The Sounds of Freedom Military Concert Band

by Mallory Moad

The Central San Joaquin Valley has a vibrant, diverse music scene. There’s jazz, pop, Americana, blues, rock tribute bands, and singer-songwriters. Throw in some bluegrass, folk, flamenco, and the Fresno Philharmonic and you’ve got one big melodic smorgasbord. Live music is easily accessible, and it’s everywhere, from restaurants, bars, and concert halls to libraries, record stores, and nurseries.

But there’s one local ensemble that might not be as well-known as most other local bands but is gigging just as much, if not more.

The Sounds of Freedom Military Concert Band has been around for thirty-five years, and although they’re not always the headlining act, they participate in over a dozen events each year. In addition, Sounds of Freedom also presents a series of four full-length concerts annually, working without roadies or an opening act. To say these folks are busy is an understatement.
Sounds of Freedom at the Fresno Veterans Parade/photo by Mallory Moad

The band was established by the late Hollon Kinney in 1984 to commemorate the end of WWII. They called themselves the 509 Band, their home being the American Legion Federal Post 509. As the popularity of the group grew and the number of musicians increased, the confines of the 509 started feeling somewhat cramped so the band relocated to the Legion of Valor Museum in downtown Fresno. At that time, the band became affiliated with the Association of the United States Army and changed the name to the Sounds of Freedom Military Concert Band. After another growth spurt, a final move was made to the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, which the band now calls home.
Uniforms courtesy of AUSA/Photo by Mallory Moad

Sounds of Freedom currently has thirty-six ambitious, dedicated volunteer members who range in age from 13 to 97. They are students, retired teachers, politicians, athletes, and semi-professional musicians who come from all over the Central Valley. Some are veterans while others have no military connections. Many of them keep schedules worthy of a pop superstar. Each one of them is a vital component of the band with a personal – often colorful – reason for joining.
Brandon Anthonijsz on percussion/ Photo by Mallory Moad

Hugh Adams is one of the original founders of the 509 Band. Besides playing euphonium in the Sounds of Freedom, he is also a member of the California Track Starters Association where one of his responsibilities is to fire the gun that makes the runners run.

Brady Bridges is a retired elementary school music teacher and luthier (that’s a fancy term for someone who builds and/or repairs stringed instruments). In the band since 2004, he plays baritone saxophone. Brady joined at the suggestion of one of the clarinet players and has never regretted his decision.

Playing in a total of seven bands, Mario Torres is one of the band’s most musically active members. Besides playing tuba in Sounds of Freedom, he’s part of the Clovis Community Band, Clovis Swing Band, Red River Dutchmen, Kerman Community Band, Valley Veterans Quartet, and the Reedley Community Band.
Harry Paul and Ann Guest

Andy Tran is a student at Fresno’s Computech Middle School. The band’s youngest member and lone keyboard player, his piano teacher Brandon Anthonijsz (who plays percussion in Sounds of Freedom) suggested he get involved. Andy’s mom, Annie, is proud of the musical progress Andy has made as a result of the challenges presented by playing in a large ensemble.

Lynn Lindsey has played clarinet since the fifth grade. She says her decision to join Sounds of Freedom was influenced by her father, a veteran of WWII and avid fan of military music. She has been part of the group since 2005.

Photo by Mallory Moad
Mike Derr on string bass
Selma resident and self-described “pretty uninteresting person,” Mike Derr probably has more irons in the fire than any other member of the band. He plays string bass but also owns an insurance agency, serves on the Selma City Council, is the former mayor, and has championed the arts in Selma for twenty-eight years. But wait, there’s more! In addition to Sounds of Freedom, Mike plays in the Community Orchestra at Fresno City College, the Summer Band in Kingsburg, The Art in the Garden Band in Selma, plays in two or three stage musicals each year, and in church most every Sunday. Last but not least, Mike is a touring bicyclist who has cycled all over the country, has ridden in sixteen foreign countries averaging 3,500 miles a year and has managed to make multi-taking look like a birthday party.

Trumpet player, Don Williams has been with the group since 1995. A USMC veteran, member of the Foreign Legion and retired elementary school teacher, Don is also the vocalist in a four-piece jazz combo, Valley Veterans Quartet (with fellow Sounds of Freedom colleagues Brady Bridges and Mario Torres).
Roger Lopez and Don Williams (L-R) on trumpet/Photo by Mallory Moad

According to Kingsburg’s Cheryl Faulkner, “I only joined the band for the road trips.” The trumpet player happens to own the equipment trailer the band utilizes, but her bandmates insist her real value lies in her musical ability. She’s a respected trumpet player first, gear hauler second. Cheryl’s day job is working for a small dairy operation company.

Kristen Lara, a student at Central High School, plays tuba in the Sounds of Freedom and joined at the urging of a friend. “I wanted to become a member because I thought I could gain a new perspective to music if I had the chance to play with more experienced musicians than I normally do,” she says. Kristen plays with the Central High Woodwind Ensemble and the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. Only having been in the Sounds of Freedom for eight months, Kristen plans to continue for many years.
Kristen Lara on tuba/Photo by Mallory Moad

The director of the Sounds of Freedom is Monte Gmur, a position he has held since 2003. More than a conductor, it is his duty to pick the musical selections for each event from a repertoire that includes symphonic works, big band, show tunes, band arrangements of classic rock hits and, of course, military marches. Monte handles requests for the band’s performances and maintains schedules. Then there’s the task of keeping a room full of musicians focused. Although the love of the music is frequently reflected in his face, he’s also a boss who can silence a noisy conversation with a stern look.
Director Monte Gmur in action/Photo by Mallory Moad

The Sounds of Freedom Military Concert Band is more than entertainment. It’s education, family, and community. It’s patriotism and camaraderie. And it’s the way in which thirty-six enthusiastic, unique, really cool individuals have become one of the hardest working music ensembles in the Central San Joaquin Valley.

The Sounds of Freedom Military Concert Band will present their next concert, A Salute To The Armed Forces, on Sunday, May 19 from 1:00 – 3:00 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, 808 4th Street in Clovis. Admission is free and everyone is welcome.

Membership in the Sounds of Freedom Military Concert band is open to anyone of any age who can play a band instrument, read music, and follow a conductor. No audition is required. For more information on joining and to see a calendar of events, go to website or on Facebook.

My name is Mallory Moad, and I want to hear a Yankee Doodle tune played by a military band.

Note: All photos are by Mallory Moad.

Mallory Moad is a visual/performance artist, vocalist in the jazz band Scats on The Sly and a proud Central San Joaquin Valley native.