“Seventy-six trombones led the big parade
With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand.
They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuo-
Sos, the cream of every famous band.” — from “Seventy-Six Trombones,” The Music Man, Meredith Wilson
A Thursday night in June, the sky blessedly free of rain clouds, and the temperature hovering at a pleasant seventy degrees. It was a perfect night for one of my favorite things to do in Naperville – the weekly Naperville Municipal Band concert in Central Park.
I loaded a thermal bag with our favorite appetizers and some fresh cherries, and Mike tucked a bottle of chardonnay, our plastic wine glasses, and our metal wine glass holders into its carrying case. Our folding chairs slung over our shoulders, we headed to Central Park. There, we set up our chairs in their usual spots, behind the last row of benches, and twisted our wine glass holders into the dirt. Arriving early enough to watch the benches fill in, we enjoyed our wine and snacks and people-watched before the concert began.
Right here in our own little River City, the Municipal Band has been around since 1859, and has only had two directors since 1928. Our Naperville Music Man, Ron Keller, began directing the band in 1966 when his predecessor Elmer Koerner died, and Ann Lord, the concert emcee, has been moderating the concerts for fifty-seven years. There’s longevity among the band members as well. Many of them have been playing for over twenty years, and musicians interested in joining must audition before getting placed on a waiting list to earn a coveted spot on stage.
Promptly at 7:30 last night, the stage’s muraled wall lifted to reveal our band, playing their traditional opening tune, “Strike Up the Band.” As he does each week, the director asked all to stand for “The Star Spangled Banner”, and the crowd rose and sang along. Then, we settled in. Last night’s program “Opera For People Who Don’t Like Opera” treated us to LaTraviata, Figaro, Carmen, Mamma Mia, Tommy. Ann Lord, ever the teacher, introduced each piece with a few tidbits about the music’s origins — just enough to educate the crowd a bit without boring us. Some of her jokes are a little cornball, but I don’t mind. Midway through the concert, Ann always reminds us to patronize the local organization running the ice cream social in the gazebo, and we never hesitate. Last night’s treat was a big gooey slice of chocolate cake, made by a member of the Naperville Woman’s Club. And every week, winners with a lucky program number get gift certificates to spend in downtown Naperville.
From my vantage point in the back row, I overlook a sea of gray heads bobbing, swaying to the music. Maybe the concerts are too cheesy or old-fogeyish for younger Napervillians, or maybe people are just too busy running to swim meets and tee ball games on summer nights. I know I was a couple decades ago. How nice it is to be free of must-be-there games and meets, to savor the beautiful music wafting around us!
Last night, near the concert’s end, the band played a lovely medley from Phantom of the Opera. The haunting melodies of “Think of Me,’ “The Music of the Night,” “Angel of Music,” and “All I Ask of You” floated over me and carried my imagination along into the Paris Opera. The sun dipped behind the band shell, painting the clouds a soft pink, turning the leafy maples surrounding us into dark silhouettes.
Right down the street and free of charge, this is our own version of Ravinia, the Boston Pops, Aunt Bea’s Mayberry, and old-fashioned Americana all rolled into one glorious Naperville evening. Just one of the many reasons why I love my hometown.