By Linda de Vries
Love Classical Choral Music? Think Chorale Bel Canto.
Seldom or never listen to Classical Choral Music? Think again.
On October 26, think the City of Downey.
Think Downey is too far to drive for just a concert? Think again.
“Destination . . . Chorale Bel Canto” posts several times in advance of each of our concerts, offering ideas for a different day trip to the city in which we’re singing, with a Chorale Bel Canto concert at the center of your experience. These trips appeal to a wide variety of interests and share fascinating, sometimes intricate, connections between the city and the music.
On October 26, 2014, Chorale Bel Canto is in Downey singing H.M.S. Pinafore with Opera A La Carte. Staged and costumed principals present Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic comic opera with Chorale Bel as the chorus of sailors and young ladies, accompanied by the Opera A La Carte orchestra.
Devote your entire day to music!
Morning. Begin your day at the Moravian Church of Downey, located at 10337 Old River School Road (562-927-0718). Enjoy the music of their worship service at 10:30-11:30 a.m.
The Moravian Church is the world’s oldest protestant denomination. Its history begins in Bohemia and moves to next-door Moravia, two historical central European countries that are today two states of the Czech Republic. As you will see below, the Moravians have always seen music as a necessity of life.
Jan Hus (1369-1415), a Czech priest and professor of philosophy at Charles University in Prague (Bohemia) is considered, after the English theorist of Reformation John Wycliffe, the first reformer of the Roman Catholic Church, as he lived before Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. After a long trial at the Council of Constance, he was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415.
The Hussites continued to battle the Roman Catholic Church, but the dissidents split in 1434, with one half forming itself the Unitas Fratrum, Unity of Brethren. The Unitas Fratrum, or Moravian Church, following the principles of Hus, was founded at Kunwald, Bohemia in 1457 by Gregory the Patriarch. By the end of the 15th century the sect had spread into Moravia and founded 400 communities throughout the Czech lands.
The Thirty Years War (1618-1648), initially a religious battle between Protestant and Catholic states, morphed into a power contest between the French Bourbon and Austrian Hapsburg rulers. Devastating central Europe, the war brought further persecution to the Brethren's Church, and the Protestants of Bohemia were severely defeated at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620. Offered Catholicism or exile, most fled.
In the 1720s a small group of Moravian exiles found refuge on the Saxon estate of the Pietist, Count Nicholaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf. The village of Herrnhut was founded on the slopes of the Hutberg on August 13, 1727. This became the Renewed Brotherhood, founded under the name of Moravian Brethren.
On the American continent in 1734 Governor General Oglethorpe granted the Renewed Brethren under Bishop David Nitschmann 500 acres in Georgia, recently carved out of the Carolina Grant. Owing to the climate, wars, and conflict within, the small Savannah colony failed to prosper, but the Brethren moved on to Pennsylvania in 1741, settling on the estate of George Whitefield, where they established the communities of Bethlehem and Nazareth.
The Moravian Church expanded into New Jersey, Maryland, and New York. Bishop Augustus Spangenberg established a colony in Wachovia, North Carolina, a colony named Bethania but now known as Winston-Salem.
The northern and southern colonies continued to expand their territories. After World War II, the Moravian Church expanded into southern California, where they had maintained an Indian mission since 1890. This coincided with the post-war expansion of the aero-space industry in southern California, leading to the founding of the Moravian Church of Downey in 1954.
Music. A major element of Moravian worship is music, both vocal and instrumental. Since the Moravians have a penchant for careful documentation, the records of their musical history are well-maintained in two archives, the Moravian Music Foundation headquarters in Winston-Salem, NC, and the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA. Both archives house extensive, important collections and provide numerous resources for scholars.
Count Zinzendorf saw life as “liturgical,” with every aspect a worship to be offered to God. Thus, secular matters of business and farming were given a religious connotation, which led to particularly Moravian varieties of worship.
The Losungen, or Daily Texts, were introduced in 1728 as daily devotional guides. These included not only texts from Scripture, but hymn stanzas. Zinzendorf had encouraged hymn singing from the early days of Herrnhut, producing a large hymnal in 1735. The hymn book of Christian Gregor appeared in 1778, and in 1784 his Choralbuch provided tunes for these hymns. Both were used in German-speaking congregations for a century.
Gregor created a unique tune-numbering system still in use today. All tunes of the same meter share a number (“tune 22s,” for example) and are distinguished from one another by a letter. The tunes and texts are, therefore, interchangeable.
Similarly Gregor composed his hymns by taking familiar stanzas from different hymns and merging them together into one hymn, sometimes intermixing new stanzas of his own. This is a mark of the most characteristic Moravian service, the Singstunde, or “song service,” in which the pastor carefully chooses individual stanzas from various hymns in a way that develops a particular Christian truth or theme as the singing progresses. The sermon is presented through the texts of the hymns. The organist has to memorize and be able to transpose over 400 hymns into whatever key the pastor begins singing.
The style of these songs resembles Handel more than Bach, in that the voice parts tend to move together so that the text may be clearly understood. They often use extensive instrumental introductions and interludes, but these, too, support rather than distract from the text.
Another important category of Moravian music is the trombone choir. From the time of Herrnhut, Moravians have used brass ensembles and bands to announce special events and to accompany singing at outdoor services and funerals. Beginning in 1754, these trombone choirs were imported from German to American Moravian churches, a set of instruments supplied to each new congregation. These trombone choirs have active parts for all four voices, reflecting the congregation singing in parts.
The Moravian Trombone Choir of Downey was founded by Jeff Reynolds in 1965 and is one of the most active of all trombone choirs in the world. The repertoire is primarily chorales, sonatas, and occasional music, mostly from the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Lunch. You have a multitude of choices in Downey! You might enjoy the 1953 “Speedee” McDonald’s restaurant that stands at 10207 Lakewood Blvd. (at Florence Ave.) was the third McDonald’s built and is the oldest surviving building of the chain. It was the second restaurant franchised by Richard and Maurice McDonald prior to Ray Kroc joining the company. It maintains its original 30-foot “golden arches” and a 60-foot animated neon “Speedee” sign.
Lacking a drive-up window and indoor seating and following severe damage in the Northridge earthquake, it was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 1994 list of the 11 most Endangered Historic Places. Owing to the public’s demand to save the restaurant, however, McDonald’s spent two years restoring its Googie-style architecture. Today, you can visit this historic restaurant and an adjoining gift shop and museum.
Johnie's Broiler (originally Harvey's Broiler) was a drive-in restaurant and coffee shop built in 1958 in the Googie style of architecture. In 1968, renowned writer Tom Wolfe published his collection of articles titled The Pump House Gang, containing the article “The Hair Boys,” which immortalized the cruising, car, and fashion scene surrounding Harvey’s Broiler. Wolfe’s drawings of the habitués of the Broiler appear in his later book, The Purple Decades. The restaurant can also be seen in many movies and TV episodes, as well as music videos starring Bob Dylan and Madonna.
Following its 50s heyday, the Broiler fell on hard times. Closed in 2001, it became a used car lot. In 2007 the lessees began illegal demotion that the City was able to stop, but not before significant damage was done.
In April 2008, Jim Louder, owner of the Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Torrance, California, entered into a long-term lease agreement with the owner of Johnie's Broiler, rebuilding it as Bob’s Big Boy Broiler and incorporating its surviving architectural elements. It is located at 7447 Firestone Blvd., 562-928-2627.
Afternoon. Follow our driving tour of the musical history of Downey. Downey was home to many noted popular musicians. Alas, however, most of this activity is gone, but you can check out the historic spots on a driving tour around town.
Downey Records. Yes, Downey had its own record label! Located at 13117 Lakewood Boulevard, the building is now a dollar store.
Bill Wenzel brought his wife and two sons to Downey from Grand Rapids, Michigan, part of the post-war trek to southern California. Bill first worked in the music division of MGM and later ran his own spot welding shop. A week before Christmas in 1958 he and his eldest son Jack opened Wenzel’s Music Town at 13117 Lakewood Boulevard. The store sold hi-fi equipment, but specialized in stereo sets and auto stereo for growing in-car entertainment industry that was growing as a result of California’s cruising and drive-in restaurant scene.
Early in 1959, responding to demand, the father and son built a recording studio in one half of the store. They also established a record label, Jack Bee, a combination of their names. Younger son Tom met his future wife, Maxine, at Bell High School, and they were married at age 17. In 1962 Bill and Jack started the Downey record label and brought in Maxine to run the store.
Success first came with the Downey label and the group Pastel Six, then with “Boss” by the Rumblers in 1963, followed by their biggest hit, “Pipeline” by The Chantays.
After these hits, the recording business began to wane, but father and son continued to record young Downey rock musicians such as Barry White and Little Johnny Taylor. In the late 60s, however, Jack was diagnosed with Leukemia and the recording business ceased around 1968. Jack died in 1971. Until their retirement in 2002 Tom and Maxine ran “Wenzel’s Music Town, Home of Oldies But Goodies.”
Fun connection: In 1965 a group named The Bel Cantos recorded “Feel Aw Right” at Downey Recording Studios. You can hear it on YouTube. No connection to Chorale Bel Canto, but a nice serendipity.
The Carpenters. Continue your driving tour and view the former homes of the family of Karen and Richard Carpenter, the famous as a singing duo who moved to Downey from Connecticut in 1963. Drive south on Lakewood Blvd., turn right on Rosecrans, and right on Downey Avenue and you’ll pass the Carpenters first lodging, an apartment complex at 12020 Downey Avenue, first #22 and then #23.
Head northeast on Downey Avenue toward Cole, turn right on Stewart and Gray Road, left on Lakewood Blvd., right on Florence Ave., left on Matlock, right on Lubec, and left on Newville, and you pass the house Karen and Richard bought for the family with their earnings at 9828 Newville Avenue, pictured on their album, Now and Then.
Travel south on Newville, turn right on Lubec, left on Matlock, right on Florence, right on Brookshire, left on Gainsford, right on Nolan and left on Lubec and you’ll see the house Richard bought for his family at 8341 Lubec Street in 1973.
Lastly, drive southeast on Lubec toward Dolan (Lubec becomes Manzanar), turn right on Charloma Drive, left on Brookshire, right on Gallatin Rd., right on Cord, and right on Raviller to see the house Richard and his family lived in at 9386 Raviller Drive.
Paul A. Bigsby, the father of the modern electric solid-body guitar (1948) and creator of the Bigsby vibrato built his guitars at 8114 Phlox Street, but we’ll skip that on this tour.
The Blasters. Instead, travel southeast on Raviller toward Cord, turn left on Cord, left on Gallatin Rd., and left on Brookshire to 11040, the address of Downey High School. Dave Alvin and his brother Phil, both graduates of Downey High, formed this early rockabilly band. Dave wrote the song “Downey Girl,” released on his 2009 album Dave Alvin and the Guilty Woman, about a Downey High classmate. They first recorded at Downey Studios.
Dark Angel, the thrash metal band, was formed at Downey High by classmates Eric Meyer, Ron Rinehart, Gene Hoglan, Brett Ericksen, and Mike Gonzalez, each of whom has continued to evolve musically in a variety of ways.
Metallica. This well-known group was also formed at Downey high by James Hetfield and Ron McGovney. Donovan Frankenreiter, the surfer and musician was also Downey-born, as were “Weird” Al Yankovic, and the rockabilly musician Eddie Cochran.
4:00. Head southeast on Brookshire, turn right on Firestone and you arrive at the Downey Civic Theatre at 8435 Firestone Blvd., where you will delight in Chorale Bel Canto’s presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.
Dinner. In keeping with the British nautical theme of the operetta, you might want to head north to Santa Fe Springs and dine at Maggie’s Pub, 11900 Telegraph Rd., 562-944-5399. In keeping with the Victorian setting of Pinafore, you might choose the Victoria and Albert Special at the Pub. Still in the realm of the sea, you might remain in Downey and eat at Pacific Fish Grill at 8262 Firestone Blvd., 562-869-9911.