Lew: Bassoon player and Conductor, 85 years old (born 1938)
Marilyn: Band Music Librarian, 85 years old (born 1938)
I think of the band as a second family.
Interviewed by Jean Davis August 2023
Lew: I heard about New Horizons Band from Helen Hargrave and Lynn Barthel. We go to the same church and they worked on me for two years. I went to listen to the concerts a couple of times, and finally I thought, I’ll see if I can figure out how to do that. I hadn’t played my bassoon for 52 years. In 2011 I showed up.
Marilyn: I came along just because we had an appointment in Santa Rosa after Band practice. I met Marilyn Jackson, the librarian at that time, and I was intrigued by the knitting she was doing, so I came back several times, and then when she retired, she asked if I’d take it over.
Lew: What I most enjoy about the band is the camaraderie and appreciation of others. All of the efforts we put in individually and what comes out from the entire group.
Marilyn: I think of the Band as a second family. When everyone comes in the door and gives me a great big smile, I just feel I’m in the right spot and I hope I can do it for quite a while longer.
Lew: I went to college to be a music major and unfortunately ran out of money toward the end of the second year. My girlfriend at the time had decided to emigrate to California and she found another guy. Fortunately enough, I went to the same church as Marilyn and her two sisters. Marilyn and I started dating because we were doing an ice cream social using a hand-cranked ice cream machine from the old days. One of the containers we used had a bit of a rough edge and it put a hole in one of my fingers—well, not a hole, but a pretty big scratch. Marilyn got me to the drug store and got me a Band-Aid, so that’s how we started spending time together.
I started playing when I was 10 years old. My Dad was a professional musician his whole life. He found a surplus metal clarinet from the music store where he worked, and I started playing it. I played clarinet for a few years and then in junior high school I got a sour taste on it so I gave it up. The director of the high school orchestra, a friend of my Dad’s, said that the bassoon player was graduating the following year. So they found a bassoon for me and I started learning that.
Marilyn: My mother was a pianist who did not read music. She played for vaudeville, and she wanted to give us lessons on piano, but I was the only one that wanted to. So I took piano for a few years. I had a recital and I froze. That was the end of my piano playing.
Lew: I sang in the church choir for a few years, and I played bassoon for the group, too. That was great fun. I wasn’t in a lot of other organizations. I grew up in South Dakota, so I wasn’t familiar with people in other musical organizations.
My Dad played from age 15; his parents sent him to work as a piano player in the movie house. He was pretty much self-trained. Pretty soon he was playing with a group called Tom Brown and the Six Brown Brothers, a saxophone sextet in Omaha. He traveled the country with them as the keyboard player; he played accordion and piano. My other influences were the two conductors of the high school band. They allowed me to play “utility” so I played timpani, French horn (not very well), I tried to play oboe (not very well). But I did play clarinet and got a lot of experience that way. I went to a college with only 600 students. I played first chair clarinet in college.
Marilyn: I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio. My father was a civil engineer and he built big projects. He always traveled and then came home to Toledo. When I was in high school, he said, “I’m tired of leaving you behind, coming home only every couple of months.” In my senior year in high school, we traveled clear across the country and ended up in Richmond (CA) and that terrified me. I understand the teachers were even afraid of the kids there. But in just a few months he got transferred to Lodi; he built the General Mills plant there, so that’s where I graduated high school. I didn’t really want to go to college. My Dad said college was only for guys, that women only go to find a husband. My shorthand teacher found each of us a job when we graduated. My job was in an accounting office.
When I was a senior in high school, they had an aptitude test they gave all of the kids to see what we were suited for. The two careers that I was suited for were carpenter and accounting. The carpenter part—I used to help my Dad with all kinds of repairs. We’d build furniture. I always helped him out. The accounting is just natural for me. As the librarian for the Band, it requires a certain amount of being precise. I worked for a CPA in Palm Desert for 25 years.
Lew: I was born and raised in Rapid City, South Dakota. At the beginning of the Depression, in the early 1930s, my family moved from Nebraska to Rapid City. I have two sisters.
Marilyn: My daughter, Lisa, gave birth to our first grandchild, Colin (he plays the oboe). We lived in Palm Desert at the time. They were up here, so we decided to move up here. Our son, Eric, still lives in Palm Desert.
We have four grandchildren now: Lisa (and son-in-law Ken) live here with their son Colin. Son Scott lives in Texas and his daughter Skylen lives in Arizona. Son Michael lives in Indianapolis, Indiana; he and his wife Mary Kay have two daughters, Ansley and Ellie. Ansley just entered the Air Force Academy in Colorado. She wants to be a pilot.
Lew: My Dad wanted me to be a music teacher; I wanted to be an architect. In history classes, I was interested in all the architecture. Then I took a job as an office boy in an architect’s office when I was a junior in high school. I learned all about Frank Lloyd Wright, all kinds of other things, and I really had an interest.
At the time that Marilyn and I met, I was not an architect; I was a draftsman. In the 1960s you could still get a license to practice architecture so I spent ten years of apprenticeship and then took my exams and have been licensed ever since.
Lew: Now I have to renew my license every two years—another test. I was the executive architect in the early seventies on one of the biggest projects in Daly City. I was in charge of a project in Lodi that became a community center, a restoration and adjustment of the original high school. That’s still there. My partner and I did the City Hall in Rancho Mirage. The contractor on that project and I still work together. I designed a home and a large apartment building in Lahaina, Maui. Both burned in the fire in August, 2023.
Earlier in my life I loved building model airplanes. Marilyn does jewelry.
Marilyn: I like making jewelry—too much. I’m thankful for the Band because that takes up a lot of my time. Both of my sisters live in Montana. Barbara lives on a small lake. Lew designed their home for them and it’s just beautiful.
Marilyn: I respect Lew Sbrana (founding director of the Band). We worked so well together. I miss him. I enjoy Mike also.
When I get angry about something I start cussing. But it never happens at Band!
Lew: I never conducted in school. When I first joined the band in 2011, I became really strongly attached to Lew and to Sid, and later Ray Walker. I had always had the desire to be a conductor. In college I got right up to the place where I was going to start to conduct, but then I ran out of money. Lew had the audacity to ask if anyone wanted to come up there and swing their arms around. Dennis Yarnell and I put our hands up, then Dennis pulled his back. So I had the chance to learn how. Lew and Sid taught me everything, what’s really important, how the band operates, how to propose different ways of doing things when they aren’t the way you want. I learned with the band. I have been allowed to conduct for seven years. I’m still really learning. Sid taught me a trick, that you learn the piece well enough before you attempt to conduct it. Ray and Sid really were teaching me how to visualize. Like Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Architecture is music frozen.” The way the pieces go together, you have to have a few of these, and some of those over there. You have to have the connections, the organization.
Each year Lew, Sid, Ray, and I met for a conference and Lew would tell us where and what we were going to do. The others would argue about what they would conduct, but I was told what I was going to do. Lew did most of the selection of music. I got to choose some of it later on. I came up with a piece for Halloween, “Skeletonic”; it’s an interesting piece to do. One other significant thing for me was when we had the Band Camp in the summer time. That was a real eye opener.
Marilyn: I did all the copying for Band Camp. And then I did the kitchen work, too.
Lew: In high school I was the drum major; I liked holding the stick in front of the band back then, leading the band down the street. I was more like the drum private or the drum lieutenant. Marching was an event when I was young. But in the middle of summer Belle Fouche was not a pleasant place to march. It was HOT! We played all over.
Marilyn: I always enjoyed watching Lew Sbrana conduct because he loves his music so much and he’s moving. My Lew is much more active on the podium now than when he first started.
Marilyn: Adele Shirk and Inge McCormack are the two other librarians who are equally important to the band. They don’t like doing the music, and I love that. They do all the other stuff—snacks, coffee. You see me sitting a lot because they’re doing that work. My whole dining area at home, our living room, and the whole guest bedroom are nothing but New Horizons Band. We also keep up the inventory of all the music we have, including all the music that was in Lew Sbrana’s shed. We keep really close attention to that library list. I have six boxes of just Christmas music.
Lew: And then we share a little bit with Healdsburg Community Band. I started a month ago working on music for this semester, because I believe Ray Walker when he said, “Learn the music, memorize it.” It makes it easier to conduct, to keep the band together.