Port Townsend Summer Band originator E.J. Gaede

Port Townsend Summer Band originator E.J. Gaede

Mr. Gaede’s Opus: Band founder returns to podium

PORT TOWNSEND — In 1990, Edwin J. Gaede — known as E.J. — was riding home from a rehearsal of the Port Townsend Community Orchestra at Chimacum High School.

In the car were Bob Polachek and several other musicians, who always carpooled to rehearsals in Dick Call’s new Lincoln.

At the practice sessions, Gaede had noticed Polachek combing through the school’s music library.

When he asked why, Polachek said he liked to play old marches and had permission from the band teacher to take music home.

Gaede also recalled playing marches in high school band and thought, “I wonder if we could get a bunch of people together to play them.”

So he asked the driver, Call, if he was interested.

“He said, ‘That’d be fun,’” Gaede said.

That conversation inspired Gaede to organize the Port Townsend Summer Band, which debuted in July 1993.

Gaede served as director until 2001, when he stepped down due to hearing loss, but Sunday, he will pick up the baton and conduct two Sousa marches at the same place the band first played: the gazebo at Chetzemoka Park.

It was the idea of the band’s current conductor, Karl Bach, to include Gaede in Sunday’s concert at this, the 20th season for the Summer Band.

And during the intermission, Mayor David King is scheduled to proclaim June 24 “Port Townsend Summer Band Day.”

Bach will present Gaede with a copy of the proclamation, then Gaede will take the baton and lead the band playing a Sousa march and return to lead another march near the end of the program.

It is probably the last time he will conduct, Gaede said.

The band was a venture for Gaede, a retired junior high school band teacher, that was more than a diversion.

“This is the payback for all the work I did when I was teaching,” he said.

Gaede, who is 77, taught beginning band and orchestra to junior high school students in Long Beach, Calif.

The students who came into the program didn’t know how to play or read music.

The people who joined the summer band were experienced musicians who had played in high school bands and college orchestras.

“You could pass out the music, give them the downbeat, and off you’d go,” Gaede said.

The summer band started in 1993 with 20 people, Gaede said, and gave three or four performances that summer.

At the end of the summer, he asked, “Does anybody want to do it next year?” and all the hands went up.

The second year, the band prospered.

By the third year, Gaede was turning people away because there wasn’t enough space on the bandstand.

The audience for the concerts, held at Chetzemoka Park, also grew.

“There were people as far as you could see, back to the spotlight,” he said, referring to the military installation on the park’s south border.

Guest conductors included Duane Montgomery, Jerry Yahn and Mark Adamo, a former Port Townsend High School band teacher.

Then in 2001, Gaede, whose hearing was failing, turned over the baton permanently to Karl Bach, a percussionist and composer who had moved to town that year.

Hearing loss also was the reason he retired from teaching in 1989.

“It’s a common ailment of the profession,” he said.

Gaede was born in Long Beach, Calif., and grew up in neighboring Lynwood.

He joined the school band in eighth grade after noticing that his older brother, who was in high school, had a lot more fun in band than the kids in the school orchestra.

E.J. Gaede was playing the violin, but he switched to the French horn, which his teacher chose for him.

It is a difficult instrument to play, but by the age of 14, he was playing in the Compton Civic Symphony Orchestra.

When he joined, he was the youngest member of the orchestra, which was directed by Ralph Matesky, and one of the youngest during the three years he played in it.

“It gave me the opportunity to get into serious music at a young age,” he said.

“By the time I was in college, I was quite an experienced musician.”

He also played in orchestras at Long Beach City College and San Jose State College, where he earned a business degree.

Then he went to work in his father’s insurance company.

But the City College orchestra needed horn players and asked him to return, which led to his decision to apply for a graduate degree in music at California State University/Long Beach.

He had to earn the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in music to qualify for the master’s program.

“I worked very hard,” he said.

In 1969, he was hired by the Long Beach Unified School District music supervisor, Fred Ohlendorf, to teach seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders to play instruments at junior high schools.

At the start of the year, Gaede had classes of 25 to 30 students, none of whom knew a whole note from a quarter note, Gaede said.

After three years of instruction, the students could play so well he had no problem putting together a concert.

Then they graduated.

“It used to bother me when they went on to high school,” he said.

Listening to beginning musicians, especially in the brass section, is hard on the ears, Gaede said.

He also may have damaged his hearing working a summer job in college as a fireman for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

It was the last year the railroad ran steam trains. The fireman’s job was to keep the steam engines running.

Gaede later worked on diesel locomotives.

No one wore ear protection back then, he said; you could feel the noise the engines made hitting you in the chest.

Model trains are now his hobby, but he no longer plays his French horn, viola or the piano; music doesn’t sound right to him.

But he is still able to hear well enough to be the guest conductor and to know where the musicians are in the score.

And there are two musicians in the band, Steve Ricketts and Vidya Speck, who are familiar with his style; they were both there when Gaede started it.

Speck’s husband, David, is the announcer for the concerts but also used to play in the band, as did Erik and Joanie Hendricks, who now live in Brinnon.

The community orchestra conductor, Dick Ballou, was also an original member, but he wanted to play, not conduct, Gaede said.

“It was a band waiting to happen,” Gaede said.

“It just needed someone to put it together.”

At Tuesday’s rehearsal, Gaede said: “I’m very, very happy with what’s happened with this band.

“I had no idea what I started all those years ago.”

But it was never his band, he said.

It belonged to the musicians who wanted to play the old marches one more time.

Jennifer Jackson is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend. To contact her, email jjackson@olypen.com.

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