Symphony celebrates Fourth of July

By Thomas K. Wolber - Contributing columnist

Although the weather looked dicey in the morning, the Central Ohio Symphony once again performed its 34th annual Fourth of July concert under a clear sky. Superintendent Mary Beth Freeman from the Delaware Area Career Center (DACC) served as host and commentator. For the first time ever, the Delaware Community Chorus, directed by Joshua Brodbeck, joined the orchestra onstage. The 40 or so men and women sang the Peter Wilhousky arrangement of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the five service songs during “Armed Forces Salute,” as well as the choral parts of Tchaikovsky’s famous “1812 Overture.”

The concert began with Aaron Copland’s memorable “Fanfare for the Common Man,” a brassy piece that encapsulates the spirit of the holiday. A stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” followed, sung by soprano Abigail Harshbarger of the Delaware Community Chorus. Although she is not a professional musician, she received some training from concert and opera singer Olga Perez Flora and has performed in works such as Georg Friedrich Händel’s “Messiah” in the past. Abi has a strong, warm, and beautiful voice that resonated throughout Phillips Glen. Also in the mix were Antonin Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dance” #8 and John Philip Sousa’s “Semper Fi March” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Most pieces, however, were 20th-century compositions. Among them were tunes from popular films such as “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and – to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing – “Apollo 13.” A “Tribute to John Williams” included excerpts from many of his works, from “Jaws” and “Harry Potter” to “Star Wars.” Less familiar to the audience may have been Jay Ungar’s mournful “Ashokan Farewell,” in which a solo violin plays a leading role, and Henry Mancini’s nostalgic “Moon River” (from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), performed without the choir’s assistance. Speaking of good-byes, Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle made a special announcement to recognize Jackie Walker for her 27 years of dedicated service to the City of Delaware.

As stated earlier, the Delaware Community Chorus played an integral role in the concert. As the choristers sang the five songs that comprise the “Armed Forces Salute” (Army, Coast Guard, Marine, Air Force and Navy), military veterans of the various branches stood and were honored by the audience. The five tunes contain some memorable lines and slogans, but unfortunately not all people know the lyrics. “High shall our purpose be,” says the Coast Guard. “We’ll fight for right and freedom and to keep our honor clean,” echoes the Marine. If sung again next year or in the future, perhaps the full words should be included in the concert program. Peter Wilhousky’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” caught this reviewer’s renewed attention, in part because of the choir’s role in it. It starts hesitatingly and haltingly. There are doubts and setbacks, stops and quiet moments. Political alliances and harmonic keys shift. As confidence grows, however, the tune waxes into a powerful, confident battle cry that signals unity, victory, and independence. It is an exceptionally complex piece of music, performed impressively well by the Symphony and the Chorus. It is clear that under the leadership of artistic director Joshua Brodbeck the mixed choir continues the high standards of his predecessor, Daniel Hursey, who retired in 2017. After the summer break, the choir will resume its weekly rehearsal schedule in the fall.

What would a Fourth of July concert be without Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and the canon shots at the end? Once again, the Delaware Community Chorus participated and sang the seldom-heard words that accompany the orchestral score. This European-trained reviewer does not recall having ever heard the version involving a choir. It is doubtful that Tchaikovsky intended the use of a choir to sing the religious tunes he quotes; it seems to have been a later addition by American arranger Igor Buketoff. However, only purists would quibble over the issue. Adding the actual lyrics to the orchestral version is a perfectly legitimate solution.

The annual Fourth of July concert is a community event with many sponsors. Major supporters this year were the Willow Brook Christian Communities, the City of Delaware, and Zangmeister Cancer Center. Additional sponsors included Mount Carmel Health Systems, the Ohio Arts Council, and Ohio Wesleyan University. Kiwanis International donated 50% of its concession stand profits to the Symphony. Additional entities are listed in the concert program. Our profound thanks to everyone who supports the arts in Delaware.

Lastly, here is a brief preview of next year’s season, the 41st. Highlights include Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1 and Sibelius’ Symphony #2 (Oct. 26). Mark Alan Wade, dulcimer, will be the featured guest artist during the two holiday concerts (Dec. 15). Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Respighi will be the composers during the March 1 concert. The April 25 concert, “Building Community,” features George Walker’s Symphony #1, Arturo Márquez’ Trumpet Concerto with soloist Pacho Flores, and Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island,” a work that includes the orchestra, actors, and video. As usual, additional smaller and experimental works are embedded in the program. For many years, the Symphony has strived to achieve a healthy balance between the old and the new, between classical and modern pieces. As the continued enthusiastic support of thousands of concertgoers proves, the orchestra has succeeded in engaging the public through music. It is a highly treasured asset in the Delaware community.

By Thomas K. Wolber

Contributing columnist

Thomas K. Wolber, Ph.D., teaches foreign languages and literatures at Ohio Wesleyan University. He has an undergraduate degree in music from a German university, plays the piano, and is passionate about classical music. His email address is [email protected]

Thomas K. Wolber, Ph.D., teaches foreign languages and literatures at Ohio Wesleyan University. He has an undergraduate degree in music from a German university, plays the piano, and is passionate about classical music. His email address is [email protected]