Recreating the Beatles’ sound

“All you need is love,” the audience began singing and swaying back and forth with arms waving high in the air at Santa Cruz’s sold-out Rio Theatre last Saturday night. Yes, the Beatles are back together and sounding better than ever. The eight members of “The White Album Ensemble” recreate the sound of the Beatles in a way so real that if you closed your eyes, you could swear the Beatles were performing live.

Except that when you opened your eyes, you would discover that Paul McCartney is now a tall balding man named Richard Bryant and John Lennon has become a distinguished-looking black dentist named Alan Heit. But it’s not how they look that matters; it’s how they sound that is so amazing.

In order to recreate the complex textures and tones of Beatles’ studio recordings, many hours of rehearsal went into figuring out how to deliver the same sound in a live setting. Other musicians sit in with the band to provide the extra instrumentation needed on such songs as the haunting “She’s Leaving Home” and Eleanor Rigby (string quartet). “Got to Get You Into My Life” features live trumpets.

It takes many musicians to recreate the effect of the huge crescendo in “A Day in the Life,” that nearly stops your heart. On such Middle Eastern-tinged tunes as “Norweigan Wood,” the band adds a sitar player.

Saturday night was the White Album Ensemble’s 22nd sold-out performance. Moms, musicians, and students from Gilroy High joined together to take the trip on Sgt. Pepper’s Mystery Tour in support of a non-profit organization that seeks to end violence among young people called “Guitars not Guns.”

Guitars not Guns was started by Ray and Louise Nelson because of their desire to help the foster children in their home. It was through this experience with foster kids that Ray decided to help by providing guitars and lessons not only for their foster kids but other at risk or disadvantaged kids as well, regardless of ability to pay.

Once you realize that John Lennon himself was a foster child, it seems all the more fitting that the White Album Ensemble supports the Guitars not Guns organization with proceeds from every concert they perform.

Guitars not Guns works to provide guitars, teachers, lessons, and books; and to empower children by building self-esteem and confidence.

One mom described what the program has meant: “Before my son entered into these guitar lessons he was not feeling so great about himself; this class opened a door that has been closed for so long. Now that he has something that belongs to him, that he can call his very own and has full control over, he is striving continuously. The way he feels now is the difference between success and failure.

“Since he has been in the program, he has improved dramatically in his school work. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of him, but to you guys who put this together and made it possible, you are my heroes.”

Guitars not Guns has various chapters in California. July 4, the GNG Guitar Car will be in the Morgan Hill’s Independence Day Parade. See the Acousti (as they call it) and enjoy the day. Go to or for more information.

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