Cumberland Times-News

Betty Van NewKirk - From the Museum

May 29, 2008

Arts are obviously alive in Allegany County

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the spring concert of the Allegany Community Symphony Orchestra. The program was free, and nicely varied, and the instrumentalists were competent. But I was most impressed by the dozen public school students who joined the adult musicians for part of the program. Obviously the arts are alive here in Allegany County.

For some people, interest in the arts is measured by the number of tickets sold for performances by Broadway stars or chamber orchestras from obscure Balkan countries. Money is budgeted for ballet performances and Shakespearean excerpts in our schools.

I would be more favorably impressed if money could be provided so that every second-grader had a chance to finger a pint-sized violin or pick out the notes of "Mary had a little lamb'' on a licorice-stick recorder.

I once lived in a Midwestern city where music was well-supported. Each of the two high schools had an orchestra and a marching band, a glee club and a choir, and several jazz combos.

When I went to a high school play, I looked down into the orchestra pit to see a row of double-bases. Yes, I was told, they belonged to the school, and there was a waiting list of students who wanted to begin taking lessons next year.

A few high school students may be talented enough to become professional musicians. Some will continue with music as a hobby. But most of them will have learned that live performances are shared experiences, no two of them alike: The audience responds to the actions on stage and the performers react to that response in ways that are impossible in filmed or recorded performances.

The importance of the audience in a live performance was something I became conscious of as I grew up in Philadelphia. At that time Leopold Stokowski was the conductor of the city's world-famous orchestra.

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Betty Van NewKirk - From the Museum
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