Musical salute to independence

July 06, 2007|By JULIE E. GREENE

ANTIETAM NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD - Having a more-than-50-piece orchestra perform outdoors, without an amphitheater, can be challenging because the sound can dissipate so quickly, said Elizabeth Schulze, music director and conductor for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

Then there's the weather that, try as forecasters might, is unpredictable.

"We are at the mercy of the weather gods, so that's always a challenge," Schulze said.

"At the same time, there is nothing like performing for a large audience and an enthusiastic audience there to celebrate (the) special occasion," she said of the annual Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield.

"Also, what's so important is for us to perform at that place," Schulze said. "It's really a sacred place."

The musicians find something moving and important, musically and spiritually, about performing at a place that celebrates freedom.

That freedom, at Antietam alone, came at the cost of 23,110 casualties from the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.


This Saturday's Salute to Independence, on the grounds by the battlefield's visitors center, will be the 22nd annual. The free concert, which is followed by fireworks, usually draws more than 35,000 people.

For the second straight year, the concert will feature a piece composed by Hagerstown resident Michael Mogensen, a 1991 graduate of North Hagerstown High School.

"It's a great feeling to hear something you've spent so many months on come to life on the stage," said Mogensen, 34, who works for his family's business, HESCO Inc.

The MSO will perform "Chapter Finl," which was commissioned by the Maryland Classic Youth Philharmonic in 2006 in honor of its then-retiring conductor, Olivia W. Gutoff. So Mogensen incorporated the different musical styles she had conducted during the years.

"Chapter Finl" includes styles from classical music to Broadway to Hollywood, he said.

The concert will feature several patriotic songs, including Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" (with cannon fire) and Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." It also will provide a sneak peek at the MSO's Sept. 22 pops concert, which will feature the music of John Williams, with a "Star Wars Medley."

William Clarence Marshall, who lives in New York City and Cleveland, will sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and lead a singalong of patriotic songs. He also will sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which the NAACP adopted in 1919 as the "negro national anthem," he said.

"It's a rather rousing song," Marshall said.

Marshall said the song demonstrates the patriotism of black people at that time and their hope for the future, but he sees the piece as a patriotic song for all people.

Marshall said he finds it fitting to celebrate the country's independence at the battlefield.

"They gave a huge sacrifice," he said. "They gave their lives. ... It's our legacy."

While the ground the MSO's stage will be set on is at the bottom of a hill so there is a bit of a natural amphitheater, it's not a true amphitheater, so the MSO will provide additional amplification with large speakers, Schulze said.

Now if only Mother Nature will cooperate.

If you go ...

WHAT: Twenty-second annual Salute to Independence with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra

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

WHERE: Antietam National Battlefield north of Sharpsburg

COST: There is no admission fee to the park, but donations will be accepted. Half the money collected sponsors the event, and half goes to preserve the battlefield.

MORE: The park's visitors center will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Several of the park roads will not be available to tour after 3 p.m., said Chief Ranger Ed Wenschhof.

Parking is available in the park, and additional parking can be found along Md. 65 and Md. 34, which border the park. County Commuter will provide shuttle-bus service, $2 per person round trip, 3 to 11:30 p.m., from the parking lot at National Cemetery on Md. 34 to the concert grounds, but there still will be a 300-yard walk.

Wear comfortable shoes, bring a blanket, plenty of water or soft drinks and a flashlight. Food and drinks will be sold.

No grills, no pets and no soliciting. Canopies and beach umbrellas are permitted but must be taken down before the concert.

Expect a minimum of a one-hour to 90-minute traffic delay when leaving the event.

For information, go to or

In fairness to others and for security reasons, Antietam National Battlefield has set up the following rules regarding people laying tarps or blankets out for the Salute to Independence concert:

· Tarps cannot be placed before 6 a.m. Saturday. Tarps placed earlier than this will be removed.

· Tarps not occupied by 7 p.m. Saturday will be removed.

· Tarps or reserved areas per group are to be no larger than 10 feet by 10 feet.

Park officials recommend visitors label their property with their name. If park officials remove their tarp, it can be found at the information booth at the top of the hill.

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