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Documentary on Desert Brass Band hits big screen

Surprise theater to play film highlighting West Valley group

Posted 1/17/24

The Desert Brass Band has been discovered by Hollywood.

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Documentary on Desert Brass Band hits big screen

Surprise theater to play film highlighting West Valley group


They are the staunch seniors of their community, ages 70 to 91 years of age.

And their solidarity comes from a consummate love of music that has been tested by the roller-coaster of time.

They are the Desert Brass Band, and now they have been discovered by Hollywood.

A documentary entitled “Jewel of the Desert” has been released and can be seen at the Fat Cat Entertainment Center in Surprise, 13100 N. Prasada Parkway.

The film captures and explores the musical talents of the 38 band members and presents a telescopic peek at their legacy, a reward for a life-long devotion to the art.

The film embraces the band members’ journeys and offers insight into the concrete and spiritual connection they have—a consummate love of music that began in another time and another place.

The cinematography is set against a backdrop of Arizona’s rich and colorful landscape; as constant as the desert winds blow, so do the instruments of the brass band.

The band, under the direction of conductor Charlie Musgrave, began in 1998 and plays all over the West Valley. And their reach is great because while some live in Surprise, Sun City West and Sun City, others come from as far away as Canada.

The film includes vignettes from the Royal Oaks Senior Community in Sun City, where Musgrave and his wife Toby live, along with segments from Bellevue Heights Church in Sun City and the Salvation Army on Avenue of the Arts in Surprise, where the band rehearses.

The film’s Hollywood producer and director Mary Apick sculpted a story about their lives and their music and juxtaposed it with the scintillating liveliness of five-year-old Abigail Altherr, the symbol of the youthful audience they hope to motivate and inspire.

The youngster’s grandfather, Bryan Altherr, plays the euphonium in the band. The film will be submitted this year to the Academy Awards “Oscars” nominations and later to the Toronto, Berlin, Moscow and Cannes film festivals.

“I know through Mary’s brilliance at telling our story, we have a winner,” Musgrave said. “When words fail…music speaks.”

The film premiered earlier this month and there was a verve of energy as the band members, their families and friends had a red-carpet preview of the documentary.

Dressed in tuxedos and glittering and vibrant dresses, they were greeted by the director/producer and members of her staff.

Apick fashioned a screen play out of whole pieces, filmed by as many as 16 cameras and a crew that traveled from California to Arizona for more than a year and a half.

“This has been a wonderful journey to create this magnificent and emotional film,” she said prior to the screening. She noted that the film was their legacy and their voice and it would inspire and stimulate future musicians.

Musgrave acknowledged the success of the film at the post-red-carpet reception held in Sun City West. He paid tribute to the band members for their devotion, loyalty and commitment to the captivating connection of the band.

He acknowledged that although he is the most visible member because he stands on the podium with a wooden baton, the real talent in the band comes from the musicians with their trombones, cornets and other instruments; they are like a molten machine that makes music.

He compared their unique connection with a car and its finely tuned engine of pistons, rods, and cams that work together to make it run. The conductor said that he has been blessed with a band that understands its commitment to success.

Musgrave, with his decades in the music field, and Apick, with her decades in the film industry beginning as a child star in Iran, developed a bond of respect, admiration and friendship during the filming of the documentary.

The film individually draws on his and her histories both in-front of and behind the camera to create this sliver of musical drama.

The two met in 2022 when Bill Fedor, a family friend who started the band, invited Apick to a performance.

She was enchanted by the performance and returned to Hollywood to cobble together a staff to create the documentary.

After many return trips at which she said she learned of every Starbucks between Hollywood and Sun City, the film was finally ready for screening. Apick hopes the film will be made available to schools around the world to inspire musical talent and programs.

“It has been a long journey,” she said. “I thank you for trusting me to make this documentary and help spread the inspiration of your music not just in the United States, but all over the world. You as a band make the magic.”

For a list of showtimes, call the theater at 623-231-2610.