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.

Pitch perfect

Even though we got a few sprinkles of rain today, it didn’t do much to soften up the ground.

I know; in the past couple of days, I’ve put out three yard signs for the upcoming “Symphony At The Celebration” concert. I have five to put out, but it’s been an incredibly busy week at work, and I’ve only had time to put out three of them. And I’m scared I didn’t do a good job with two of those; the ground is so hard that the little wire stands tended to bend rather than punch through the dirt.

I need to put one of my remaining signs somewhere on North Main Street. I need to ask Dawn for a suggestion, if I can get in touch with her.

Dawn Holley is the long-time chair of the local steering committee for the concert. Up until this year, my title has always been “publicity chairman.” This year, Dawn and I are co-chairs, and Dawn is at a conference this week, so I found myself attempting to stamp pipecleaner signs into what feels like the Bonneville Salt Flats.

No matter. We’re already getting the word out about the concert. Next Tuesday, I’m driving to Tullahoma to appear on a community access cable TV program to discuss it. I’ve been sending out press releases, and two different radio stations are giving tickets away. (It’s not that pricey a giveaway item – adult general admission is $5, and children or students of any age don’t even need a ticket.)

If you haven’t been around me for more than 15 seconds, I have to explain that this symphony concert is one of the great passions of my adult life. The Nashville Symphony has been coming to Shelbyville annually since 1989 (there was, at one point, a year-and-a-half gap when we switched from a fall concert to a spring concert). I attended the very first concert – I think I’ve attended all of the official public concerts – and wrote about it in the newspaper. But it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I became actively involved. The concert had been started by one of our local industries, but when that industry changed hands they dialed back their support and a bank stepped in. The bank was then known as First American Bank, and the late Scott McDonald was its president. Scott was the one who invited me to be a part of the steering committee. A year or two after that, Bedford County Arts Council got involved, and that was how Dawn came into the picture.

Scott McDonald, one of the most community-minded men it’s been my privilege to know, had a vision of the concert as an educational tool. That vision has become even more of a reality in recent years. For the past six concerts, including the one that will take place this month, we’ve rotated among Bedford County’s three public high schools, all of which now have fine band programs. This year, it’s Shelbyville Central High School’s turn. During the first half of the program, the Nashville Symphony plays, and then – just before intermission – the high school band gets to perform a few selections.

After intermission, the symphony plays some more, and then – for the big grand finale – the symphony and the high school band play together on two or three selections, always ending with “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Traditionally, the piccolo player from the high school band gets to take the solo.

The whole evening is intended to be casual and family-friendly. It takes place inside Calsonic Arena, on the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration grounds, but it has the feel of an outdoor concert. There’s an art show on the arena concourse, with everything from professional paintings and sculpture to crayon drawings by elementary school kids. The Motlow State Community College jazz band performs an hour before the concert proper. Last year, we added the Nashville Symphony’s “instrument petting zoo,” and I deeply regret that Scott was never able to see this, because he’d have been thrilled by it. Trained volunteers are stationed at tables with real symphonic instruments, and kids (or adults, for that matter) are able to pick them up, see how they work, and try them out. I dare you to watch this and not smile. Two years ago, we planned to have the petting zoo, but the Nashville floods – just a week before the concert! – destroyed the instruments used for the program. Last year, we had hoped to have things set up outside the arena, but the threat of rain forced us to use a meeting room inside. This year, we’re hoping for our original plan of having the tables set up outside, so that parents and kids will see the instruments as they arrive and get to try them on their way into the building.

We’ve had some wonderful symphony conductors in the history of the Shelbyville concert, including Karen Lynne Deal and Byung-Hyun Rhee. For five of the past six concerts, however, we’ve been thrilled to have Albert-George Schram, who normally conducts the Nashville Symphony’s pops concerts in Nashville. (I think it’s a mark of the symphony’s special affection for this concert that we get Maestro Schram, who doesn’t do most of the other community concerts.) Maestro Schram, a native of the Netherlands, is funny and accessible, which is really important for a setting where there are a lot of kids and adults in the audience attending their first-ever symphony concert.  I love getting to Calsonic Arena on the afternoon of the concert early enough to watch him rehearse with the high school band. That’s the first time the kids get to rehearse under Maestro Schram’s direction – and they don’t actually get to rehearse with the symphony at all. The actual tandem performance is the first time they get to play together with the symphony.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ramble this much. I guess you can tell how much I love this concert, and how proud I am to have played even a small part in its history and development. As I approach a round-number birthday next week, there are aspects of my life in which I’m disappointed and for which I blame myself. This is not one of them.

Anyway, if you’re within driving distance of Shelbyville and would like to see the show, we’d love to have you. We always have a good crowd, but due to the arena’s generous seating capacity we always have tickets at the door. (I take that back – last year or the previous year we ran out of physical tickets, but we’ve never run out of actual seats.)

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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Another great concert

… and here are the photos.

We had a wonderful crowd — estimated at about 800. Everyone had a terrific time, the kids from Community High School sounded terrific, the Nashville Symphony sounded terrific, the Motlow College Jazz Ensemble sounded terrific. We had the largest art show ever.

My only disappointment is that, when the concert started to run long, someone decided to skip the baby boomer sing-along, which would have included “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” “Joy To The World” (the Three Dog Night song, not the Christmas carol), and “Sherry.”

Other than that, it was a perfect evening. And I am dead tired.

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.

Field trip

In the nearly 20 years that I’ve been involved with the Nashville Symphony’s community concert in Shelbyville, I can’t recall that we’ve ever taken a field trip to any of the symphony’s other concerts. That oversight will be corrected tonight, as Dawn Holley and I check out the concert at Cumberland University in Lebanon.

Of course, most of the things we need to exchange information about aren’t related to the actual night of the concert — they’re things like promotion or publicity ideas. But it will still be fun to see how another community handles its concert.

It’s been a long day at work, and this will be a nice diversion.


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.