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July 13, 1995. . .

By Margaret Gage - Retired GRS Horn



July 13, 1995. . .

. . . I remember it like it was yesterday. It was an adventure the likes of which I had never known, and I was grateful for the security of four-wheel drive. Mighty hills, lush vegetation, brilliant, bright sun. But, oh, the climate was brutal. It was 97 degrees with stifling humidity. I finally abandoned my vehicle in search of relief, whereupon I saw what looked like a cave. I ventured toward it, but found I had to traverse a stagnant, sloppy swamp before getting there. At last I arrived at the cave only to discover that it was almost ten degrees hotter and I could still smell the swamp. But I knew that I had arrived. I was on stage at the very first Picnic Pops!


They say that getting there is half the fun. Well, not always. What I have described for you is a common occurrence at Cannonsburg, but there IS something else that is burned into my memory. As I was driving down the entrance road I caught my first glimpse of the audience and it reduced me to tears. There were so many more people than I ever anticipated! I felt great pride in the fact that we musicians had negotiated this new series in our most recent contract and it looked like it was going to be a winner.


And it has been, because of our wonderful audiences and the tenacity of the musicians! That first year, the gentlemen of the orchestra had to wear white dinner jackets and black tie (in 97 degree heat!) and the brass section stood to perform Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man while trying to keep our mouthpieces from sliding off our lips and down the sweat on our faces. On the plus side, Catherine Comet conducted with all the passion we so loved about her, and our soloist, pianist Rich Ridenour, brought his unique combination of crazy good piano skills united with a vaudeville entertainer's heart. And then there are the stories (which only began that night; they've gotten better over the years!). The times the string section got up and danced to the music (whenever the spirit moved them!). . . the times the horn section used props (which we won't discuss here!) and our instruments to get the audience members up on the hill involved (because they were the only people who could see us!). . . the night the entire bassoon section made their entrance by riding down the ski hill on motorcycles. . . .the percussion section; well, you'll have to talk to them because I won't disclose their antics here. . . “cruising the tables” at intermission, gathering tasty food from picnicking audience members (desserts were always a hit!). . . So many stories! But one thing is a constant: the 100% effort the orchestra puts forth when performing the music. I've been told that the Grand Rapids Symphony players are unique because they take pops performances as seriously as classical ones.


So here we are again. Time for another Picnic Pops season. Let the food and the stories begin! And if anything really zany happens, please call me first!

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