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Professionals of Note Play in Canyon for Charity : Topanga Philharmonic: Offbeat, Not Off-Key

Times Staff Writer

Latecomers were seated at their own risk in the poison oak behind the brass section.

The printed program boasted of soloists Boyd Hood on the trumpet and David Weiss on the saw.

And the accompaniment to Haydn’s “Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in E-flat” included a rousing chorus of off-key yaps and snarls from a dog fight behind the bandstand.

But that’s a Topanga Philharmonic Orchestra concert for you.

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The 2,000 persons who jammed a steep Topanga Canyon ravine Saturday for the orchestra’s eighth annual concert couldn’t have cared less that the house lights didn’t dim until high clouds drifted over the Santa Monica Mountains toward the end of the 2 1/2-hour performance.

Few rural communities with only 7,000 residents have a philharmonic orchestra to call their own. Fewer still can draw nearly 30% of their populations to a concert of classical music.

“I know. People who work with me say, ‘OK, right. Sure you’ve got a philharmonic orchestra in Topanga,’ ” said Arthur Nissman, a canyon resident who works for a Century City advertising firm.

“People look at you like you’re crazy when you mention the Topanga Philharmonic. But just listen.”

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Stage Across Creek Bed

On a stage rigged across a dry creek bed, 80 musicians performed Rossini’s “Overture to William Tell” to earn applause from the crowd that overflowed railroad tie benches at the Theatricum Botanicum amphitheater.

Saturday’s concert was a fund-raiser for the Topanga Co-op Preschool. In fact, said preschool Director Margi Fennessy, the $4,000 proceeds from the annual performance “runs” the 25-child school.

The orchestra was formed by Patricia Tackett, a dancer and preschool mother who admits to thinking up the idea one night while sipping wine, listening to recorded classical music and gazing at the stars from Saddle Peak, above the canyon.

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The orchestra is led by Roger Bobo, a canyon resident who plays the tuba for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Twenty of his Los Angeles co-workers play in the Topanga orchestra. Most of the rest are amateurs.

For Saturday’s 12-piece performance, the jeans-clad orchestra rehearsed together just once--then adjourned for lunch that was accompanied by wine poured from jugs chilled in ice-filled washtubs next to the stage.

‘Gets More Serious’

“It gets more and more serious each year,” Bobo said during a break in the performance. “We just play once a year. I have a feeling if I was to ask my colleagues to come more than that it would be more of an obligation to them than a joy.”

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Los Angeles Philharmonic cellist Gloria Lum of Glendale said the professional musicians sign up for the canyon concert because, “It’s not a pressure concert. We can come out here and have a good time.”

The amateurs agreed.

Fifteen-year-old Topanga resident Judy Goldstein, a 10th-grader who plays the cello at Santa Monica High School, said the relaxed atmosphere prevented her from being nervous.

“They know I’m not going to be as good as they are and I might not be able to play all the music. I just sit here and have fun, too,” she said.

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“This isn’t the type of audience we get downtown,” said Los Angeles Philharmonic cellist Barry Gold. “Some here have not been exposed to classical music before. I wish they would come downtown. But it’s a long way to go.”

But then Topanga has come a long way, said concert-goer Richard Sherman, a canyon resident for 24 years.

“When I first moved here we had three gas stations but no orchestra. Now our last gas station is closed and we have the Topanga Philharmonic,” Sherman said.

“So you can see we’ve certainly improved.”

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