Battlefield readies for celebration

June 27, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

SHARPSBURG - Preparations for this year's Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield started immediately after last year's event.

The day after the concert, those who planned the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's patriotic concert and fireworks show met to talk about what went right and what went wrong.

"While (it was) still fresh in our minds," said Sharon Buck-Ahrens, the orchestra manager.

They took several months off, then started planning in earnest around January for this year's Salute - the symphony's 19th. It will be Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Buck-Ahrens and Music Director Elizabeth Schulze began choosing music for 55 or so musicians to perform, already knowing that an American medley would be among the standards.


By February, more planning was under way on who would perform what work and when.

Buck-Ahrens said the symphony has some long-standing relationships. The first step in organizing a Salute is reconnecting.

Jericho Productions of Baltimore builds the stage.

Zambelli International Fireworks of New Castle, Pa., provides the fireworks show that caps the evening.

MHA Audio of Hagerstown supplies a sound crew.

Ellsworth Electric of Hagerstown donates electrical equipment.

Buck-Ahrens said each company or group needs to know when to get going.

It's also around a year in advance - ideally, two - that the Maryland Symphony Orchestra lines up guest artists.

This year, tenor Corey Evan Rotz of the Washington National Opera will join the MSO for Aaron Copland's "Old American Songs."

Robert Aubry Davis of WETA will be back as master of ceremonies and will narrate "Paul Bunyan."

Buck-Ahrens said the symphony is starting to recruit next year's guests.

Around April, the symphony alerts the Maryland National Guard and the West Virginia Air National Guard.

Last year, the Air National Guard was on active duty and couldn't be at the Salute, but it will be there this year, Buck-Ahrens said.

With two months to go, the symphony puts out a call for volunteers to help with production and to collect donations, among other tasks.

That's also when the National Park Service meets with various groups and agencies to go over logistics.

Ed Wenschhof, the chief ranger at Antietam National Battlefield, said the Park Service, the orchestra, the Maryland State Police, the Washington County Sheriff's Department, Sharpsburg's fire department and emergency medical services, the State Highway Administration and Hagerstown REACT (Radio Emergency Associated Communications Team) are represented at the meeting.

Large events that affect state highways, such as the Salute to Independence and the annual display of luminaires, require a special permit, Wenschhof said.

About 80 employees and volunteers - not including the 50 or so people helping the symphony - handle traffic, put up signs, line the grounds, mow grass and more, he said.

That preliminary work is scheduled to start Monday.

The stage will be built Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Buck-Ahrens said. Sound towers will go up and electric generators will be set up.

Buck-Ahrens said the symphony's budget for the Salute is about $75,000. F&M Bank and the National Park Service cover about half of that amount, she said.

When the concert and fireworks have ended, as tens of thousands of spectators are leaving, symphony volunteers will start undoing everything that was done, staying until about 1 a.m.

Park Service volunteers will do the same.

The battlefield should be back to normal by Thursday, Wenschhof said.

Buck-Ahrens said she was "thrown the book" last year, her first week on the job and told, "Here. Plan this." She's glad it went well.

A year later, she can call the work on the Salute to Independence easier, but not easy.

As preparation for the Salute hit the homestretch, Buck-Ahrens promised its fans, "It'll be there."

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