley, a special education teacher who plays the flute and piccolo.
The Fourth of July tradition draws together former band members and those who have moved away for a reunion of sorts, expanding the core group of 35 to 60 or more musicians. They earn wild applause as they twice march around Sonoma’s eight-acre plaza performing John Philip Sousa medleys.
Band members come from “a huge range of backgrounds,” Wimberley said, from middle-school music students to retired professional musicians.
Schneider, the band’s founder and director emeritus, is now an octogenarian but still performs baritone. In 2007, he was named Sonoma’s honorary Treasure Artist for his musical contributions.
“He’s just he coolest person,” Wimberley said.
In 1986, the band started performing at Sonoma Valley events beyond the parade. It now offers free concerts at Christmas and springtime and for various functions around town.
The band also plays for Sonoma’s annual Memorial Day observance. Under the leadership of music director John Partridge, the band performs theme songs for various branches of the military and hallowed patriotic songs like “Duty, Honor, Country.”
The band’s performance season runs about eight months, with weekly rehearsals and an open door for new members, encouraging young musicians by offering an annual scholarship named for Schneider.
For more information, visit sonomahometownband.org.
— Dianne Reber Hart
Rohnert Park Community Chorale
The Rohnert Park Community Chorale is one of the oldest singing groups in town. It was established in 1983 under the leadership of Margot Godolphin, a former high school music teacher, and sponsored by the city.