The sound of swing

Symphony pops concert salutes big-band music

Symphony pops concert salutes big-band music

September 15, 2005|by KATE COLEMAN

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra will perform with a slightly smaller than usual group of strings Saturday night at The Maryland Theatre, said Music Director and Conductor Elizabeth Schulze.

But the sound will be big. Big band.

Vocalists Lynn Roberts and Michael Maguire, and saxophone, clarinet and flute player Bill Holcombe will join the MSO in "Bravo Big Band," the pops concert of the orchestra's 24th season.

Schulze said she is looking forward to a "marvelously well-put-together concert." Almost all the big songs of the big-band era are represented.

The music expresses the times of America's greatest era, she said.

"It just has everything - memorable melodies, fabulous swinging rhythms," she said.

Schulze described the big-band sound as poignant but not saccharine, upbeat and exuberant.

"It's wholly American music," she said.

Maguire would agree.

He finds the music's appeal is in its energy - an "innocent" energy. Despite the prewar strife and the hardships of World War II, American optimism shines through in the music, Maguire said.


"The music stands alone," he said.

Singing Sinatra and more

Maguire, who will join Roberts in duets, including a medley of Frank Sinatra hits, will have Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" and other tunes of the times all to himself.

The California resident started his musical journey as an opera singer. He studied at the Oberlin Conservatory and received his master's degree from the University of Michigan. He made his Broadway debut as the rebel leader Enjolras in the original Broadway production of "Les Miserables" and won Tony and Drama Desk awards for his performance.

A Virginia native whose first professional singing job was as a strolling troubadour in Colonial Williamsburg, Maguire has acted on television and in film, and performed in musicals and light opera, with symphonies across America and as a soloist in such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and London's Royal Albert Hall.

Maguire called working with Roberts and Holcombe a privilege and a thrill.

They are his direct connection to the legends of big-band music.

Big bands and big names

Roberts and Holcombe both performed with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and their rsums are highlighted with the names of many storied stars with whom they've worked.

Holcombe, 80, had his first gig as a professional musician more than 60 years ago. He joined the musicians' union at age 15 - about the same time he started lessons in musical arranging. A native of Trenton, N.J., Holcombe pursued an education in music, studying at University of Pennsylvania and Juilliard.

He was a reed player and arranger for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and was a staff player at Decca Records, where he worked with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, the Mills Brothers, Steve Allen and Artie Shaw. He later played reeds with both Tex Beneke and Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, and flute, sax and clarinet at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's New York City radio station, WMGM, working with stars Barbara Stanwyck, Mickey Rooney, Edward Arnold and Judy Garland.

All the orchestrations for Saturday's program are Holcombe's. He has more than 1,500 published arrangements and compositions, owns and operates his own publishing company, has written film scores and has been commissioned to create arrangements for more than 100 symphony orchestras.

"I've really done everything," he said with a laugh.

Holcombe enjoys composing music, but said it's a slow process. When he plays music, though, he doesn't have to wait for the gratification. It's immediate for him - and his audiences.

'American music'

There's also pleasure in performing for Lynn Roberts. In a career that started more than 60 years ago, she never had a doubt that singing is what she wanted to do.

"I just knew," she said.

Born and raised in New York - Brooklyn and Queens - the "girl singer" was 6 years old when she made her amateur debut on "The Children's Hour," a radio variety show.

She beat out six other candidates to land a job with trumpeter Charlie Spivak's band at the age of 15. She went on to perform with several of the superstar band leaders - Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Harry James.

In 1956, she shared the stage of New York's Paramount Theatre with Sinatra during his reunion with the Dorsey Brothers.

"He was wonderful," she said. "Sweet."

Roberts noted that big-band music had a resurgence a few years ago when swing dance was rediscovered and said symphonies have helped to keep it alive.

"It needs to have a place," she said. "It's American music. It's our music."

If you go ...

WHAT: MSO pops concert, "Bravo Big Band"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown

The Herald-Mail Articles