Local band director helps Brazilian musicians get ‘In the Mood’

In the Amazon Jungle lies a village where the Waterloo German Band is more popular than the Rolling Stones.

Natives of Alter Do Chao live much as they did 400 years ago in the remote western Amazon near Brazil’s border with Columbia and Peru, according to Harry Louis Wolf, director of the Waterloo Ger-man Band.

A retired high school geography teacher, Wolf travels to some exotic locale every November. In November 2001, he picked western Brazil, where he was introduced to the June 29 Band.

“My English-speaking guide knew I was involved with music and he wanted me to hear this band,” Wolf said. “We traveled by motorboat for six hours and hiked for an hour-and-a-half to reach this village.

There, in a grass hut, was a 12-piece brass band playing Glen Miller’s ‘In the Mood.”’

Wolf spent hours with the Portuguese-Indian musicians and was more impressed by their musical ability than their primitive surroundings.

“Their cymbal player was a blind man,” Wolf said. “I asked them if they knew the ‘Beer Barrel Polka,’ but no one responded. I hummed a few bars and to my surprise, an elderly man began to play it on the saxophone. I was impressed.”

Because the instruments they were playing were in sad shape, Wolf promised he would send them instruments — especially a tuba, an instrument he noticed they lacked.

When he returned to America, Wolf set about making good on his promise. He spread the word to musician friends and music stores. By mid summer he had gathered alto horns, saxophones, trumpets, an English baritone, six accordions, a French horn and a tuba. Nottlemann Music donated four cornets.

“I thought there might be lots of instruments that people didn’t know what to do with,” Wolf said. “I thought people would be happy to donate them to a place like this.”

Harder than collecting the instruments was getting them to the Amazon jungle.

Putting them in crates was out of the question in the security sensitive environment created by the Sept 11 terrorist attacks. On top of shipping fees, there were tarrifs, export and import fees.

Wolf found Cultura Inglesa, an English language organization working to preserve indigenous cultures of the Brazilian people who could accept them as a gift and qualify for an exemption to those fees.

He then had to pack the instruments in suitcases – no small task when a tuba is involved. Wolf cut the sides out of a suitcase and used duct tape to reseal it around the bell of the instrument.

“I made a promise and I was going to keep it,” he said.

Airline passengers were allowed only five bags and Wolf had collected enough instruments to fill 10 bags. Barbara Johnson, the German Band’s accordion player, volunteered to shepherd the other five bags into Brazil. They flew from St. Louis to Miami. From there they made stops in Caracus, Venezuela; Manaus, Brazil and finally Santarem, Brazil just 15 minutes from Alter Do Chao by air.

“We were met at the airport by a delegation from the village,” Wolf said. “They had a pick-up truck and two cars. They took us to a small hotel, but were back at the door a few hours later insisting that we accompany them.”

Wolf and Johnson were taken to a sandy beach along the Amazon where the instruments were laid out on tables. A television crew was waiting to talk with them and they were treated to a reception that Wolf said “I’ll never forget.”

The June 29 Band was dressed in T-shirts that had the Waterloo German Band logo their band leader had copied from a sticker Wolf had attached to an earlier piece of mail. On it was inscribed “I follow the Waterloo German Band.”

“I am very glad and amazed at what Harry did,” said June 29 Band Director Osvaldo Oscar. “I am sure our band will carry on as long as generoous people like Harry exist on Earth.”

And the song they were playing as Wolf arrived at the reception? The Beer Barel Polka.