Oktubafest Is Providing the Soundtrack to Your Soulard Drinking This Weekend


Ah, the sights and sounds of Oktoberfest. The beer, plentiful and free-flowing. The lederhosen, uniform of the dedicated drinker. The pretzels, salty and delicious, and perfect for soaking up excess intoxicants. And, of course, the tubas.

Wait, tubas?

That's right: For the third year in a row, Oktubafest will grace St. Louis' Oktoberfest with an all low-brass flash mob. From 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, roughly 12 and 24 musicians will perform at Soulard Market Park (720 Carroll Street, 314-622-4180), playing traditional German drinking songs and polkas for the amusement of those in attendance.

"Pretty much all the tunes we play are polkas, similar to the German band music you'd hear in Germany or even here," says Gerry Pagano, 61, a musician with the Saint Louis Symphony who has participated in Oktubafest each year since its inception. "Oktoberfest music generally is German band music and a lot of polkas. And a lot of the kind of things you'd expect to sit around drinking beer and get a bunch of people singing and crazy."

The effort is spearheaded by the St. Louis Low Brass Collective, of which Pagano is a member. The group is dedicated to bass brass instruments, which include the trombone (Pagano's primary instrument), the euphonium and, of course, the tuba. The collective contains members from all walks of life — professional musicians, music teachers and even those who just play for fun.

"We started the group because if you think about what kids wanna play when they're little, everybody wants to play either guitar or drums, and if they do somehow choose a brass instrument, usually it's trumpet," Pagano says. "We feel like the trombone and the tuba — we get overlooked a lot. And we think hey, these are great instruments, we should do more to promote them so that more people know about them, more young people think about playing them."

In keeping with its all-inclusive approach, the Low Brass Collective encourages anyone who plays any of the aforementioned instruments to come sit in for Oktubafest. Interested parties can get in touch through the group's website if they want the sheet music in advance — or they can just show up and play.

"Tuba players around the city are, for the most part, part-time, amateur, fun, weekend warriors," Pagano explains. "There's students that will be there — that could be high school, college, whatever.

"The nature of it is anybody that wants to come can play," he continues. "It's not a group that regularly meets or gets together and rehearses or plays gigs or anything like that. It's just kind of a one-off deal where we say, 'Hey, we've got the music, you bring your horn, and we'll rehearse for an hour.' Then everybody goes and plays and has a beer and has a good time."

Last year the group had 20 to 25 participating players. Since it doesn't require musicians to RSVP, Pagano says they never really know how many will be involved in a given year until it is time to play.

"Some people feel like they need to practice and they don't wanna show up and sight-read," Pagano explains. "And other people are like, 'I'll just get there and read it.'"

For Pagano, it's all in the service of the Low Brass Collective's core mission: promoting and educating the public at large about the instruments its members love.

"In a way it's a means of giving back. Because, you know, it's pretty cool that I have a job that pays me a living for just playing trombone, and that's something I really appreciate," Pagano says. "So if nothing else, if I can go out and do something to help young people in schools or whatever I can do, it's just a way of giving back to the community.

"And it may be a tiny little fraction of nothing," he says, "but it's something."

Soulard's Oktoberfest celebration will take place on Friday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the event's official website.

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