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This conductor's got sparkle

September 13, 1998|By KATE COLEMAN

Maryland Symphony Orchestra MSO Pops! didn't play "I Got Rhythm" until the second half of the program, but there was no doubt the musicians had it from the first moments of Saturday night's tribute to the 100th anniversary of composer George Gerswin's birth.

Conductor Richard Hayman didn't conduct. He danced and dipped and kidded and sometimes sang. And he played the harmonica.

Principal Pops Conductor of the St. Louis and Grand Rapids symphony orchestras, Hayman set the tone for the evening by taking the stage in a suit of sparkly royal blue tails and silver shoes. He dazzled The Maryland Theatre audience of about 900 with his lighthearted approach, singing "Good Evening" and directing them to sing back. They did. Three times.

The humor continued in Hayman's arrangement of the orchestra's first piece, "Strike Up the Band." He threw in a few bars of "Seventy-Six Trombones" and "South Rampart Street Parade."

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At the age of 18, Hayman began touring the country with the well-known harmonica group, the Borrah Minevitch Harmonica Rascals. Some 60 years later - he's 78 - he's still a rascal.

Jim and Mindy Marsden of Hagerstown, MSO subscribers for about seven years, enjoyed the show.

"He's hysterical," Mindy Marsden said of Hayman.

Richard Phoebus of Home Federal Savings Bank, which sponsored the concert and is celebrating its 100th birthday, introduced Hayman, who served as chief arranger for the Boston Pops Orchestra for 30 years during Arthur Fiedler's tenure.

Born in Cambridge, Mass., the 14-year-old harmonica player went to New York City. He told the story of auditioning for orchestra leader Paul Whiteman, known as "The King of Jazz." When he finished playing, Whiteman asked him if he knew Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

Hayman didn't want to admit that he didn't, so he said he didn't care for the piece.

"How do you like that, George, the kid doesn't like your piece," someone in the room piped up.

Hayman learned it and played it - solo on the harmonica - with the orchestra Saturday night.

Dr. John Newby of Hagerstown said after hearing it, he couldn't believe "Rhapsody in Blue" wasn't written for the harmonica.

The program included Hayman's arrangement of a not-so-well-known Gershwin piece, "Treat Me Rough," from the early 1940s Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie "Girl Crazy." He worked on music for enough movies to earn himself a star in Hollywood's Walk of Fame in 1960.

Jack and Shirley Jacobus of Kensington, Md., found out about the Gershwin program while attending the MSO concert at Antietam in July and decided to make the trip to Hagerstown. They weren't disappointed.

"He's a delight," Shirley Jacobus said of Hayman.

Other out-of-towners who made a special trip were Terry Haggard and Vicky White of Kansas City, Mo. They learned of Hayman's appearance on cable television while visiting Winchester, Va. They are familiar with his work in Missouri.

Hagerstown residents Deb Bockrath, president of the MSO Guild, and her husband Gary are symphony season ticket holders.

"It's a great change of pace," Gary Bockrath said of the performance.

Hayman wore red pants and a black jacket besequined with a musical staff and the treble clef for the program's second half, which included a medley of Frank Sinatra hits.

Scott Hamilton's opinion of the MSO Pops! concert seemed typical: "'Swonderful," he said.

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