The Gorge Winds Concert Band presents its 15th annual Christmas Concert at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21.

The performance by about 40 volunteers takes place at the Civic Auditorium in The Dalles, located on the corner of Fourth and Federal streets. The suggested donation for attendance is $5 per person.

There will be an intermission during the one hour and 15 minute program, with snacks served that were baked by families in the band.

The instrumental group includes musicians from throughout the gorge, as well as Yakima and Vanvouer in Washington, and Arlington in Oregon.

There are currently openings in all sections of the band. Especially sought are people who play oboe, bass clarinet, alto saxophone or tenor saxophone.

Gorge Winds musicians convene from 7 to 9 p.m. every Thursday at the school and take the months of January and August off.

Anyone who has played in the past, such as high school or college, is invited to learn more about the group by calling Larry Loop at 541-990-5023, Nathan Parker at 503-791-2168 or Sam Grotte at 509-493-1082.

Information about Gorge Winds may also be found at www.gorgewindsban... or on Facebook.

“You never know what a rehearsal is going to be or isn’t going to be, so we need to make the most of it,” said Larry Loop, co-conductor of Gorge Winds Concert Band, to musicians awaiting his direction.

About 20 members of the band braved inclement weather on a cold winter night to get to The Dalles Middle School for rehearsal. Twenty others had chosen not to chance driving from distances as far away as Vancouver and Yakima, both in Washington.

“I appreciate that you are all here but, remember, safety comes first,” said Loop.

With just six weeks before the annual winter concert, he and co-conductor Nathan Parker were intent on getting through as many pieces as possible.

The merry melody of “A Most Wonderful Christmas” sounded perfect to an untrained ear, but Loop was not satisfied with the instrumental interaction.

“I want to be able to hear the chimes so you’ve got to smack them,” he told a percussionist.

At the mid-November rehearsal, Loop walked the band through a medley of Christmas songs, including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Polar Express,” “Russian Christmas Music,” and “Triptych for Christmas.”

Loop was quick to notice when a player was coming in too slow.

“What’s a measure between friends – a lot,” he said, and then told the group to start the stanza over.

The complexity of “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo” required the musicians to pay close attention to transitions.

“You can play a little louder and everyone else a little quieter,” Loop said to flutists during the almost wistful opening of the piece.

The song made famous by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra grew in strength and intensity, acquiring a foreboding undertone.

Loop, a retired band director who spent 40 years in the classroom, told the group that the score could be played at different paces and he was looking for something between fast and slow.

“It’s not a real brisk temp but it’s not a dirge at the beginning,” he explained.

While Loop was in front of the group, Parker was at the rear playing everything from bells and symbols to snare drums and a booming base drum. He also plays the clarinet and saxophone.

“I get to have all the fun,” he said while watching Loop work out a snarl in the brass section.

Sometimes Parker, who is semi-retired as a school band director, takes the baton while Loop plays the trombone and brass.

Both men hold a master’s in musical education.

Playing the French Horn and trumpet is Sam Grotte, who founded Gorge Winds in 2000 and stepped down three years ago as conductor, but still serves as music director.

During his career as a fighter pilot in the Air Force, and then as a commercial airline pilot, Grotte didn’t have time to play — but he returned to music after retirement. He then decided to provide an opportunity for others to share that joy.

“We have some musicians who could be professionals,” he said. “But, by and large, their abilities run the gamut and they are a true community band.”

He is in charge of the group’s musical library and said it is an impressive collection that affords many concert possibilities.

“We want to teach everybody who comes to listen something new,” said Grotte. “We also want to have something they already know.”

There is a master of ceremonies at each concert to provide a brief overview of the piece to be played. Notes are also made in the program about special aspects of certain selections.

Joan Ahier, who resides in The Dalles, decided to join Gorge Winds after husband, Brian, gave her a French horn for Christmas last year.

“I hadn’t played for 35 years – this is so fun,” she said.

Melody Hudson, also of The Dalles, plays alto saxophone and had been a band member for six years. “I won scholarships in college and was a music major,” she said. “I played in a trio at church and with a jazz band for a time before I joined Gorge Winds.”

She found her niche in the band and looks forward to the weekly rehearsals. “I think my mother pre-destined me to become a musician with this name and it’s always been my thing,” she said.

Not only has Gorge Winds given a Christmas concert for the past 15 years, the group performs in many venues throughout the Mid-Columbia region, including the Trout Lake Festival of Arts and Fourth of July concert in White Salmon.

“We’re the only community band in this area and that’s a real source of pride,” said Loop.

Parker added: “We give people in these rural communities the opportunity to enjoy a cultural enrichment experience.”

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