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Players May Not Hear So Well Themselves but Their Sounds of Music Enliven Many Listeners

October 09, 1986|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Ladie-e-e-s and gentlemen, the tooting, plinking, plonking, tapping . . . The one! The only! Torrance Kitchen Band!

True, they don't hear so well anymore. Arthritis has slowed once agile hands. Some get a little cranky now and then. But Father Time himself would start tapping toes if he heard them.

The 15-member band has had that sort of effect on some other big names.

Miss Lillian, the late mother of former President Jimmy Carter, heard the band on a visit to Torrance several years ago and loved it.

Would Have Joined

"If I lived here, I would join that band," declared the former First Mother, according to band member Ann Campbell.

The band once played in Beverly Hills. Gregory Peck was there.

"He put his arm around me," Lois Henry recalled fondly.

The band, a city-sponsored group that plays for free, stages more than 50 performances a year, many of them at nursing homes and hospitals. They were the stars at an ice-cream social at the Lomita Railroad Museum on Sept. 21.

"They were great," said Linda Croyts, president of the Lomita Historical Society. "Everybody enjoyed them immensely."

Oct. 17 Gig

Their next performance is Oct. 17 at the West Torrance Convalescent Hospital.

Their repertoire consists of old favorites, starting off always with "God Bless America," moving on to "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," and "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" The show stopper is "It's a Grand Old Flag."

Members, who must be senior citizens, must audition at a practice session, but the screening has so far been a mere formality. "I don't know of anybody who has been turned down," said Suzie Kane, a Torrance recreation coordinator.

Other senior bands using kitchen instruments include the Hawthorne Rhythm Makers and Gardena's Scamp Parlor Band.

At the piano for The Torrance Kitchen Band is Charlotte Rubin, 80, a former music teacher whose sprightly hands anchor the melody for the rest. She is one of the few without arthritis.

Hitting the bottles--precisely, just so, with a spatula and serving spoon--is Dorothy Urevig, a retired school teacher.

Tried 90 Bottles

Her instrument consists of seven bottles that she taps. She made it herself, painstakingly searching for the right notes. "I had to go through 90 bottles," she said.

On the washtub bass is Marty Diem, who plucks away uninhibitedly. Goldie Rippe plays a washboard in a more restrained style.

Most of the others play souped-up kazoos: Julia Evans has one on a toy trumpet. Howard Urevig, who used to play a real trumpet at barn dances many years ago in South Dakota, now plays a kazoo fastened to a trombone. Campbell plays a kazoo mounted on plastic piping joined together to resemble a saxophone.

Campbell also does a spirited tap dance that she learned somewhere.

Where? "Oh, I don't know. My feet just start moving," she says airily.

Easily Heard

With a dozen kazoos, a piano, bottles, washboard, washtub and more going all at once, the band makes quite a racket.

"We have a ball," said Campbell.

"We do have fun," said pianist Rubin.

While the band enlivens audiences, band members acknowledge that participation is its own reward and they look forward to the weekly practice sessions at the Albert Bartlett Adult Center in downtown Torrance.

"This band has given some an incentive to get up and get out of the rocking chair," said band president Frances Bryant.

"It keeps us happy," said Rippe, the washboard player.

"My wife gets so much energy from this," said Howard Urevig. Although his wife, the bottle tapper, has arthritis and must walk with a cane, she stands unassisted for the music.

Children Urge Them On

Children and grandchildren have been supportive.

"Keep on going, keep on going," Rippe said her children have told her.

Despite the musical harmony, occasional spats erupt.

"We have been together for 14 years . . . so we are getting to be an old group, and you know when you get old, you go back to your childhood," said Elsie Davis, band vice president.

Feeling Were Hurt

The last time an article was published about the group, Rubin was not mentioned and a newcomer was. She said she was hurt.

Bryant made sure to emphasize her role. "You might say the pianist is the most important player," she said.

At a recent practice session, Rippe and Evans sparred verbally about who was first to join the band, which was officially founded in 1974.

"I was here from the first," said Rippe.

"I was here before you," said Evans.

"They are good children, aren't they?" Bryant said about the group.

Growing Older

If squabbles are minor, age increasingly looms as a major problem.

"We are all hard of hearing," said Bryant.

"We all got arthritis," said Rippe.

Said Campbell: "You know what our biggest problem is now? Transportation. The eyes are going." Most members are over 70. A goodly number are over 80.

The oldest is Evans, who was 88 in May. Sixty-year-old Diem, the washtub artist, is the youngest.

"We have a few young people," commented Davis, who is 86, "because we know some are going to fall by the wayside one of these days." Some already have--11 by the last count.

One of these was Ruth Cox.

Cox was so dedicated, said Campbell, that she wanted to be buried in her band uniform--white apron with checked frock--with her tambourine in the coffin.

And she was.

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