This week we’re sharing our experiences with open air concerts.
I’m a musician, so outdoor performances are a frequent part of my summertime routine. While I was in high school, the city of Grand Rapids, MI began an annual event now known as Festival of the Arts – for an entire weekend, most of the downtown area is filled with food booths of all kinds, and several stages are set up where local acts perform. I played in the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, and we performed on the largest outdoor stage next to the famous Calder sculpture. It was my first experience with trying to play orchestra music and hoping the wind didn’t blow it off the stand. I understand that the youth and adult symphonies now perform indoors because 1) playing outdoors in our unpredictable Michigan weather can be bad for expensive instruments and 2) it’s impossible to arrange enough microphones so that all the different sections can be heard. Good move.
Before that, of course, I’d played in my high school marching band at all the home football games. Most US bands do not use oboes (my instrument) in a marching band, so I carried around a portable metal xylophone-like instrument called a glockenspiel. The very first time I marched in a football game, we’d had a rainy afternoon and the field was a brown sloppy mess. The pre-game show required us to double-time out, and as I stepped on the field my foot shot out from under me. I landed on my back and slid onto the field several seconds ahead of the rest of the band. Yeah, I won’t forget that.
The summer between my junior and senior year I was selected to play in the American Youth Symphony. My high school band helped me raise the funds for me to travel to several European countries, and in many of them we performed outdoors. I remember that time fondly. In San Marino, we arrived at the plaza just before concert time, and our hosts had set up an awesome buffet for us. The entire time we played, delicious smells kept wafting our way and we struggled to concentrate on our music. I also remember attending my first opera at an outdoor venue somewhere in Italy. Boy, did I feel grownup!
While I was in college, the instrumental music education program required that I participate in the marching band for at least one season. I decided to borrow my brother’s cornet (he’d gone to another college and didn’t need it any more). I figured if I wanted to become a band director it made sense that I had experience performing on as many instruments as possible. I actually enjoyed my time marching in Illinois State University’s Big Red Machine.
I had an opportunity to play in the pit at an outdoor opera venue while I was at Illinois State. The opera was Madame Butterfly. The only thing I remember about that is how ridiculous the plot is. I guess accurate portrayal of Asian cultures wasn’t a priority with Gilbert and Sullivan.
After college I returned to the Grand Rapids area and joined the local musicians’ union. Each summer for several years I played in a Fourth of July concert on the shore of Reed’s Lake. This is one of the few times I am paid for playing – but more than the pay, I enjoy the challenge of playing without rehearsing – we sight read all the music!
Each summer the Grand Rapids Symphony puts on a series of concerts at a local ski area called Cannonsburg. There is a large covered stage at the bottom, and the audience sits on the hill. My mother and I are part of the army of volunteers that helps to keep the cost of these concerts down so families can afford to take their children, and there are lots of activities to keep little ones occupied until the music starts. The concerts take place in all sorts of weather – except tornadoes!
For the past five years I’ve played in the Zeeland Community Band. We play year round, and during the summer our concerts are in a local park. I’ve learned to keep bug spray and an extra pair of sunglasses in my instrument bag. This is a picture from one of this year’s concerts. I’m in the front row somewhere! It’s a fun way to enjoy a summer evening – especially when we follow up with an ice cream treat!
Despite all my performing, I have to say that my favorite outdoor performances now are those in which I am watching my kids and grandkids perform. My daughter plays in a bluegrass band and they perform all summer long at local venues. This child complained through all the piano lessons and having to practice, but she’s the one who uses her training – and loves it. Guess sometimes moms do know best!
Do you enjoy outdoor concerts?