Sundays-in-the-park band leader Michael Wirgler retires

Maestro Michael Wirgler’s fondest memories of making music in Golden Gate Park for decades have been of families listening to the concerts together and children dancing in the front row.

“I know when they get older, they will remember the music,” says the Golden Gate Park Band director, who will lead his last concert of the group’s 135th season on Sunday.

Putting down his baton after 43 years with the band, the last 18 as conductor, Wirgler says he’s “going out on the high side.”

Audiences in the park’s Music Concourse have increased in recent years in spite of several venue changes when the area was reorganized and the band shell reconstructed. Through it all, Wirgler says proudly, audiences remained loyal.

The free Sunday concerts, supported by city funds and donations, begin at 1 p.m. and last for about two hours. The band, formed just a decade after the park’s creation, began performing in 1882.

In recent years, 30 musicians from the American Federation of Musicians Union Local No. 6 have played through the season, which runs from April to October. Concerts include marches, classical and pop music, at times featuring ethnic dance groups.

Wirgler, a clarinetist with degrees from San Francisco State University, spent his Army service in the Presidio, a member of the 6th Army Band. While performing and composing for various San Francisco organizations, Wirgler also was a music teacher with the Oakland Unified School District for 33 years.

Golden Gate Park Band director Michael Wirgler has been touched by little ones dancing at weekly concerts through the years. (Courtesy photo)

The Golden Gate Park job, he says, is “complicated,” going far beyond conducting. Wirgler also prepares music, schedules musicians, acts as librarian and negotiates with the union.

The band’s union representative, Mark Nemoyten — a three-decade long veteran of the band and solo trumpet-cornet for the past 20 years — says, “Michael has done great work with the band, bringing new repertoire while maintaining much of our long held traditional programming. He has a great breadth of knowledge of wind band music.

“Over the years he has refined his rehearsal technique and improved standards and expectations, so that we are able to pull off more challenging works with the minimal rehearsal time that we have. He has composed and arranged a great deal of music for the band. During his tenure our audience and the overall visibility of the band has grown quite a bit.”

Wirgler plans to continue to support the band after stepping down from his directing-conducting post. His successor will be announced at Sunday’s concert.

Golden Gate Park Band
Where: Spreckles Temple of Music, Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park, S.F.
When: 1 p.m. Oct. 8
Admission: Free

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.

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