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Partial to Home: Standing ovation

 

Birney Imes

 

Robert Boudreau during his stay here has said a lot of nice things about Columbus. The other night the founder and director of the American Wind Symphony Orchestra called the town a Brigadoon. 

 

It sounded complimentary, but until I went home and Googled it, I couldn't be sure. 

 

The director was referring to a magical village in the 1947 Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical which two New Yorkers game hunting in Scotland stumbled upon. The village appears for one day every hundred years. It's a love story, two love stories actually, that contrasts the emptiness of city life with the beauty, warmth and wholesomeness of the country and country people. Lots of dancing and singing. Gene Kelly stars in the movie version. 

 

"I've been doing this 55 years and never found a community like this," Boudreau said to about 60 people on hand for a preview performance of his orchestra Friday evening. That can mean a lot of things, good or bad. 

 

The son of a Massachusetts chicken farmer/factory worker Boudreau's ticket to ride was his trumpet playing. After Juilliard and the Paris Conservatory and some performance, he landed in Pittsburgh teaching music at Duquesne University. He was smitten by the sight of the three rivers that converged there and came up with the idea of an orchestra playing concerts from a barge, traveling to riverfront cities. 

 

If Handel could do it in London, why not Boudreau in Pittsburgh and the American heartland? He approached H.J. Heinz with the idea of playing a concert on the Thames as did Handel. The ketchup magnate went for it and the American Wind Symphony Orchestra was born. 

 

Fifty-five years and half a million miles later AWSO has landed here for the second time -- they were here 11 years ago -- thanks to the efforts of Agnes Zaiontz, Rufus Ward and Glenn Lautzenhiser. The trio has been working on this concert for a year, Ward told me. 

 

The orchestra is composed of college music students auditioned and chosen by Boudreau for what must be an unforgettable summer experience. AWSO players this past week worked with Columbus High music students and performed at the Rosenzweig Arts Center and for civic clubs. 

 

As those who saw the group play Saturday evening can attest, these young adults are impressive musicians. They met each other as a group for the first time Monday, so they've been playing together for less than a week. Seeing them up close Friday at a preview performance, you couldn't help notice their intensity and engagement with their instruments and the music. 

 

Two Japanese percussionists -- a male playing a drum set, a female on a marimba -- were beyond words. "I have never heard the harp played like that before," Rufus said about a Taiwanese harpist. 

 

Often called a modern-day "Music Man, another of Boudreau's causes is normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S., a ridiculous state of affairs that should have been rectified years ago. What was it we were mad about with them anyway? 

 

"They are our neighbors; they are our friends," Boudreau said. 

 

A gallery on the boat features an exhibit by Cuban artists and sketches by Louis Khan, the renowned Philadelphia architect, who designed the floating concert hall. If you have any interest in architecture, you should see "My Architect," a documentary about Khan made by a son who hardly knew his father. Boudreau and the design of the barge/concert stage Point Counterpoint II, are prominently featured in the film. 

 

"It's all accidents; our lives are filled with accidents," Boudreau said at one point Friday night. I don't know if he was referring to his meeting H.J. Heinz in 1957 and sharing with him his dream of having a floating stage, his collaboration with Khan or most recently, the tugboat company in Paducah, Ky., that, at the behest of Agnes Zaiontz, towed the crippled Point Counterpoint II here at no charge while mechanics repaired its engine. 

 

However, it's no accident the orchestra is here in Columbus; we should be grateful to those responsible.

 

Birney Imes III is the Editor and Publisher of The Dispatch.

 

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