They used to say that a sign of maturity was being able to hear “The William Tell Overture” without thinking of the Lone Ranger. By that standard, of course, few of us will ever be mature.
Tonight, during yet another thrilling annual visit to Shelbyville by The Nashville Symphony, I failed another such rubicon. The work in question was John Phillip Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell March,” or — as I think of it — the theme to “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” My father, sitting next to me, is not (to my knowledge) conversant with Python, and was no doubt able to enjoy the work on its own merits. I kept expecting that whoopee cushion sound from the end of the “Monty Python” credits.
Seriously, tonight’s concert was wonderful. There had been obstacles and annoyances, to be sure, including dropouts by guest artists and some sort of humming exhaust or refrigerator fan which went on and off during the concert (which, for the uninitiated, is held in an indoor horse arena in Shelbyville). But nothing could stop the beautiful music, played with pride and passion by the Motlow College Jazz Ensemble, the Tennessee Valley Winds and, of course, the symphony itself.
Monday night, on the eve of their Shelbyville appearance, the symphony performed at a memorial service and concert in Nashville for its fallen maestro, Kenneth Schermerhorn. Schermerhorn, who died this month of non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma, took the symphony from nowhere to national prominence, including a triumphant Carnegie Hall performance, TV exposure and the state-of-the-art concert hall which will bear Schermerhorn’s name when it opens in 2006. My contacts on the symphony staff say that memorial concert was beautiful and moving.
Tonight’s Shelbyville concert opened with a tribute to Schermerhorn: a piece called “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. It was beautiful and heartbreaking. But then, as Schermerhorn would no doubt have wanted, the orchestra moved on, presenting a joyous and energetic program filled with references to America and Tennessee.
The Tennessee Valley Winds, making their first appearance at the annual event, were terrific too. Their “Tennessee Salute” was a wonderfully-arranged medley of tunes connected to the Volunteer State, from the “Tennessee Waltz” to the “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.” My father wondered out loud (in a whisper) what was keeping “Rocky Top,” and sure enough it showed up 15 seconds or so later.
The amateur Tennessee Valley Winds played in tandem with the professional symphony on two Sousa numbers: the aforementioned “Liberty Bell March” and the near-mandatory finale for community concerts, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
The Motlow jazz band had been scheduled to perform during intermission; just in the past few days, we had to ask them to do the pre-concert entertainment as well, due to the unexpected pullout of another act. They did both, and were wonderful. Nancy June Brandon’s dance students, from toddlers to high school age, did an adorable number set to a song from “The Polar Express.”
Byung-Hyun Rhee, the symphony’s associate conductor, always leads the Shelbyville concert, and he eagerly introduced Nancy June’s dancers. “Here they are …” But the dancers had miscalculated and were still making their way around the arena concourse. “Where are they?” he interrupted himself.
My parents, as usual, brought my grandmother from the nursing home to hear the concert, and, as usual, she had a great time.