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Keeping Música Alive in Santa Clara

Portuguese brass band music is as American as apple pie. Many may not know it, but the U.S.’s most famous composer for brass orchestra, John Philip Sousa, was Portuguese-American.

Santa Clara’s Portuguese brass orchestra, the Sociedade Filarmonica Uniao Portuguesa De Santa Clara – The Portuguese Band of Santa Clara – has been keeping that heritage alive for over four decades. The orchestra is closely connected to Santa Clara’s Portuguese fraternal organization, the S.E.S. (Sociedade Espiritu Santo).

With over 50 regular performers, the Filarmonica performs about two dozen times a year at festivals in Santa Clara, across California and North America, and internationally as well. The band plays for all Santa Clara’s Portuguese festas – Holy Spirit (Pentecost) in late May or early June, St. Anthony in mid-July, St. Cecilia in mid-September, and Our Lady of Fatima in mid-October. Last summer the Filarmonica performed in the Azores.

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While the group’s musical repertory is solidly Portuguese, its membership is as diverse as the city it calls home, and the band welcomes musicians from every background.

But the Filarmonica isn’t just about performing. Teaching music is a core mission. Since 1981 the orchestra has been giving free music lessons to any child willing to come to classes and rehearsals; providing free instruments as well. It’s a fitting mission for a musical enterprise whose founding inspiration, John Philip Sousa, received Portugal’s Order of Public Instruction, honoring service “to the cause of education.”

The Filarmonica is open to adults and children age eight and older. Rehearsals, music lessons and classes are held weekly, year round, at the band’s rehearsal room adjoining the S.E.S. Hall at 375 Lafayette St. Santa Clara. For information, visit www.facebook.com/SCPortugueseBand or email santa.clara.portuguese.band@gmail.com. Watch video of the band’s 2015 performances in the Azores at youtu.be/J_cLfnyptfM.

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