Dick Wuopio, trumpet
“What you see is what you get.”
I enjoy the camaraderie of the New Horizons Band, just a nice bunch of people. I enjoy playing the music, but mainly it’s just going and having fun talking with people.
When I first got started playing again after laying off while we were raising kids, I started with the Sewer Band down in Marin. That’s the Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District Non-Marching Band. We had a uniform; everybody wore a white lab coat with an emblem of a crossed broom and plunger.
I was born in January 1936 and went through high school in Sacramento. My mother could play piano, she’d play in Sunday school. My father, nothing. I enjoyed all the Big Band stuff as a child—Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, that era. I still enjoy that.
I owned a Tonette, like a very small black plastic recorder. It had a one-octave range. I took to that. I was a virtuoso on it, or so I thought. In the fourth grade they introduced music and I said, “I want to play clarinet.” So I got a clarinet, and I couldn’t even get a squeak out of the thing for a week. The music instructor said, “Why don’t you try a trumpet? I’ve got a trumpet here.” So I tried, and I went “BLAT!” And she said “You’re a success,” Then I prevailed on my parents to buy me a trumpet. They were a little skeptical, since no one in the family had ever played trumpet, but they found one for $40 and it was worth every penny. So I started that way.
I got into junior high and the music director said, “You’re making good progress; you really ought to take some private lessons.” She gave me the name of the principal trumpet in the Sacramento Symphony. I signed up for lessons with him. He told me, “You’ve got to get rid of that $40 horn.” I put the heat on my parents to buy a comet for $200, big money in those days. It was a good horn, a Martin, and I was off.
The guy I was taking the lessons from was a friend of Rafael Mendez. One day I went over for my lesson and my teacher said, “Mendez is going to be here next week, so if you have his album bring it over and he’ll sign it for you.” Sure enough, the next week here comes Rafael Mendez in his bathrobe, and he was happy to sign the album. I had a couple of other encounters with him in the next couple of years. The All-City Band backed him up for a concert, and I was part of a trumpet trio that was on the same program with him at the State Fair. We played Trumpeter’s Lullaby, as I recall.
I played all the way through high school and into college, made some money playing for dances and such, and that was about it. After I graduated from college I got married and then we started down the path to five kids and I laid off until the kids were old enough that my practicing wouldn’t interfere with their naps.
My wife was a nurse at UCSF, but she quit working once the kids started arriving. That led to my one and only claim to fame. I took all the kids to Lucky Market every Saturday morning to give her a couple of hours’ relief. I guess we made quite a picture in the store, because the store manager asked if I’d like to do a commercial for Lucky. I was to buy our normal groceries at Lucky, and then buy the same stuff at another grocery. Lucky’s price would be lower, and I’d have to say “I proved it!” with great enthusiasm. As an incentive, they’d pay for the food at Lucky. As a dad with seven mouths to feed, that was all I needed. The ad ran for a couple of months on TV and radio. I came in for a lot of kidding at work, but such is the price of fame.
I joined the Sewer Band and got into a couple of rehearsal bands in Marin and ended up taking a friend’s place in a Dixieland Band, the Sir Francis Drake Irregulars.
That carried on even after I moved up here. It was fun. We played at retirement homes, farmers’ markets, things like that. I was having a good time, and I really wanted to continue doing that up here. I was good friends with Jud Goodrich (editor: Jud was a horn player with New Horizons for many years.) playing in bands with him down in Marin, so when he moved up here I heard all about the New Horizons Band. I figured that New Horizons would be a good place to start. I moved up here in the middle of the summer; then in the fall I sat in on a rehearsal and I signed right up. I was very impressed. That was 2012.
Growing up, I wanted to do something in chemistry. I really got turned on to chemistry in high school. My Dad was a civil engineer. He worked for the Geological Survey as a cartographer. He gave me some very good advice. He said, “If you want to pursue chemistry, you’ve got to get a Ph.D. before you can really do anything. But if you’re a chemical engineer you can work at a professional level with a bachelor’s degree, a four year difference before you can actually work.” And so I said, “Well, I think I’ll go with Chemical Engineering.” It worked out very well; I had a very good career, enjoyed it.
When I graduated from College (Oregon State, master’s at M.I.T.) in chemical engineering, engineers were in short supply. There was a steady stream of companies coming through looking to hire graduates. I interviewed with ten different companies and every last one of them gave me an offer. I signed up to work for 6 months with Union Oil down in the L.A. area, then I had to go spend my 6 months at Fort Belvoir with the Army. I’d kept in touch with the other new engineers, and while I was in the Army one of them wrote and said he’d moved, that he’d been laid off. He said, “As a matter of fact, they laid all the new engineers off!” There was a recession that hit in 1958 while I was in the Army. I contacted Union and said, “What’s all this?” and they said, “We’re obligated to take you back because you‘re on military leave, but it might be worthwhile if you started looking around.” I can take a hint. So I contacted the other nine companies that had made me an offer the year before. I wrote them a letter saying Union Oil laid me off. “The good news is, here I am, I’m ready to go.” I got two offers. Talk about humility! I got one offer to go work in the atomic energy field up in Idaho, and I wasn’t too wild about that. The other offer was at Chevron. It was an easy decision to make. But it sure took me down in a hurry. I’d thought I was pretty hot stuff coming out of college.
I lived several different places in the East Bay, Berkeley, Oakland. Then I got married at the age of 25 and my wife wanted to live in Marin County, and that’s where we ended up. I was working for Chevron Research in Richmond, so Marin County was just across the bridge from there, a good location.
I don’t have any pets now but my wife was a cat enthusiast and she thought maybe twelve cats was a good number. And I don’t like cats! So we struck up an agreement. She could have no more than four cats at any one time, and I could have two dogs. So that’s the way it worked. We had Golden Retrievers.
At Chevron, I did process design work for chemical plants, for the most part. Toward the end of my career I transferred into San Francisco to work with Chevron Chemical. Chevron had made a deal with the Russians to go partners with a refinery they had in Kazakhstan that was very unusual. The oil had the highest percentage of gasoline of any crude oil in the world, like 40% gasoline. The only problem was it also had the highest percentage of mercaptans, and it stunk to high heaven. There was a process to get rid of that, and I happened to be the company expert at that, so I was sent over to work with the Russians and see what we could do about commercializing what they had done. So I ended up making three trips to Russia, and made some good friends there. It was a lot of fun. Very interesting trips.
When I was working at Chevron Headquarters in San Francisco on Market Street, there was a guy there, a budding composer, who put a notice up on the bulletin board looking for musicians. He’d write some music, and we’d perform it at lunchtime. So I signed up and he did what he said he would. It was a strange group: we had two violins, an oboe, a few brass, you can imagine… But after a while we found we had three trumpets, a French horn, and a bass trombone. One of the trumpets was a guy named Jim Worley, a retired professional who had played principal in the Spokane Symphony. He had a valve trombone, so we had the makings of a quintet. I didn’t know a quintet from a hole in the ground, but it worked out pretty well. We got the quintet going and along the way we picked up a guy from Bank of America who was a professional trombonist, so it became a sextet.
I went to Chevron management and said we had this group and wanted to rehearse and we’d play in the Company auditorium sometimes. And they said, “Great! Here’s $200 to get you started.” So once a week we’d hike up to Byron Hoyt to buy music, and $200 went a long way in those days, so we had quite a library.
I taught myself arranging by trial and error. I would do what I thought worked and I’d take it to the quintet/sextet and we’d play it. This trombone player we had, the professional, would say, “Oh no, no, no, here’s what chord you need here.” He was very good, so we’d work them into something that sounded pretty decent. Then he taught me a little about chords and one thing led to another.
I’m definitely not a professional composer or arranger, but it worked. In the course of doing that I thought, “Holy Cow, there’s not very much to this,” so I thought I’d see if I could make quintet arrangements of some of the Big Band stuff. I did three or four of them and it worked pretty well. So I got started and cranked out twenty or so arrangements. I heard about a guy who’d done about forty or fifty arrangements, so I signed him up to publish his stuff, and I started an outfit called Solid Brass Music Company. I was selling sheet music, and that led to all sorts of things. For a while I was the only guy in the United States who was selling Brass Band music. I spent a lot of time going to trumpet and trombone conventions, and I went to the North American Brass Band competition every year. It was a lot of fun, and I made a little bit of money. It was a great retirement thing. I started it about three years before I retired.
When I started the New Horizons Quintet up here we had the makings of a heck of a library, because Bob Ressue, one of the trombone players, had run a professional quintet, and when he moved down to Sun City he donated all of his music to the Band.
My wife died in 2004 very suddenly. It was a great shock. I didn’t know what to do for a while. There was a woman that I’d known ever since I was two years old. Our families were good friends and she was divorced. So we got together. But then she died too. I decided that it was time for me to move up to Sonoma County. I had five kids, and three of them are in Santa Rosa, so it was a natural thing to move up here. The center of gravity of my family was up here. I have six grandchildren from three of my kids. It worked out very nicely: three boys and three girls. After a year or so up here I met Marge.
We’re quarantined here right now (at Paulin Creek Senior Residence) but I’m showing movies every weekday at 3 o’clock for an hour. It takes two days in a row to show a whole movie. So I’m showing some Netflix movies, and they’ve got a huge collection of DVD’s here. And I’m playing a lot of Scrabble. Four of us play every morning.
What would people in New Horizons be surprised to know about me? I don’t know. What you see is what you get.
Playing the trumpet has been one of the constant things throughout my life. I’m just hoping to get another chance to do it.