During the thirteen years we lived in Stockton, California (population about 325,000), one of the amenities Dearest Dragonfly and I grew to enjoy was the local music scene. We held season tickets to the Stockton Symphony, attended programs of the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music, supported the Stockton Opera Association productions, and, of course, we both, in our own way, were "key players" in the development of the St John's Chamber Orchestra festival.
Consequently, when we were called to our new home of Warsaw, Indiana (population about 15,000), we took it for granted that we would have to get a periodic fix of live music by traveling either to Fort Wayne (38 miles SE), South Bend (50 miles NW), or Chicago (120 miles NW).
Not necessarily so! While we do hope to avail ourselves of opportunities in those venues, we have, to our astonishment, learned that there is a great deal to keep up culturally occupied right here in the Warsaw-Winona Lake area. The most recent such discovery came this past Friday night at the season opening concert of the Symphony of the Lakes. Yes, you read that correctly, a community of 15,000 (OK, a county population base of some 70,000--but still) able to put a full philharmonic complement of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion on it own hometown stage (Grace College's Rodeheaver Auditorium, named for storied evangelist Billy Sunday's song leader, Homer Rodeheaver--do look at this link; the guy is a larger-than-life character).
A number of the musicians were no doubt "ringers" from some of the aforementioned larger cities. And there was a certain roughhewnness to the sound at times (getting a section of even quite good string players to play in tune and precisely together is the bugaboo of all orchestral conductors). Nonetheless, it is a remarkable achievement, and one we never expected to witness a mere ten minute drive from our pastoral pondside home.
Perhaps most remarkable of all, the program was free to the public. There was the usual section of reserved seats for sponsors and patrons, but there was no admission charged to walk-ins at the door. That represents some pretty savvy promotion and financial management. And it was a delightfully family-friendly event, with lots of children present, all of whom were exceptionally well-behaved, even in view of the fact that kazoos were distributed during the intermission!
The theme of the program was "Meet the Instruments." Before the concert, there was an "instrument petting zoo," which was exactly what it sounds like. After an opening number that showcased the entire orchestra (the prelude to Wagner's Die Meistersinger--which I could have conducted myself with barely any rehearsal, so etched is it my brain from high school band days), the brass family was represented by the opening movement of Mozart's 4th horn concerto, but not before a demonstration, using a length of ordinary garden hose, a plastic, funnel, and a trombone mouthpiece, of the french horn's rustic origins. Similarly, before the first movement of the Mozart flute concerto, there was a demonstration involving a six pack of root beer bottles filled with varying levels of water. While the purist in me winces, not at the demonstrations, but at the abridgment of three-movement concertos, I have to admit that, with the shrinking and graying audience for classical music in the U.S., some coloring outside the lines is probably a good thing.
After a percussion-dominated arrangement of Khachaturian's energetic Saber Dance, and the intermission, the program concluded with Bruch's violin concerto (all three movements this time), which was masterfully performed by Albanian-born Winona Lake resident Gert Kumi.
Our jaws are on the ground. Warsaw rocks!