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Antietam National Battlefield program features orchestra and fireworks

Antietam National Battlefield program features orchestra and fireworks

June 30, 2005|by KATE COLEMAN

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra will start its 24th season with a bang Saturday, July 2.

More than 30,000 people are expected to join in celebrating America's 259th birthday at the 20th annual Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg.

The program - "Vintage Americana" - will begin at 7:30 p.m. It focuses on the patriotic side of things, said Elizabeth Schulze, who will raise the baton on her seventh season as MSO music director.

There will be the traditional: "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Maryland, My Maryland" and Sousa marches. The 65-piece orchestra will perform Aaron Copland's stirring "Fanfare for the Common Man," and the MSO will swing with a salute to the all-American sound of the big bands.


Concertgoers also will hear the world premiere of Robert Lichtenberger's "Yankee Doodle Variations."

The orchestra has performed other works by Lichtenberger, including "Paul Bunyan," performed at last year's concert at Antietam.

Lichtenberger, a Maryland resident, had heard about the annual musical celebration at the battlefield but never had attended before 2004.

"It was fun," he said, and he'll be back Saturday.

"Yankee Doodle's" origin is unknown, Lichtenberger said in a recent phone interview, but it was played by both the British and Colonials during the Revolutionary War.

Retired from more than 30 years as arranger/composer for the U.S. Army Field Band, Lichtenberger decided to write his own take on the familiar tune. He came up with a 12-minute piece comprised of 15 orchestral variations and finale.

Also on the program is the crowd-pleasing 1812 Overture of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The audience can listen to the rousing music, watch the fireworks spectacular in the South County sky and feel in their chests the boom of the big guns of the Maryland National Guard's Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 110th Field Artillery.

"Where would we be without the 1812?" Deborah Stotelmyer asked with a laugh during a recent phone interview.

A Sharpsburg resident and, until her recent retirement, the MSO's associate principal second violin, Stotelmyer has played 18 of the past 19 Salute to Independence concerts - her first while eight months pregnant.

Stotelmyer said she can play "The Stars and Stripes Forever" from memory and mentioned that the players have to perform through artillery smoke and blast during the fireworks finale.

"Earplugs are essential."

Although she retired and the Antietam concert technically begins the new season, Stotelmyer asked to be part of what has become a treasured tradition for her family.

The Stotelmyers arrive early with a picnic toted in wagons that have been in use since her daughters - now 19 and 23 years old - were small children.

There are many who make a day-into-night celebration of the occasion. The annual salute is a great family event now celebrated by generations, said Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent John Howard.

It's a noncommercial celebration of America's freedom, he said, and in this part of Maryland, it's a great tradition.

There has been just one arrest in the event's long history.

"I challenge anyone else to match that record," Howard said.

Another impressive record is the meteorological one. Weather never has canceled the event. A few years ago, afternoon thunderstorms threatened to last into the evening. But just in time, the clouds split and a rainbow beamed on the battlefield, Howard said.

Although many concertgoers travel to Antietam from outside the immediate area, the Salute to Independence is a way for the park to say thank you to the people who live near the battlefield, Howard said. "This is Washington County's event."

Appropriately, Tom Riford, president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, will debut as the evening's master of ceremonies. He believes it is the the largest single event held in the County.

Riford wrote via e-mail that he is honored to have been asked to participate. "As a former U.S. Marine, I appreciate the significance of the celebration at Antietam, and I am always deeply moved at the annual concert."

The battlefield staff - "every single one of us" - will be working Saturday. It's a long day, beginning about 6:30 a.m. and lasting until about 2:30 Sunday morning. "But it's OK," Howard said.

It takes a while to exit the park, but in recent years, people seem to be in less of a rush to leave.

"People are friendly and happy to be there," Howard said.

For Schulze and many others, there is the thrill of being on nationally hallowed ground.

"In our eyes, there's no better place to celebrate America's freedom," Howard said.

If you go ...

WHAT: Twentieth annual Salute to Independence with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 2; fireworks will begin at about 9:45 p.m.

WHERE: Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg

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