welcome and goodbye

I stood before hundreds of people at 7 p.m. tonight and warmly welcomed them to one of my favorite events, the annual Symphony at the Celebration concert in Shelbyville, which features the Grammy Award-winning, Carnegie Hall-playing Nashville Symphony along with one of our local high school bands – this year, the band from my alma mater, Cascade High School.

I felt as if I’d bungled conductor Vinay Parameswaran’s name, although I was later told he gave me a thumbs up. I asked the crowd to stand for the presentation of colors by a Shelbyville Fire Department color guard.

I then bounded up the center aisle and out the doors of Calsonic Arena. I did not hear one note of the concert proper, not even the first note of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The concert, of course, took place on Election Night, and in the newspaper business that is – quite understandably – an all-hands-on-deck affair. I had to rush over to Bedford County Courthouse to collect election results and post them to the newspaper’s Twitter account, then back to the newsroom to write up tomorrow’s story and post a spreadsheet of the precinct results.

I knew I was where I needed to be, but it still killed me to miss the concert. I’ve been a member of the concert’s steering committee for more than 20 years, ever since the late Scott McDonald, president of what was then First American Bank, took over sponsorship of the concert from the pencil company that had founded it. Scott formed a steering committee and asked me to serve on it. I’ve officially been co-chair, along with longtime chair Dawn Holley, for the past two or three years, but I think I was sort of unofficial vice-chair for a while before that.

This concert is a big deal to me. I love it as an audience member. I love what it means for our community. I love what it means to the student musicians. Here’s how the concert works: the Nashville Symphony plays the first half of its program, then the high school band gets to play a few numbers on its own. Then, we have intermission. After intermission, the symphony plays for a while, and then the symphony and the high school band join forces for the grand finale, which always includes “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” with the high school piccolo player taking the solo.

This year’s concert seemed to be cursed, and at about 4 p.m. Dawn and I were both about ready to pack it in. Because of some financial challenges, we’re still not sure we’ll be able to have the concert next year. Normally, instead of me welcoming the crowd to the concert, someone from our primary sponsor would have done it – but we don’t have a primary sponsor at the moment.

I called Dawn after the concert was over, while I was at the newsroom working on my story. After talking to her, I think we both feel better about it tonight than we did this afternoon. We had a wonderful crowd, better than last year, and the feedback I’ve gotten has been good.

Prior to the concert, the Nashville Symphony’s “instrument petting zoo” gave kids (and some adults!) the opportunity to pick up and try real instruments under the guidance of trained volunteers. We also had a pre-concert by the Motlow Community Jazz Band, which I did get to hear, and I have to say they were pretty darn incredible – I think the best band Motlow has ever sent to this event. They killed “Peter Gunn” and “In The Mood” and a lot of other hot numbers in their 30-minute set.

I heard Cascade rehearsing this afternoon, under their regular director, David Lucich, and under Vinay Parameswaran, who of course had to prepare them for the joint Sousa performance. They sounded great – made me proud to be an alumnus. Cascade was too small to support a band back when I was in school, but they have an outstanding one now, regularly winning awards in band competitions.

It sounds like it was a great evening; I’m sorry I missed it.