Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band's 'Passions and Pastimes'

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday September 26, 2023
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Pete Nowlen conducts the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band at a recent concert.
Pete Nowlen conducts the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band at a recent concert.

On September 30 the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band will premiere a new concert at St. Mark's Lutheran Church. Titled "Passions and Pastimes," the concert will celebrate the various activities enjoyed by band members, such as bicycle-riding, baseball, magic, dancing, singing, hiking and much more.

Composers represented in the concert include Gustav Holst, Robert Russell Bennett, David Maslanka, Jack Stamp, Lee Jinjun, Erika Svanoe, John Philip Sousa and Mattea Williams, the band's composer-in-residence. The piece written by Williams, "The Miragecaster," is a West Coast premiere.

San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band Artistic Director Pete Nowlen  

Pete Nowlen, the band's artistic director, shared the story of how the band came to be. 45 years ago Jon Sims formed the band so that it could march in what was then called The San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. The year was 1978, and this was the first time a Pride parade had a marching band. In December of that year the band performed its first concert, introducing the new Gay Men's Chorus.

"It very quickly led to similar organizations around the country and the world," Nowlen said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "And to the formation of an association of pride bands, now called the Pride Bands Alliance."

As the artistic director of the band, Nowlen programs and conducts four main concerts per year, plus special concerts.

"I'm seeking to execute the band's mission and vision through performance," said Nowlen. "I also provide leadership in creation of special programs and commissions, such as our BiPOC Commission Program, anniversary celebrations, special concerts, recordings, etc."

The band's mission, as posted on its website, states that "The San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band provides for the education and musical development of its members, promotes visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and with its allies, fosters understanding among diverse communities through public performance."

The band has around 75 members, all of whom will be playing in the concert.

Composer-in-residence Mattea Williams  

"I wanted to feature Mattea Williams, our incoming composer-in-residence," he said. "So I built a program around her piece, 'Miragecaster.'"

Nowlen is very excited to be presenting Williams' music to the community.

"When we did our call for our first BiPOC commission, we found two composers that we really wanted to work with," he said. "Roger Zare composed an amazing piece for us last year. Since Mattea is local, living in Napa, and a younger composer still refining her craft and building her portfolio, we thought that a residency might be very beneficial to her. So we proposed it and she loved the idea. She writes very creative and appealing music, and I'm excited to get to perform three pieces, two of them brand new, as part of her residency over the next year."

Like many in the community, Nowlen feels that it's important to be out and proud, given the current political climate.

"Out and proud, answering Harvey Milk's call, is the founding principal of this band," he said. "A few years ago visibility seemed almost passé, particularly in our NorCal bubble, but now its importance is again apparent. For some of our sister bands in the Pride Bands Alliance, it is even more apparent as they experience major backlash and backslide in their areas."

The band is delighted to be making a return visit to St. Mark's Lutheran Church, pointing to the venue's great acoustics, and its convenient location.

"We are very happy to be back there," Nowlen said. "I really hope that the programs I assemble reflect our audience and community in all its wonderful diversity. For this program, I hope that in addition to hearing a varied program of fascinating pieces by fascinating people, that an audience member will bond especially with a couple of pieces that link to some of their favorite activities and that perhaps connect them to some wonderful memories."

San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band performs 'Passions and Pastimes,' September 30, 3pm, St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 1111 O'Farrell St. $15-$20. www.sflgfb.org

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