MSO memories

July 02, 1997


Staff Writer

The annual Maryland Symphony Orchestra performances at Antietam National Battlefield have become a local holiday tradition. Thousands of people - performers as well as concertgoers - have memories of the music, the fireworks and the huge American flag flying over hallowed ground during the past 11 years.

Deborah Stotlemyer, MSO's assistant principal second violin, remembers every Salute to Independence concert at Antietam. Some stand out.

"I remember being pregnant," she said of the first battlefield performance in 1986. It was very hot, and the cannons, fired during Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," were very loud. Her 4-year-old daughter, Amber, in the audience with her father, held her ears and cried. Her second daughter, who would be born a few weeks later, also reacted. "There was a lot of kicking," Stotlemyer said.

Sandy Wantz will be at Antietam National Battlefield Saturday, July 5, her first time as "just" an audience member. Wantz, MSO's managing director from 1985 to 1996, was there from the beginning, when the concert was planned to mark the symphony's fifth year in 1986. Organizers thought it would be a one-time event. National Park Service estimated that about 5,000 people were expected. Between 10,000 and 15,000 showed up, and Wantz said organizers were credited with creating the single worst traffic jam in the history of Washington County.


Other mishaps have occurred. One year the orchestra-sheltering canopy was caught by the wind and couldn't be used, Wantz said. Another time, she was stung by a bee, had an allergic reaction and was taken to Washington County Hospital by ambulance. Wantz recovered quickly but had to hitch a ride back to Antietam with a deputy sheriff.

Principal percussionist Donald Spinelli said he loves the Antietam concert, but it's a long, hot day. He leaves his Springfield, Va., home by 8:45 a.m. to get to Hagerstown and sets up his percussion equipment for the two- to two-and-a-half-hour rehearsal at Hagerstown Junior College. Everything has to be set up again at the battlefield to be ready for the 5 p.m. sound check.

Heat and humidity are factors for the instruments as well as the musicians. Once, during the loud and emphatic bass drum parts of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," Spinelli's mallet went through the head of the drum. He had no choice but to turn it over and play the other side.

Playing for Maestro Barry Tuckwell is a draw for the musicians, and playing for such a vast audience - 30,000 to 35,000 people - is a rare opportunity, Spinelli said.

"The crowd is the biggest rush for us," he said.

The crowds and their manner have been a big part of Antietam for Wantz, too. She enjoyed being backstage, looking up at the hillside and seeing the thousands of people quietly and respectfully enjoying the concert at the battlefield.

The weather also has seemed to respect the event. There's never been rain on a battlefield performance in 11 years. That's significant for Wantz.

"It's supposed to be," she said.

Amber Stotlemyer, now 14, has said that it feels good to sit with family and friends among so many people enjoying the music and clapping for her mother. Antietam means summer for her daughter, Deborah Stotlemyer said.

"It's a family tradition now. I don't know what I'd do if they didn't have it."

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