A Concert in July
The author, above: trombonist and hat enthusiast
The excitement in the air was palpable! Well, maybe not in the same way that opening night of our Ring Cycle would have been...but in some ways Susan Warner and Dave Griffin’s First Annual Fourth of July Front Yard Celebration might’ve been more meaningful. For the thirty musicians that played and the neighbors who came out to listen, it felt like a small return to normalcy for an evening.
Beginning in March, nightly celebrations sprang up in neighborhoods around the world to show support for health care workers during lockdown. Susan and Dave realized they wanted to do more than just cheer...they wanted to use their instruments! For 74 straight nights, they played some type of music in front of their home, running all the way until the “shelter in place” was lifted. They would usually notify neighbors via email each evening’s pieces (often something that most people know, like “Amazing Grace”) and they would all play and sing along together at 8:00 PM.
As the 4th of July approached, they decided to try something bigger. With the help of Miguel Rosario, a friend and high school band director in Valparaiso, they evolved their plan into an hour-long program of American marches and classics to be played in front of their house on Thursday, July 2nd by a small wind ensemble. Initially they wondered whether their friends and neighbors would be interested. However, when they reached out to them about playing a concert that evening... almost everyone responded with an emphatic “YES!”
Things that used to seem familiar, like putting your instrument in its case and walking out the door for that evening’s performance, all of a sudden felt foreign. I found myself a bit anxious! However, there were other far more obvious differences between this and any other performance most of us had ever played. As we arrived, carrying our own chairs and stands, we found water bottles with our names on them spread out over three front yards in the shape of the world’s largest wind ensemble. We were grouped in such a way that everyone (or family groups) had at least 10 feet in between them. Masks were required by all, unless they were playing their instrument, and there was an easily-accessible table with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. As Susan told me, “everyone’s safety was the biggest priority of the evening.” Also, there was no rehearsal, just a 10 minute talk-through of the music just before we started.
While it took a minute or two for the group to find its footing, things picked up quickly due to the well-spaced nature of the sections and the front yard acoustics. It didn’t take long for everyone to adjust to what was different about this experience and to remember the joy of making music together. By the end of the short concert, everyone on the block was beaming!
It felt like many other successful concerts in that the audience left smiling. What really struck me, though, were the emotions that a lot of us (including me) shared just from seeing each other that evening; we realized that we should have all been playing together those last four months, and we didn’t know when we’d be playing together again.
Although we are in the middle of a long period of darkness in our world of live, classical music performances, for one evening we were also reminded what it felt like to do what we love to do together. Talking to Susan after the show, she told me, “There were two main reasons why Dave and I put this together. We missed playing for an audience, and we knew that in order to safely play live music, we must be creative.”
Mission accomplished, Susan!
Susan Warner is Acting Co-Principal Clarinet of Lyric Opera
David Griffin is 4th Horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra