Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summertime Musictime

Does it seem like the summer has gone into fast-forward already, or is it just me?

Now that it is officially summer – as of 1:16pm, last Tuesday, June 21st – even though it felt like summer long before Memorial Day, here it is and the 4th of July weekend is right around the corner!

For those of us enjoy our music year-round, that means summer concerts – and the Harrisburg Symphony’s 4th of July Concerts start this Thursday, June 30th and wrap up on Monday, July 4th, a series of five free concerts across the midstate.

First of all, here’s the schedule: hopefully there’s one (or more) near you you can choose from. Four of them are outdoors and so it’s BYOB&C – in this case, “Bring Your Own Blankets & Chairs”

Thursday (June 30th) 8pm in Lemoyne
Negley Park (sponsored by the Lemoyne Business Association). Rain location: Cedar Cliff High School

Friday (July 1st) 8pm in Annville
The Lebanon Valley College Quad (sponsored by Lebanon Valley College) Rain location: Lutz Auditorium

Saturday (July 2nd) 8pm in Harrisburg
Metro Bank Stadium on City Island (Sponsored by Chesapeake Energy & Dauphin County Commissioners) Rain Location: the Forum

Sunday (July 3rd) 7:30pm in Carlisle
Carlisle Summerfair (Sponsored by Summerfair and Citizens of Carlisle) Rain location: Carlisle Theatre

Monday (July 4th) 7:30pm in McAlisterville
East Juniata High School Auditorium (sponsored by Lawrence L. and Julia Z. Hoverter Foundation and First National Bank of Mifflintown)

The program will include a mix of classical and pop favorites

Johann Strauss: Overture to “Die Fledermaus”
Tchaikovsky: Music from “Swan Lake”
Frank Proto: “Casey at the Bat” with Carmen Finestra & Jeff Woodruff sharing the narrating
Louis Prima: “Sing, Sing, Sing”
John Williams: Raiders March
Andrew Lloyd-Webber: Selections from “Phantom of the Opera”
John Williams: “Summon the Heroes” (with Phil Snedecore, trumpet)
Aaron Copland: Variations on a Shaker Melody (“Simple Gifts”)
A Salute to the Armed Forces
…and of course
Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture
Sousa: Stars & Stripes Forever

Summer concerts like these are always fun – that is, if the weather cooperates. So far, the forecast for Thursday the 30th looks pretty darn good (83°, clear skies and 0% chance of precipitation) which I can’t say is always the case. And of course, it’s always a gamble when you schedule these things: it’s not like anybody can control the weather – even a day in advance...

Everybody who’s ever been involved in outdoor summer concerts has their stories to tell.

In the ‘80s, the Harrisburg Symphony had initiated a series of annual concerts that were performed from a barge anchored to the lower walkway of Harrisburg’s Riverfront Park.

Sometimes, when we’d get there to start setting up the “stage” before 11am, there would already be groups of people staking out their territory along the upper bank, setting up blankets and chairs in the prime seating area for the 8pm concert. There would be boats in the river with City Island in the background, fireworks shooting off from the area around the beach house.

It wasn’t always as idyllic as this photograph might seem. The Barge Concerts of the ‘80s were usually held in late June, before the city’s 4th of July festivities and so, sometimes, we had to be concerned not just about heat and storms but also how high the river was.

There was one concert I remember when the river hadn’t receded yet after some heavy rains earlier in the week and the orchestra had to set up in the park along Front Street. There was a photo of this in the Patriot-News taken from City Island with the caption “Orchestra Plays From Top of Bank” (or something to that effect) but with the buildings in the background, you could see the sign for the Fulton Bank – well, no, not from that bank…

Another time, following a late-Spring near-flood, Mayor Stephen Reed spoke to the crowd but stumbled when he came to the idea of the beautiful backdrop of the river, the boats, the trees and the island – and instead said “dropback” and then “drawback”… well, understandable…

Aside from dealing with issues like sweat on the fingerboards and humidity-affected instruments (strings and reeds are especially notorious when it comes to humid summer weather), bugs were certainly a major issue – especially if you’re a wind-player needing to take sudden deep breaths, a hazard considering the usual cloud of mayflies hanging around the barge.

Another time, I’d checked out the barge right before the rehearsal the night before and was pleased to report to the musicians that there were hardly any bugs there at all.

A cheer went up from the wind section.

“The bats are eating them all…”

At one of those concerts, conductor Larry Newland went to turn a page and was bitten by a spider. (Considering the barge was located only a few miles north of Three Mile Island, too bad we didn’t have music to play from the Spiderman filmscores…)

One summer, we programmed Modeste Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” but with the less than stellar sound system strung through the park, then, the opening sounded more like “Gnat on Bald Mountain” – several players swore it was attracting gnats from as far away as Baltimore.

You’ve heard the old joke about the musician who apologized for making a mistake? “Maestro, I’m sorry, but there was a fly on my score and I played it.”

A couple summers ago, Eric Henry, who was the principal tuba player then and now, showed me the tuba part for the 1812 Overture. Over the years, these parts have become more fragile – they were old, then – so they’re now using photocopies of the originals. But there on his part were the photocopied remains of several mayflies and mosquitoes who had given their lives for art over twenty-five years ago…

- Dick Strawser