Paso Robles’ history is truly something to boast about! We celebrate our wine history and future in May during the Wine Festival; our rich agricultural history in October during Pioneer Day and November is the month our city has chosen to celebrate our rich musical history through the one-of-a-kind Paderewski Festival.
Our November music festival, held last weekend, is named after Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941). His contributions to the history and culture of Paso Robles are celebrated annually. Concerts by world-renowned experts and piano competitions bring people together to celebrate Paso’s rich heritage and look toward the future of music. A beautiful statue of Paderewski was unveiled as part of the 2012 celebrations.
Paderewski bought land in Paso Robles in 1914; a year after the City of Paso Robles organized their first city band. Another lesser known musician also holds an amazing spot in Paso’s rich music history…
William Ernst was born to my father’s great grandparents in 1876, just 16 years after Paderewski’s birth. His family named Geneseo, CA (just 6 miles South and East of Paso Robles) after Geneseo, IL when they settled there in 1884. Will loved music, not farming like the rest of his family. He was considered a misfit and absent minded. When Will ran the plow team he would stand on the harrow with the reins for the horses around his shoulders so he could play the violin while he farmed.
Will may have been considered eccentric in this farming community, but he was a shining star in the music world. He organized the Creston Band in 1888 when he was only 12 years old. He traveled back to the Midwest to be educated at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and The Dana Institute of Music. After graduating from these music schools he traveled to Los Angeles where he pioneered the Jazz movement in the Majestic and Superba Theaters. He was later hired by the City of Paso Robles as the city band director.
Will and his wife Ruby operated a successful Saxophone Conservatory on 77th Street in New York City for 11 years where they taught as many as 700 students a week. They authored a book called “Improvising and Filling In” which was published by Irving Berlin and endorsed by the world’s premier saxophonists. Will’s most famous composition, Henrietta, was performed by his Saxophone Band on May 3, 1928 in Carnegie Hall.
This rich history and more, including a 1921 Holton Saxophone, is on display in the Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery tasting room on Union Road in Paso Robles. At a recent Heritage Party my daughter and son-in-law, Stacy (piano) and Bryan Widstrand (vocal) performed the incredibly piece “Henrietta.” The crowd was fascinated by the beautiful intricacies of the composition and wowed by their performance.
The Pioneer Museum in Paso Robles is home to many family displays including Ignacy Paderewski and the Ernst family. Like Paderewski, the Ernst family grew grapes; like Paderewski the Ernst family made wine. The culture of music and wine continues on in Paso Robles through the Paderewski Festival each year. Celebrating the past through music and a glass of great wine provides great richness to our lives in Paso Robles. Celebrating the past through music and wine launches us more passionately into the future.
With the Paderewski Festival behind us, we hope that you all continue to celebrate the music of Paso Robles, along with the wine and rich history that our community has to offer.
Cindy Steinbeck is the owner of Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery and serves as director of marketing and public relations. Cindy serves on the Board of Regents for Concordia University Irvine and travels extensively as an inspirational public speaker. Please visit www.steinbeckwines.com to see more of the Steinbeck story.