Arkestra on a quest to shed some (carbon) pounds

October 17, 2010 

The name alone suggests the Artesian Rumble Arkestra isn’t your typical marching band, at least not like the ones I grew accustomed to watching when my son played drums in the Tumwater High School marching band several years ago.

If you’ve passed by the bottom of Percival Landing at rush hour on Fridays, you’ve seen or heard the band members playing during the peace vigils from 5-6 p.m.

Or maybe you’ve caught them at ArtsWalk or Maltoberfest in Tacoma in late September. If you work at the state Department of Ecology headquarters in Lacey, you can catch them winding through the building during lunch hour Tuesday to kick off the Combined Fund Drive. They’re bound to energize the place.

I heard their joyous, raucous music up close and personal at band rehearsal Wednesday night in the Rogers Street home of band members Sonja Wiedenhaupt and David Moseley.

The 16 musicians showed up with instruments ranging from a gigantic sousaphone – that’s Moseley’s – to the flute played by Wiedenhaupt. They filled a living room devoid of furniture.

“We bought the house three years ago, and the living room needs some work,” said Wiedenhaupt, a social psychologist and faculty member at The Evergreen State College. “But we’ve decided the living room is a better room for the band.”

What drew me to the rehearsal was an e-mail from band xylophonist Julie Kelen, who offered an overview of the band and its latest, non-musical project.

“It’s the sort of slightly quirky, community-based activity you often feature in your columns,” Kelen said, piquing my curiosity.

Turns out the band members are trying to lose weight – not the kind you weigh on the scale but rather the greenhouse gases, i.e., carbon, we’re responsible for in our daily lives.

Using the workbook by David Gershon called “Low Carbon Diet (A 30-Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds),” Artesian Rumble members are slowly but surely shrinking their carbon footprint.

The project was the idea of band member Becky Liebman, a semi-retired librarian who has been active in South Sound projects to combat climate change. She broached the subject at a band retreat in the spring and drew enough support to keep persisting in a non-threatening way for band members to shed some carbon.

“We’re still trying to find the vocabulary, the tone of voice, to talk about reducing our carbon footprint,” she said.

After each rehearsal, the band members devote some time to their carbon-awareness activities, including anecdotes describing their carbon weight-loss experiences. In between performing “Oye Como Va” by Santana and “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield, a couple of the musicians shared some carbon-shedding stories.

“I bought a low-flush toilet at Home Depot the other day and brought it home on my bicycle,” trombone player Mike Carlson said. “And I’m using rainwater to flush it.”

“I took the bus – with my sousaphone – to the Friday event,” Moseley said. Moseley is a big guy, and his sousaphone is a big instrument. It must have been quite a sight for the fellow bus passengers.

Other Artesian Rumblers confessed to carbon-consuming habits they find hard to break.

“I have a 16-mile commute to work,” said state Fish and Wildlife biologist Jeff Parkhurst. While the 32-mile round trip daily consumes a lot of gas, he just can’t envision giving up his little piece of paradise in the Steamboat Island area to live closer to work in Olympia.

Suddenly, I felt like a mental health counselor.

“It’s OK,” I said. “Not everybody is wired to live in the city. I’m a country boy, too.”

We talked about how hard it is to do everything in an eco-friendly way without coming across as an eco-snob. We reached the following conclusion: If everybody just did one or two things each day to reduce their consumption of energy and natural resources, the world would be a better place.

Back to the music.

The Artesian Rumble Arkestra is an inclusive band, so inclusive that percussionist and Ecology employee John Ridgway urged me to join the rehearsal. Following Parkhurst’s lead, I banged away at a cow bell in my clumsy, tone-deaf way. They are a community band in the true sense of the word, willing to accept me, albeit briefly, inside their musical tent.

The music they play is all over the map, reflective of the demographics of the band, which range from teens to retirees. Most have musical backgrounds that date to their youth.

When the weather’s nice, the band has been known to take their rehearsals outside so members can march through the neighborhood while they play.

Sometimes the neighbors give them cookies, and no one has filed a noise complaint with the police.

In a month or so, the band members are going to recalculate their carbon footprints to see how much carbon they’ve lost.

Meanwhile, they’ll do what they do best – play music and enjoy one another’s company.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/soundings

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