So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye!
SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band bids adieu to conductor Jadine
by Heidi Beeler
Jadine Louie is stepping down after 10 years as Artistic Director of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, and this Saturday at 8 p.m. at Everett Middle School Auditorium, the Band is throwing her a Big Fat Gay concert, The Best Is Yet To Come, to say goodbye.
Jadine Louie has conducted the Band longer than any other conductor in the Band's 28-year history, and she's wracked up a pile of pomp and circumstance for her trouble. She put together the Band's 20th and 25th anniversary concerts, and planned close to 50 different community concert programs. She's performed for Mayors, Supervisors and Assemblymen, some of them in tights. She transformed the Band's Dance-Along Nutcracker into a variety show written about in the national press, and watched it double its audience over a decade. She conducted the world premiere of a piece named for the Band by a Grammy Award-winning lesbian composer. She's been handed proclamations declaring the band the Official Band of the City of San Francisco, twice. She's won a San Francisco Bay Guardian Best of the Bay Award and was named an Honorary Grand Marshall of the San Francisco Pride Parade. Just last month, the Band nabbed the Most Absolutely Fabulous Contingent Award for its performance in the San Francisco Pride Parade this year on her watch.
After 10 years, ask Louie what performance she's most proud of, and instead of hoopla and ceremony, she describes a quiet concert few people know about, a concert on the night of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks in 2001. That day, while theaters and concert halls across the country cancelled performances, Louie took distressed phone calls from her musicians and weighed whether to follow suit. When one member told her performing that night would be disrespectful, she knew what to do.
"I said, 'Your church isn't closed, is it? In fact, all the churches are open tonight,'" Louie recalled during a phone interview last week. "It's what a community does when something horrendous happens — they come together. In that moment, I realized I was really saying, 'We're going to have a concert.' We opened the doors, and all the band members came, every single one of them, and so did the audience. I'll never forget it.
"Making music was my spiritual practice [that night]," Louie said. "I definitely did not want to be alone for the rest of the evening, as I had been alone that day staring at the television, getting more and more horrified and hopeless. I wanted to be with real people, doing what we do in our living. I know that not everybody in the world chooses musical performance as a communal practice — or, to elevate it, a spiritual practice. But they came anyway, for whatever reason, and that was terribly comforting for me."
Like the 9/11 concert, Louie's farewell concert promises to have an introspective quality, as all goodbyes do. Part scrapbook, part family reunion, part bon voyage party, the concert includes a performance of Frank Tichelli's wistful "Shenandoah" by band alumni, a display of memorabilia from the past decade, and guest appearances by performers Louie called "old friends," like Dance-Along Nutcracker choreographer Carolyn Carvajal, "band hag" Trauma Flintstone, twirler Ed Boeke, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco.
"I didn't really intend this concert to be a variety show, you know," Louie said. "It's just the way things came out. As soon as you invite your friends, and not all your friends play musical instruments — they sing, they talk, they dance, they do other things — then all of a sudden it looks like a variety show."
Several pieces on the program also count as old friends. Louie has programmed Sousa's "Fairest of the Fair," the opener of the Band's first concert in 1978, and McBeth's "Kaddish," the piece she conducted at the 1996 Pride Concert after the prior conductor, Nancy Corporon, symbolically handed her the baton on stage. Operatic singers Leslie Hassberg and Yulia Ronskaya will perform "The Flower Duet," with revised lyrics written by Louie for the 2004 Dance-Along Nutcracker .
This being a Jadine Louie production, the program also has plenty of music fresh to the Band. Louie has an unflagging passion for new music, and she has mined a seemingly endless lode of new composers and contemporary classical pieces that combine th
For a decade now for 50 weeks every year, Louie has programmed and coached the musicians of the Official Band of San Francisco, finding and learning new music at a pace she described as "great, but relentless." For a lifetime before that, she studied French horn and classical guitar, and conducted other groups including the Lesbian and Gay Bands Association [LGBA], the Community Women's Orchestra and a wind ensemble she whipped together herself for a couple of concerts, called Symphonic Tornado. What is it about music that stokes her engine?
"Music is my way of communicating with people," she responded. "I'm a very reserved person. As a teacher and in performances, I do a fair amount of public speaking. Despite all of that, I do not feel like I get understood speaking to people, but I do making music.
"We all know music has great power to elicit feelings. That's why there's Muzak, right?" she continued. "But I think it's a good way to just be with people. For example, you can relate to people who you don't even like for years, playing music together. You find this way of communicating in sharing the experience. There's a deeper experience in the process of making it."
A decade at the helm of the first openly LGBTQ music group gives a girl time to think. Louie is a San Francisco native who's never lived outside the Bay Area, and she witnessed the Band's first march up Market Street 28 years ago (though she didn't join until 1995). She's seen the Band in relation to its community since the beginning. What changes has she seen since she stepped in as conductor?
"Earlier in my tenure, we might have been dealing with questions in the community like, 'Gay people are everywhere, is [a gay band] really relevant anymore?' Now, almost in the blink of an eye, in a couple years' time, we're back in the Dark Ages again. We can't take for granted the freedoms we have, the dignity we have, because it's all in danger now. Suddenly that aspect of our work is relevant again."
While noting that the extra-musical mission of the Band is as critical now as ever, Louie said personally it's time for her to move on to other projects. She said she plans to continue teaching music to elementary school kids in the South Bay, and she's interested in pursuing studies in performance psychology, if she can balance her need to eat with the cost of tuition.
"I'm definitely in a place in my life when I'm looking for the next adventure," she said. "There's just so many things to do, and the difficulty that we have when we get to those places in our lives is that we have to let go of one thing to pick up another."
Despite feeling ready to move on, Louie reflected fondly on the podium she is about to leave behind.
"I'm never going to have this opportunity again," she said. "A job that lets you be a whole person, and I'm not just talking about the 'out' part. You have to be a feeling person, you have to be a thinking person, you have to be political, you have to be compassionate. You have to work hard. You have to get lucky. You have to be your whole self in this job. It asks you to. And I can't say that about too many other jobs."
Jadine Louie conducts her farewell concert, The Best Is Yet To Come, Sat., Sept. 16, 8 p.m. at Everett Middle School Auditorium, 450 Church St., SF. Tickets: www.cityboxoffice.com. Info: (415) 255-1355 or www.sflgfb.org.
Heidi Beeler is a freelance writer and a trumpeter in the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band.