Art Callaham: A treasure trove of arts opportunities

April 08, 2012|By ART CALLAHAM

What a busy weekend it was; a trip down Memory Lane. First, on March 30, Hagerstown Community College rededicated the Kepler Theater, and on April 1, the Hagers-town Municipal Band returned (after an absence of more than 30 years) to perform at The Maryland Theatre. On second thought, maybe it was just an elongated trip to the theater.

Bottom line, up front: What a wonderful “arts community” we have here in Hagerstown and Washington County. Shakespeare wrote in his play “As You Like It,” that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” My, my, my; haven’t we had some wonderful players locally in the performing arts arena?

Start with the namesake for the Kepler Theater. To quote my wife, who spoke at the theater’s rededication event, “Dr. Atlee Kepler had a long history with HCC. He served in a leadership position for over 30 years (from 1953 to 1986). When he retired in 1986, he was the longest-serving community college president in the country.”

“… he was gentle man, a philanthropist, a bit of a humorist — an all-around good guy. A man dedicated to education and the improvement of the quality of life of others. This theater has provided an opportunity for many to learn on life’s stage. Students of all ages have honed their skills, earned degrees and moved on to play their part in the world.”

Much more than a stagehand, Kepler, who seldom if ever appeared on the theater’s stage, certainly created a stage of life for the many who passed through this community’s college on a path to many roles in our area and the world’s greater society.

Ruth Anne concluded her remarks “wish(ing) Dr. Kepler was here today to bask in the accolades of his legacy. (This theater is) an awesome venue for students and the entire community to go to the next level of personal communication. Dr. Kepler would be proud. I imagine he would say to (current HCC President) Dr. (Guy) Altieri, the Board of Trustees, staff and faculty … ‘well done, good and faithful servants.’”

Two days later, the magnificent Hagerstown Municipal Band triumphantly returned to The Maryland Theatre. Several hundred folks attended the performance and were treated to music ranging from pops to marches, from musicals to hymns; a plethora of delightful sounds for the ears.

Bandmaster Lynn Lerew took the stage and directed a band of 55 musicians — made up of teachers, preachers, accountants, retirees and virtually every role in life you can imagine. But on that day, each and every one was a music professional.

Speaking of the band, I bet you didn’t know the band was formed in 1915 and held its first concert at The Maryland Theatre. The “godfathers” of the band were members of the local Chamber of Commerce. Bands must have been “big business” in those days. In the early 1900s, Hagerstown boasted four city bands. Also in the area were community bands in Smithsburg, Keedysville, Beaver Creek, Williamsport, Leiters-burg and Rohrersville. All that remain active today are the Hagerstown and Rohrersville bands. We truly have a rich “band” history.

Peter Buys, namesake for the band shell in Hagerstown’s City Park, directed the band from 1920 until his retirement in 1959. Buys and the band were well-known then, as now, for the summer concert series each year at City Park. This year’s series begins Sunday, June 10, at 7:30 p.m.

The famous “master of marches,” John Philip Sousa, attended Hagerstown Municipal Band concerts in The Maryland Theatre and is rumored to have been called to the stage to conduct the band — more great “arts community” history.

I’ve gone on too long and will have to leave out some great information on The Maryland Theatre that falls under the heading of “bet you didn’t know.” I’ll get to that in a later column. The theater’s history is fascinating.

I also will have to make some space later to laud the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts wind ensemble that masterfully opened the Municipal Band’s Concert. 

Past, present and future, this area’s rich and robust culture in the arts might well be the path for the reinvigoration of our local economy.  Couple that arts culture with superior educational opportunities and business growth; our future looks very bright.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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