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News / Life / Clark County Life

Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Clark County band marches to crowd-pleasing beat

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: January 8, 2016, 10:06am
3 Photos
Dennis Pieren, left, performs a clarinet solo at the Westwinds Community Band&#039;s Salute to Big Band last year.
Dennis Pieren, left, performs a clarinet solo at the Westwinds Community Band's Salute to Big Band last year. (Photos from Westwinds Community Band) Photo Gallery

The Westwinds Community Band’s Salute to the Troops concert last month ended with raucous applause … sort of.

“When we got done, a man stood up in a fighter jacket and said, ‘I’m 102 years old. I flew fighter planes in World War II, and this is great,” said Loren Hascall, the band’s conductor. “We were all shocked. We weren’t expecting anything like that.”

Hascall, 61, wasn’t surprised the show was a crowd-pleaser, however. He and the band are kicking off their 40th season when rehearsals start Tuesday, and they’re always looking at ways to entertain their audience, whether they’re playing at a retirement home or in a more public space.

“We try to build a program those folks are going to like,” he said. “So that’s a lot of Broadway, a lot of big band. If we play down at the Saturday Market (in Portland), we try to play more current stuff.”

That means more movie songs, such as a march from “Star Wars” and plenty of classics from Disney films.

“It’s hard to find current movie music, because it’s not written with these type of arrangements in mind,” he said. ” ‘Frozen’ was the closest recently.”

One new Broadway show Hascall is keeping an eye on is “Hamilton,” the massive hit that opened last year all about Alexander Hamilton as told using hip-hop. Hascall read about the show in Smithsonian Magazine and heard a bit of the music on “60 Minutes,” and said it sounded promising. The band has run into issues with trying to play new-ish music, though.

“If it’s too new, the audience might not react,” he said. “You’ll get applause, but also plenty of blank stares. We’ve gotten blank stares for playing ‘Springtime for Hitler’ (from ‘The Producers’). They know ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ You can do ‘The Sound of Music’ ’til you’re sick of it, and people will always applaud.”

Hascall also can dip into the band’s lineage to look for songs. The Westwinds started in 1976 by Walt Cleland, a retired music teacher. Prior to that, the group can trace its history to the 1920s, when the Clark County Fair had a band, Hascall said. After the fair dropped the band, members continued playing as the Clark County Band, he added, and some of those members were the Westwinds in 1976.

Hascall said he has some old marches from those groups, and other Dixieland-style music the band used to play. He said they used to play dinners for some Kiwanis Clubs, and when they played those shows for people in their 50s and 60s, that’s the style of music they liked.

“Now, people in their 50s and 60s dance to The Beatles,” he said. “We’re taking a hard look at Burt Bacharach and looking for a decent Beatles arrangement.”

Hascall has seen the change occur first hand. He attended a few of the first Westwinds practices in 1976 but was just starting his teaching career and had to go to night school, so he couldn’t join the band right away. He joined the band as a clarinet player in 1979, and became the assistant conductor in 1983. He took over as conductor the following year, when Cleland stepped down, and has held the position ever since.

He said the band now has about 25 to 30 members. It is open to adults who play any standard band instrument.

“It’s basically open to kids out of high school who want to continue to play,” Hascall said. “We don’t have a formal audition process, but there does have to be a certain skill level. If you played in high school, that’s usually at the skill level we’re looking for.”

A few members are people who stopped playing after school and picked up their instruments again a few decades later, or even people who didn’t start playing until they were in their 40s. Three of Hascall’s former students are in the band now.

“The band is a bunch of musicians who are social,” he said. “We’re less worried about being super perfect and playing professional gigs. We have a good time doing it. It’s fun to be out playing an instrument with adults like you.”

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The band is always looking for new members, Hascall added. They rehearse from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday nights at Safe Harbor Church of the Nazarene, 8100 E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver. It plays about four shows a year and tries to play places such as retirement communities and veterans hospitals, so members can perform for people who might not otherwise get a chance to go out and see live music.

Hascall said he knows people have work, kids, grandkids, vacations and other bands that might keep them from practices, and that’s OK with him.

“We serve the community in two ways: We play for the community, and we provide a place for people to play,” he said. “You don’t have to be a super professional, and you don’t have to commit to every Tuesday. If you have to take a break, we try to structure it so it’s no problem. We won’t put someone in your chair.”

Bits ‘n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email bits@columbian.com.

Columbian Staff Writer