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From music she finds community

HELPING Gus Alvarado, a student in her sixth-grade band class at Avery Middle School, is Mickey Harper. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2002, The Union Democrat).
HELPING Gus Alvarado, a student in her sixth-grade band class at Avery Middle School, is Mickey Harper. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2002, The Union Democrat).

By ERIC BURKETT

Say "music" to Mickey Harper, and she thinks "community."

Say "art" and she thinks "community."

For Harper, "community" has a wide range of meanings, some more subtle than others but all of them central in her approach to music.

Harper grew up in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, and after several years in Washington state came home. She spent 19 years working construction. She also writes. And in the midst of all this, music has almost always been a constant.

Now living in Sonora with her partner and their son, the California native and trombonist conducts two community bands: the Calaveras County Community Band, and the Great Mother Lode Brass & Reed Band. The first is based in Calaveras County, and the second in Tuolumne County. Both receive a great deal of support from Columbia College.

The Tuolumne County band includes many professionals and semi-professionals. While it veers into swing and the occasional show tune, its focus is largely what Harper describes as "transcripted classics" — classic band music and classical pieces transcribed for bands, as opposed to orchestras.

The Calaveras County band, on the other hand, is comprised of talented, passionate amateurs, and focuses on show tunes and big band music. Marches make forays into the band's repertoire, too.

The Tuolumne band is about a decade old; Calaveras' band is about 12 decades old.

What the two do have in common is that sense of community that means so much to Harper.

"Community musicians have the ability to be in touch with people," she said, "the immediacy of people's feelings and needs."

Those feelings can range from the powerful emotions that people felt after Sept. 11 to the pleasure of sharing.

Five days after terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Harper was conducting the Calaveras band at the Zucchini Festival in Utica Park. An older veteran approached her and asked her if she could do or say anything in recognition of the horrible events earlier that week.


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