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Saluting 25 years: A celebration

July 01, 2010|By KATE COLEMAN
  • Julie Borden decorated this violin with images of the Salute to Independence concert and Antietam National Battlefield.
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SHARPSBURG -- Novelist Wallace Stegner called America's national parks "the best idea we ever had."

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra might say the same thing about its annual concert at Antietam National Battlefield.

MSO Music Director Elizabeth Schulze, along with Antietam Superintendent John Howard, a full complement of park employees, volunteers and approximately 30,000 hardy guests will celebrate the 25th annual Salute to Independence on Saturday, July 3.

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The event will start at 7:30 p.m., with fireworks scheduled at 9:45 pm.

"That's incredible isn't it?" asked Sandy Wantz, MSO's managing director from 1985 to 1996.

Now artistic advisory chairwoman of the orchestra's executive committee, Wantz was there at the beginning, when the concert was planned to mark the symphony's fifth year in 1986. At the time, there were no plans to go beyond that, she recalled.

Based on the numbers a National Symphony Orchestra concert at Antietam had drawn, National Park Service estimated that about 5,000 people would attend. Between 10,000 and 15,000 showed up.

The last several years have brought a "strong 28- to 35,000" people, Howard said. "Turned out great, huh?" Wantz said.

Patriotic tunes

Saturday's spectacular will mark the start of the MSO's 29th season.

WHAG-TV's Mary King and Chris Smith will host a pre-concert show. Carolyn Black-Sotir of Maryland Public Television will serve as mistress of ceremonies and guest vocalist.

The program will include Morton Gould's "American Salute," William Schuman's "American Festival" Overture and two John Philip Sousa marches, "The Liberty Bell" and "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

Vic Carter, WJZ-TV (Baltimore) news anchor, will narrate Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait," a work Schulze has called "quintessentially American."

The event will conclude with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's rousing "1812" Overture with live-cannon accompaniment provided by the Maryland Army National Guard and a summer night sky exploding with fireworks.

Build it and ...

Wantz attributed Salute's success to a wonderful coming together of different elements. Most people aren't aware of how much effort -- from so many people -- is involved.

Organizers have been planning for this year's Salute for months.

MSO Executive Director Andrew Kipe said some of the "big pieces" -- tents, stage and fireworks -- are multi-year contracts, some of which have been in place for three or four years. Kipe is starting his fifth year with the symphony.

"Around January, we start tying down some of the smaller details -- Porta Potties, golf carts," he said.

Schulze finalizes the repertoire in the spring, he said. There will be about 65 musicians on stage.

Kipe said workers started setting up the stage last week, and the "sound guys" -- MHA Audio, headquartered in Hagerstown -- started delivering equipment. They will be at the battlefield most of this week.

"They spend a lot of time making sure we can adequately cover the field with good sound," Kipe said.

The only full rehearsal is at noon Saturday at South Hagerstown High School. At 3 p.m. the orchestra is bused to Antietam. Sound check is from 5 to about 5:45 p.m. Dinner is in a big tent behind the stage.

Battlefield employees -- all of them, plus some recruited from other parks --will begin their workday at 6 a.m. Saturday. They'll finish up about 2 on Sunday morning.

"It's a lot of work. It costs a lot of money to make it happen," Kipe said. The total cost is about a quarter of a million dollars, he added, explaining that a large part of that is covered by in-kind donations from the Park Service and other institutions.

Volunteers from the battlefield's cooperating association and the MSO Guild will be collecting donations again, Howard said. "It gets tighter and tighter every year."

"We reach so many people. It's something the orchestra and the board feel is a great gift to the community," Kipe said.

Evening of celebration

Other than events in Washington, D.C., national parks seldom host regular concerts or events on the scale of Antietam's Salute, Howard said.

"I think that's what a national park is all about," he said. "It's a night you won't forget."

This year will be his 17th Salute to Independence. Every year, a crane lifts high a huge American flag, and the MSO plays "The Star Spangled Banner."

"When that flag goes up, I always turn around and say, 'Yes. We did it again,'" Howard said.

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