May 27, 2016

The Story of a Commission

by Tony Spano, Jr.

Mary Bomba and I first met when she joined the Culver City Adult School Community Band I was conducting as part of my work at Culver City High School. She was our lead trumpet player, working as a hospital chaplain during the day, and making music with the Community Band once a week.

“I first learned of Pacific Serenades from board member Michael Shilub,” Mary explained to me. “He spoke highly of Pacific Serenades, and it turned out to be the same chamber series that you kept bringing us flyers for at the Culver City Adult School Band.”

“By the time the Adult School Band ended and I moved to the Santa Monica Emeritus College Band, Tom and I had become subscribers,” Mary went on to explain. “And you and I stayed connected not just because of Pacific Serenades but because my trumpet teacher, Paul Witt, is your colleague [a trumpet player and music teacher at Culver City Middle School].”

Mary and her husband Tom O’Connor have continued to be subscribers to Pacific Serenades concerts. Several years ago, Mary began asking about the process of commissioning a new piece. She began the long plan of honoring her husband’s 70th birthday with a surprise commission.

I asked Mary about keeping the secret for so long. “It hasn’t been hard to keep the secret,” she responded. “I just didn’t tell anyone. But then in March Tom’s siblings started talking about flying him back to Cleveland for his birthday, so I had to fill them in. And then this month I started letting the rest of the family and our friends know so they could save the date.”

“But what about the surprise for Tom,” I asked.

“As for Tom,” Mary answered, “I think I’ll wait for the postcard to arrive, put a bow on it, and place it on his chair.”

As for the title of the work, Walking Music, Mary suggested the subject of walking as a nod to Tom’s favorite pastime. “Tom loves to walk. He walks for the pure pleasure of seeing what he can see. He’s a flaneur,” Mary explained.

While Tom worked in finance for the aerospace industry, Mary’s first career before becoming a hospital chaplain was in the film business. “I read scripts, and both my parents were in the film business. My brother still is. That was probably my first exposure to music, through film, and I remember my father, a motion picture sound editor, telling me how important music was to the movies. He took me to a presentation on film scoring at the Academy and I remember being fascinated by the click track,” Mary shared.

Mary also explained how she and Tom came to choose our home concerts. “Tom also loves the movies, especially film noir, and he cares a lot about architecture and design. He’s a docent at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Hollyhock House, and the Virginia Robinson Gardens. Tom’s interest in architecture is what prompted us to choose the private home venue for our Pacific Serenades subscription. We’ve seen some beautiful homes—and afterwards there’s always good food!”

While considering something special for her husband’s 70th birthday, Mary was inspired by our concerts and mission. “I don’t know that it would ever occur to me to commission a piece of music if it hadn’t been for Pacific Serenades and their emphasis on new works. But hearing new compositions season after season, and watching fellow subscriber Ursula Krummel regularly commission new pieces, got me thinking about commissioning a piece for Tom. Both of us are at an age where we don’t need any more stuff. But to be able to encourage a living, Los Angeles-based composer, to help send a new piece of music into the world, how great is that?”