Let the band play on

For nearly half my life – for the vast majority of my adult life – I have been involved with the Nashville Symphony’s annual concert in Shelbyville. I covered the first two or three concerts, which were sponsored by Berol Corp., but then when First American Bank took over as sponsor, in maybe 1991 or 1992, the late Scott McDonald formed a steering committee and asked me to join it. I’ve been on that committee ever since, and the past few years I’ve been co-chair alongside with the committee’s long-time chair, Dawn Holley.

Last year, for the first time, the concert didn’t have a primary sponsor, and I was the one who stood up in front of everyone, welcomed them, and introduced Vinay Parameswaran, the symphony’s associate conductor, making his first appearance in Shelbyville. I’m told he was wonderful.

I say “I’m told” because, right after giving those words of welcome, I had to leave Calsonic Arena. It was Election Night, and I had to be at the county courthouse to collect election results as they came in. I’d spent months working with Dawn and others on the concert, and then I had to miss it. I sprinted up the center aisle, through the waiting crowd, and out the door of the arena before the first note of music was played.

You want to know the worst part of that?

For about six months, I thought I had missed the very last such concert. Without going into details, we thought that the pieces weren’t going to come together for a concert this year. No one had said so officially, but Dawn and I had taken it as a foregone conclusion, and I’d told a few friends not to expect there to be a symphony concert in Shelbyville in 2015.

But now, it looks like we’ve gotten a reprieve. We found out a few weeks ago that the concert has been scheduled, and we had a teleconference today to do some planning for it. The concert will be Tuesday, May 5.

There are still some details that need to be worked out, and we still really need a primary sponsor if there’s going to be any long-term future for the concert. But I can’t tell you how happy I am that I didn’t miss the very last one.

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.

Another one in the can

It had become a running joke between Dawn Holley and me that this year’s “Symphony at the Celebration” concert was cursed. It seemed everything that could go wrong did go wrong. That was the case in the lead-up to the event, and it was even the case tonight – the “instrument petting zoo” was stuck in rush-hour traffic getting out of Nashville, no one had taken care of the cooler of bottled water for the symphony musicians, and so on and so on.

Our crowd was down – which we were expecting. In fact, we were expecting worse than we got. The date of the concert has to do with when the Symphony is available and when Calsonic Arena is available; the organizing committee doesn’t set the date, we just have to deal with what we’re given. This year’s date was later than normal and conflicted with a couple of other activities that probably cut down on our crowd.

But you know what? It all worked. Everyone had a great time. Once the instrument petting zoo showed up, it was mobbed by kids (and some adults) anxious to try their hands at real-life instruments:



This young man, by the way, made a point of coming up to both me and Dawn, individually, after the concert and (prompted by his grandmother, but adorable anyway) thanking us for bringing the symphony to town. He shook our hands.

Albert-George Schram and the Nashville Symphony were in fine form, with one of their best programs ever, including selections from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, and an Irish sing-along. My friend and former castmate Joe Rada told me he was in tears during a Puccini medley.

I have to say I teared up a little bit during the traditional finale, “Stars And Stripes Forever,” one of four selections which the symphony played along with the Community High School Band. As always, Maestro Schram asked the piccolo player from the high school band – which, this year, meant a young woman named Victoria Brown, at right in the photo below – to take the solo. (The photo was taken during a pre-concert rehearsal.) Over the past seven years, seven Bedford County high school students have had the opportunity to solo with the Grammy-Award-winning Nashville Symphony. That’s a memory they’ll treasure forever. symphony4

The Community band, led by Jimmy Bratcher, sounded fine both playing along with the symphony and playing on their own just before intermission. A brass ensemble composed of both Community students and alumni played during intermission and during the pre-concert period.

I’m proud to say that all three of our public high schools have great band programs. My own alma mater, Cascade High School, didn’t have band when I was a student, but they won a statewide award last year. We rotate among the three high schools, and it will be Cascade’s turn in 2014, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

As I said, our crowd was down a little, but everyone who did attend seemed to have a really good time. I heard lots and lots of positive comments, and the crowd’s energetic applause made it clear they were having a good time. I am tired – I ran up higher numbers on my Fitbit today than I have in some time – but happy. What a wonderful night.

Save the date: May 14

It was a long day, but a good one. I had to be at work an hour and a half earlier than I do most days.

This afternoon, we had a planning meeting for this year’s Symphony at the Celebration concert. It wasn’t our first meeting, but it felt like the first, because it was the first time that our new contacts from the Nashville Symphony were able to join us in person.

A bit of background: The Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony has done a concert in Shelbyville annually, with maybe one exception, since 1989. I covered the first couple of concerts, which were sponsored by one of our local industries, but then when a bank took over sponsorship, the late Scott McDonald put together a local steering committee. I’ve been on that committee ever since, and last year and this year I’ve had the title of co-chairman, alongside our long-time chair, the indefatigable Dawn Holley.

The concert is casual and family-friendly, free for children and students and only $5 for adults, and showcases local guest artists. For the past seven years or so, we’ve rotated among Bedford County’s three public high school bands as special guests. The high school band performs a few numbers on its own during the first half of the concert, then returns for the finale to play a couple of pieces along with the symphony. Since we’ve been doing the high school bands, the last number is always “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and the tradition is that the piccolo player from the high school band gets to take the solo.

Albert-George Schram, who conducts most of the symphony’s pops concerts in Nashville, conducts the Shelbyville concert, and he’s wonderful and funny – the perfect conductor for a crowd that may include somewhat-skeptical classical music newbies. Trivia fact: last May, the Nashville Symphony made its triumphant second appearance in Carnegie Hall, and its very next appearance after that was in Calsonic Arena in Shelbyville. From Carnegie Hall to a horse arena in less than a week!

Anyway, this year’s concert will be May 14. The Community High School Band, from Unionville, will be our guest artists. For the third year, the symphony will bring its “instrument petting zoo,” which lets kids (and curious adults!) touch and try out real orchestra instruments under the supervision of trained volunteers.

Anyway, if you’re within striking distance of Shelbyville, save the date – and RSVP at our Facebook event page.

Tonight, I should be working on my sermon for this Sunday at Concord UMC, which is started but not yet completed. But I’m dog-tired after a long day, and I can’t focus. Hopefully, I can get it finished, or close to finished, tomorrow night. I can put the final polish on it Friday afternoon – I’m taking a half day off of work – and not have to worry about it on Saturday.

The mad, merry month of May

When I agreed to join the local Relay For Life committee last fall, I knew that the Relay would fall not long after the annual Symphony At The Celebration concert, one of the great passions of my adult life.

Of course, I didn’t know at the time – nobody did – about the Relay For Life “Cancer Sucks!” Crawfish Festival, which will take place a month before the Relay and a week and a half before the symphony concert. I also didn’t know that my title with the symphony concert was  to change from “publicity chairman” to “co-chair.” So I find myself heavily involved with three huge events taking place in less than a month’s time.

I’m not complaining; I’m having a lot of fun, actually, and I’m really looking forward to the next month. I just hope I can do everything justice.

First up, of course, is the crawfish festival, which will take place in about a week. We’ve already sold a considerable number of tickets. I’ll be working the water / Red Bull tent for the first six hours of the festival; after that, hopefully, I can get some photos and video. This has turned into something much larger than any of us imagined when it was first proposed. It’s a massive undertaking to stage a 12-hour outdoor music festival and crawfish boil, including a big-name recording artist as the headliner.

Fortunately, Tammy Trott, who is our lead on this project, seems to have every base covered. Every time one of us asks her about something, she’s got an answer. There are a lot of things that have to come together, but it looks like they’re going to come together. Fortunately, the ball seems to be rolling, and while I’m still trying to help out with publicity, we seem to have done a good job already getting the word out.

Our participating bands, such as Rayz’n Cain, have helped tremendously, by spreading the word to their fans. Rayz’n Cain, which includes some of my sister’s high school classmates, even created a tongue-in-cheek graphic playing off the fact that the festival takes place on Cinco de Mayo. Rayz’n Cain was sensational at our Relay For Life dance and live auction earlier in the year, and they’ll be closing out the festival for us. The cause is personal to them; one of the band members lost a family member to cancer the week of the dance and auction.

Three days after the crawfish festival will be my 50th birthday. I’m taking the day off work, but I’m not completely goofing off. On that morning, I’ll go to Tullahoma for a local-access cable talk show appearance promoting the symphony concert. That evening, we’ll have a Relay committee meeting, to discuss what happened at the crawfish festival and to make more plans for the Relay For Life coming up. (I don’t know when we’ll have the actual family celebration of my birthday; we tend to do such things on weekends, when we can get the family together.)

A week after my birthday is the symphony concert. We’re looking for another good one this year. I love telling people that this will be the Nashville Symphony’s first public appearance following their triumphant May 12 return to Carnegie Hall. That’s right: they’re going from Carnegie Hall straight to Calsonic Arena.

Calsonic Arena, which was built for equestrian events, has some permanent illuminated sponsor signs at the opposite end from where we do the concert. There’s a pair of signs promoting a local walking horse breeding operation. One sign bears the name of the operation, the other bears the slogan, “Why Breed Anywhere Else?” Last year, Maestro Albert-George Schram, in his charming Dutch accent, joked about the sign during the concert. “I think that’s great,” he said. “I think that should be the poster for dis concert next year.”

After the symphony concert, I will have two whole weeks to rest up for the Relay For Life, which will take place June 1-2 at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center. This will be my second time to be at the Relay but my first time to be a committee member – which will be a completely different experience than being a walker, I’m sure. It’s also our first year going from a 12-hour format to an 18-hour format. We’re encouraging everyone to take shifts, but I’m going to try to be there and awake for as much of the Relay as I can, so that I can take video and photos. Some of that, of course, depends on how long I, as a committee member, will have to be there before and/or after the actual event. I still haven’t heard all of those details yet.

I may be turning 50, but I may feel more like 80 by the time the sun sets on June 2.

Music, mortality, music

On Tuesday, May 8 of this year, I will be a half-century old.

Fortunately, I won’t have time to mope about it. Three days earlier, on May 5, the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Bedford County, for which I’m an organizing committee member, will host the “Cancer Sucks” Crawfish Festival, which over the past few months has grown from the germ of an idea into a massive, 12-hour-long festival headlined by a major recording artist, Keith Anderson.

But once that’s over, I can relax and enjoy dread enjoy my 50th birthday, right?

Guess again, Clyde. Seven days after my birthday, on Tuesday, May 15, will be the event which has become one of the great passions of my adult life, Symphony At The Celebration, the annual concert by the Grammy-winning Nashville Symphony in Calsonic Arena on the Celebration grounds, featuring the Motlow College Jazz Ensemble and one of our local high school bands (this year, Shelbyville Central High School) as guest artists. I am also a member of the committee which puts on this event.

These two events are going to be an incredible amount of fun, and I will thoroughly enjoy being a part of both of them, provided I don’t go completely bonkers first.

Then, after the symphony concert, I’ll have more than two whole weeks until June 1, the actual date of the Relay For Life.

By the way, if you’re looking to get something for my birthday, I’d love for you to either buy Crawfish Festival tickets or just contribute directly towards my participation in the Relay For Life.

One of my passions

I know I’ve had a number of Facebook status updates over the past week or two plugging tomorrow night’s “Symphony at the Celebration” concert. But this concert is a passion for me.

I usually do an opinion column for the paper the week of the concert urging people to attend. Last week was so crazy I never got around to it. So please forgive me if I vent a little bit here and talk about the concert, my involvement with it, and why it’s so important to me and to our community.

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See me on tee vee

For those of you with Charter cable in Shelbyville, Tullahoma and surrounding areas, Dawn Holley and I will be on a local-access talk show tonight at 6:30, tomorrow at 9 a.m., Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on public access channel 6. We’re not the first guests; we’re on about 20 or 25 minutes into the program, following a segment with a chiropractor.

Dawn and I appeared to promote the Nashville Symphony concert in Shelbyville.


I may not be blogging much for the next 36 hours or so.

I slept in this morning, because I have to put in a full afternoon of work, then cover a 5 p.m. meeting, then cover a 7 p.m. meeting (school board, which is usually a long one).

Tomorrow morning, we will rush to get the newspaper out earlier than normal so that several of us can go to Chattanooga for the Tennessee Press Association awards luncheon. I’ll be driving the Times-Gazette van.

As soon as I return from the TPA luncheon tomorrow afternoon, I will meet several of my fellow members of the Symphony in Shelbyville steering committee; we will carpool to Nashville for our annual wrap-up meeting, which will be held at Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and we will stay for that night’s summer festival concert.

Fortunately, I have nothing on the agenda for Saturday — except finishing up my sermon for Sunday at Mt. Lebanon UMC.