I typically don’t do a lot with community theater over the summer. It’s a very busy time for me, and the season is so short that I don’t want a lot of commitments keeping me indoors and away from all that warmth and sunshine.
But in early June the community theater held its annual membership party, and a request went out asking for participants to sing a medley of songs with the city band at the end of the month. That sounded like a lot of fun, so I signed up.
I’ve always loved the summer city band nights. I typically forget about them though, because Wednesday is the day we put the paper together, and it’s always intense. At the end of my day I feel like I’ve run a marathon, and after I head home, I usually want to just sit down and relax with a nice cold root beer in a frosty mug.
I forget about it until I hear the strains of our national anthem wafting through the neighborhood on my evening dog walk. “Darn it!” I think, and promise to get there next week.
Next week comes, and the same thing happens all over again. Well, this was a gig that was going to actually get me there. Being it was only one song, the rehearsals were few and far between, which was fine, since everyone was so busy with their summer activities. It was a long song though, and had some harmonies in it.
I have a confession to make. I can’t read music very well. Yes, I took three years of piano as a kid, but never really caught on to music reading. Now if each note had a different color, I’d probably be a lot more interested. I actually tried that once. I took some of my favorite piano pieces and used markers to color-code them.
I used the see-through post-it tabs to mark the piano keys to coincide with the colored music. It worked pretty well, since ROYGBIV (the colors of the rainbow) has seven letters and an octave is eight. I simply added hot pink between violet and red, and ta-da! Genius.
I have to say, outside of being incredibly work-intensive, the experiment worked very well. I invented a new way to read music! But I didn’t do that with the music for this performance. I have a secret weapon for that.
My dear friend Ann, who used to be a co-worker, has a voice like an angel and plays piano pretty well, too. She is a wonderful friend and she takes my music and records herself playing the melody while singing my alto parts. Then I simply listen and practice on my own until I have it memorized. It’s another system that works pretty well.
The group rehearsed the song together and alone, and the night before the performance we gathered with the band to rehearse together. That was pretty exciting, as we all stood in front of the orchestra and did our best to keep up. The music was a medley of songs by Richard Rogers, whose music you have heard and loved all your life, even if you somehow don’t recall his name. He’s the Rogers in Rogers and Hammerstein. Ah, now you remember!
Well unbeknownst to us, the theme for that week was “Down on the Farm.” We had originally thought we were dressing in the traditional black to match the orchestra, but Kathy, our maestro, asked us to come dressed as farmers. That threw us for a loop, since it was the night before and if it wasn’t in our closet, we were unlikely to find time to shop for it.
Someone suggested, “Just wear a plaid shirt” – but you know, I don’t own any plaid. So I had to get a little creative. I dug through my closet that evening and eventually found something suitable.
The next night we all gathered near the stage about a half-hour prior to show time. Mic checks were done, and we all complimented each other on the cute farmer outfits we showed up in. Soon it was time to begin, so we sat down to wait for our number, which was about halfway through the performance.
I had totally forgotten how wonderful it was to sit in the park and listen to rich tones played by a live orchestra on a beautiful summer evening. And all this for free! You just can’t beat that. I couldn’t sit still, being up front and so close to the lively music, I was tapping and humming and singing along through most of it.
So many numbers, so expressive and clever, I found it hard to believe they do this every week with brand new songs every time. That’s a lot of songs to learn, and they are a talented group. The band plays for an hour every Wednesday night starting at 7 p.m. They performed 15 songs the night we were there to sing, not counting the national anthem at the end.
When our time to sing came up, we all took the stage. The band was behind us now, and it was quite a rush to sing with the music so loud and close. It was fun to look out and see so many faces looking back at us, enjoying the evening. Our songs were well-known and fun to sing – songs like “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Ain’t Nothin’ Like A Dame,” “Do-Re-Mi” and “Oklahoma!”
I really couldn’t sit still for most of them, and when we hit “Do-Re-Mi,” I found myself gesturing for the audience to sing along with us. We all know the words, and you really can’t help but sing along to such a happy and catchy tune. A few songs later the band played the “Chicken Dance,” and of course you’d think all the theater people would jump up to participate, but most of them, sadly … chickened out.
Not me, I practically ran up there, joining in with leagues of children and a guy dressed as a giant chicken. I cannot tell you how much I adore cheap entertainment like this. I was having the time of my life up there, flapping and squatting and being a chicken. What a fun way to make new friends!
At the end of the concert we again took the stage to sing the national anthem. Someone tried to hand me the words, but I didn’t need them. I proudly sang out every note and every word, tearing up at the end as I always do. Gets me every time.
You can find more information on the City Band’s Facebook page. They list the theme and the songs each week, and play at the bandshell in Pfiffner Pioneer Park. The rain site is St. Paul Lutheran Church at 1919 Wyatt Ave., Stevens Point.
You don’t have to dance, sing or act like a farm animal to have a great time, though. Just show up and bring a cool drink and something to sit on.
Originally published July 22, 2016 in the Portage County Gazette.