I’m enjoying all the fantasy July 4th programs on the Forum page, and I would certainly love to listen to any one of them.

I’ve been involved in programming a number of Independence Day concerts over the last few years – here’s a slice of my experience with realpolitik: our concert last night.

  • We performed in an outdoor pavilion for just over 4000 people, half of whom couldn’t see the stage.
  • We had 8 strings, 6 woodwinds, 12 brass, 1 percussionist, 1 electric keyboard and four singers.
  • The amount we paid the performers was dwarfed by the cost of the sound system.
  • Two of our $30,000 speakers were shot by a rainstorm a few nights before.
  • We had two days to rehearse, but in those two days we were also preparing four other programs. (We’re doing 66 programs in 6 weeks, and most of them are one-shot deals).
  • The sound crew never was able to get the amplification to work in rehearsal, so we went into the performance without having experienced the sound we would be producing.
  • The onstage monitors never worked, so the musicians couldn’t hear each other in performance (little-discussed musician’s nightmare – having to play along with people you can’t hear).
  • A certain state senator, who has cut our funding in the past when his constituents complained about the fact that we didn’t continue playing through the (deafening) fireworks, has recently threatened us with further cuts.

S21’s contributors may be tired of Copland and Ives, but last night I was glad we had chosen Gershwin and Sousa to represent America. I’ll program the other guys and gals 364 other days of the year, but not in these circumstances. Nobody would benefit, certainly not the composers themselves.

Fortunately everything went fine, and now we are back to the world we live for. Today we had a lovely program of Renaissance lute and theorbo songs that had a distinctly postclassic sound – in particular, Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger’s Toccata arpeggiata, in which the theorbo player is asked to freely improvise on some outlandish arpeggios, staying between ppp and pp throughout, had a Feldmanesque ring to it – and we were frozen in St. Augustine’s eternal present.

Tonight we have a program of brass and percussion with some nice twists. This morning we began rehearsing our chamber music concerts, which will cover a wide range of styles and periods starting next week.

There may be a universe where I could program what I want to hear on the Fourth of July, but playing the tried and true helps me program the other stuff where it will succeed.

There is a time and a place for all music. Last night, Gershwin and Sousa did what they do best – what they were pretty damn good at — and it was just right.

But keep making other suggestions – who knows, maybe their time will come. You’ve given me some ideas for future projects.

Even Augustine was never sure he had the future figured out.

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