By Amy Wells
I felt like a kindergartner on the first day of school as I hurriedly ate my dinner, double-checked my bags and made sure once more that my flute was in working order. Then I really felt those first-day jitters when I walked into the rehearsal room for the year's first Concert Under the Elms rehearsal.
Musicians were starting to file in, warming up on their various instruments and discussing years past. "I can do this," I thought. "Yes, there may be veteran musicians here, but there are also high school students tuning up."
But when I opened my music folder, I nearly fell off my seat. Ten scores to rehearse in three hours!
As we began to sight read the first piece, I could hear the second line of flutes behind me hitting every note, and I began to rue my seven-year hiatus. The two flutists beside me, students from Athens High School, tried to power-tutor me in reading the many markings I had forgotten over the years.
Diagonally from me, Dave Bowen stood up to perform a quartet from "The Music Man." Bowen has been a regular in the summer band for 30 years, while his wife Jeanne, who was playing the saxophone two rows behind me, has accompanied her husband for the last 27 or 28 years.
Jeanne pointed out another sax player who has participated since he was in junior high school (more than 25 years ago). I taught him everything he knows, Jeanne said, though I'm sure he would say it was mutual.
When we moved to our next piece after only 20 minutes of rehearsal, I knew I hadn't seen the last of my troubles. In high school, I was regularly one of the top chairs in my instrument in a band that played college-level music at each concert, but we always had much longer than 20 minutes to prepare!
Somewhere behind me in the sea of trombones I overheard Ohio Today "Graduate to Watch" Jennifer Climer saying she would have 300 credit hours by the time she graduates. Add that, I'm thinking, to the fact that she already played Carnegie Hall. Intimidation mounted another notch. I'm sure she was unaware of my angst, though. More likely she was feeling bittersweet because it would be the last time her father and Director of Bands John Climer would lead this group because he is leaving Ohio University in the fall.
By the time we got to the first movement of the "English Folk Song Suite," I was officially out of my league. In just one three-hour rehearsal, these musicians were beautifully, expertly ready to go.
Although I had to admit defeat, it was three hours well-spent just to be in the company of these 75 musicians -- a beyond-talented group who gave me a glimpse into the lifelong friendships this concert series had forged among them.
But I was destined to become one with the audience, not the performers. So on Wednesday, I walked through College Gate just as the band started playing the "Star Spangled Banner." Once again I was amazed, but this time, my amazement was due to the sea of blankets and chairs stretching from Memorial Auditorium to Cutler Hall. There must have been at least 250 people in the audience, and more were finding their way through every path to the green. The veterans showed their status in the front row lawn chairs. The rest -- extended families, students with Chipotle burritos and everyone in between -- settled in.
Although the humidity made everyone a bit sticky, the overcast skies and shade of the trees created the perfect weather to kick off this summer series. The band will perform on the College Green at 7 p.m. every Wednesday through July 23.
As expected, the concert was incredible, and I think everyone hoped it would continue for another hour. As people packed their chairs and gathered their belongings, they paused to catch up with old friends and to thank the musicians.
This band represents the best musicians, not only within Ohio University, but within the Athens area. I'm glad I was a part of this concert series' 60-year history, if only for a few fortes, allegros and codas.
PS: The band is in need of percussionists and French horns, and John Climer promised a prize to any recruiters so be sure to mention my name if you decide to try your hand at their next rehearsal at 7:15 Tuesday night in Glidden Hall 101. Just call the School of Music at 740-593-4244 to sign up.