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Cardinal Charlie Gill: Gene Biek playing clarinet with California band

Published 11:11pm Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My friend Eugene (Gene) Biek was my neighbor for my first 12 years of my life when I lived at 501 Orchard St.

We have continued to be friends all these many years.

You have seen his name in many of my 548 articles I’ve written since 1989.

In 1978, a music teacher had a notice in the Redding, Calif., paper about forming a community concert band.

Gene had played a clarinet in the DHS band and also when he was in college at MIT years ago, so he joined up.

He said there were only 17 at the first rehearsal and two of the 17 are still playing.

Shasta College is one of 300 junior colleges in California, and the little band now has 141 members and is the largest band of any of the other schools.

Gene says the auditorium where they play seats 468. The band does two concerts in the spring and two in the fall.

They are usually sold out a half hour before concert time.

Band members are from kids in grade school to many oldtimers.

Gene is one of four octogenarians in the band. The oldest is 85.

In the band are a dozen or more music teachers, and all professions are represented, plus many family groups.

The band practice is one evening a week during the school year.

Gene tells me the 100 percent growth is because of their director, Dr. Larry H. Grandy, a conductor who is able to get the best from all the players, the hard notes and key changes, and makes it fun.

Gene says there is a lot of banter with the director at practice and also with the audience at the concerts.

Band members have surprises for Larry during the concert at just the right time.

For example, during a “Star Wars” medley, a trombone and a French horn player staged a duel with light swords.

During a Scotch selection, a man member slipped on a kilt and came out to the front playing a bagpipe.

His kilt fell off, but he did have his trousers on with the legs rolled up.

In one piece, “Clown Act,” Gene and the six other first-row clarinet players put on big, red clown noses and other band members had clown-like costumes.

Preparation for these “high jinks” all occur while the conductor is talking to the large audience, with his back to the band. Gene says they are all so grateful that the director has turned down all offers to leave the Shasta College band.

He also sent me a DVD of last fall’s concert, where the band did the funny things mentioned.

At the concert’s end, the director had each section of instruments stand and take a bow.

Gene and the other 80-year-old man, the two longest members were also asked to stand up and be recognized by the large applauding audience.

We could see Gene close up quite a few times as he sat in a row of five clarinet players next to the director.

I have written about Gene and Mary Ellen in all the trips with their bicycles to other countries.

Gene has ridden 161,000 miles since 1981. He also has a hobby of making wine since 1994. He has made 565 gallons and 48 different kinds, plus he has donated 201 pints of blood.

Quite a guy, my friend Gene Biek, huh?

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