The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Sounds of Freedom Band will offer a free concert at 2 p.m., Sunday, March 22, at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District. The band’s conductor, Monte Gmur, says the concert will be an “eclectic mix” of Souza’s lesser known works, modern band music, and possibly a “tip of the hat to the Irish.”
Music has always held a special place in Gmur’s heart. He spent his career teaching music to high school students in Southern California, then college students as the community band director at El Camino Community College in Torrance. When Gmur moved to Clovis in 2000, it was only natural that he join the Clovis Community Band.
One day a fellow musician asked Gmur to play his tuba for the Sounds of Freedom band, which is a volunteer civilian group of musicians. Gmur said yes.
“A few months later, I found myself standing on the podium waving a stick (baton) at them (band members),” Gmur said, laughing.
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Twelve years later, he is still waving that baton as the AUSA musical director/conductor. Gmur said it’s the people that have kept him coming back year after year.
“It’s an incredible group,” Gmur said. “Most groups come together, gather, play their music and, at the end, pack up their instrument and go home. Our group is really unusual because of the amount of camaraderie that is shared. Everyone is friendly with everyone else. It’s beyond friendly, they’re friends with everyone else. After rehearsal it’s not uncommon for everyone to ... grab a bite to eat together. Even after the concerts, it’s the same thing.”
Band members echo what Gmur says about the group as a whole.
“The camaraderie is very good,” said trombone player and Korean War veteran Leroy Guaglianone. “We all get along very well together, and it’s well balanced harmony-wise.”
However, being a band member takes a lot of dedication and a willingness to travel. Since Gmur began leading the band, he has led them across the state - from Sacramento to Lemoore Naval Air Station - and he now hopes to lead them to perform in Washington D.C. for Memorial Day after a formal invitation from the mayor of D.C.
“They didn’t know what they bargained for when they asked me to step up and be director,” Gmur said, laughing. “I like to maintain an active band organization. Down south it wasn’t uncommon for my band to do 60 parades, plus concerts, and I kind of brought the same ethic here.”
Gmur said there have been years that the AUSA band have done between 50 and 60 events a year, sometimes two in one day.
When Gmur started receiving phone calls from NAS Lemoore, asking if the band could play for a change of command, he said yes, like always.
“I did some research, got familiar with all the bells and whistles and did an arrangement of the Navy Hymn and Anchors Away and figured we were pretty suited,” he said.
Once the band played for one change of command, Gmur said they began receiving calls to play for more change of command ceremonies, not only for the Navy but also for the Army Reserve, National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Air Force.
“It’s just been quite an experience with the military,” Gmur said. “I never thought that we’d go in that direction. My focus had always been veterans ... maybe playing at the Clovis Farmer’s Market or a concert at the American Legion Hall or the Legion of Valor. But for a while there, we were like a military band, deploying everywhere. It was really incredible.”
Gmur hasn’t forgotten about home performances, though, and the band usually performs four concerts a year at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, covering a variety of music genres. With band members ranging in age from 12 to 96, Gmur likes to keep a wide repertoire of music to please everyone.
“We find ourselves playing music from the Glen Miller era to Pharrell Williams and everything in between to keep everyone happy,” Gmur said. “It’s just as diverse as the ages. Of course we always go back to the patriotic Sounds of Freedom roots that we have.”
Fundraising for Washington, D.C. Trip
The ‘Sounds of Freedom’ band received a formal invitation from Mayor Vincent C. Gray of Washington, D.C. last year, inviting them to be part of the National Festival of the States Concert Series in May. The event is to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II. However, Gmur says it would be a miracle for them to raise enough money to go, and they will probably have to postpone the trip. Gmur says this trip would be significant to the band, though, because it still has two members who served in WWII.
If anyone is interested in helping send the band to D.C., donations can be made to the Sounds of Freedom military concert band online at freedomsounds.weebly.com or by mail to AUSA Central California chapter, Sounds of Freedom, P.O. Box 441, Clovis, CA 93613.
About the band
The band was founded in 1985 at the American Legion Federal Post 509 in Fresno to prepare for a concert commemorating the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II.