Symphony on the water: American Wind Symphony Orchestra promises rare experience for the whole family

June 9, 2012 2:14:31 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Of all the benefits the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway has delivered to the Golden Triangle's doorstep, the American Wind Symphony Orchestra is surely one of the most unforgettable. 


On Saturday, June 23, the East Bank of the John C. Stennis Lock and Dam at Columbus will be transformed into a natural amphitheater when maestro Robert Boudreau and 45 talented musicians present an open-air concert from their floating stage on the remarkable Point Counterpoint II. 


The 195-foot-long silver vessel will dock in Columbus for almost one week, as orchestra members fan out into the community to work with high school band students, present chamber mini-concerts and even perform at two churches Sunday, June 24. 


Founded in 1957 by Boudreau, the AWSO has become an institution known for bringing its music to the masses on waterways throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia and the Caribbean. 




Cultural wonder 


"The American Wind Symphony Orchestra has been described as a cultural phenomenon," said Agnes Zaiontz, business manager of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority in Columbus. She worked with Boudreau 11 years ago, when the orchestra made its first visit to Columbus.  


"What an incredible opportunity to have an internationally known group like this come to perform for us," she remarked. 


Zaointz and volunteer co-chairs Glenn Lautzenhiser and Rufus Ward spearhead a large committee coordinating all aspects of the orchestra's visit, from transportation and housing, to food and student symposiums. 


"The free concert will begin at 7 p.m. at the East Bank of the Lock and Dam in Columbus," explained Lautzenhiser, referring to the Corps of Engineers site at the end of Wilkins-Wise Road, off of Highway 45 North. "We're encouraging everyone to bring lawn chairs or blankets. A fireworks display will follow the concert, which is going to be very exciting." 


Organizers expect up to 10,000 people to converge on the grassy bank opposite the Point Counterpoint II.  






The orchestra's self-propelled floating venue designed by acclaimed architect Louis I. Kahn is uniquely suited to its purpose. 


Each concert begins with the spectacular opening of the vessel's 75-foot-wide music shell, powered by hydraulic lifts. As the roof is raised, the first strains from the wind instruments -- trumpets, trombones, oboes, clarinets, flutes -- and the percussionists are heard and a rare evening of entertainment is underway. 


Varied programs include classics such as Handel's "Water Music" or Mozart's "Grand Serenade," as well as newly-commissioned works, Broadway medleys and Sousa marches.  


Since founding the AWSO, the indomitable Boudreau has commissioned more than 450 works. For the orchestra's 55th season, he introduces 13 new works, incorporating compositions by Latin American composers, as well as works from Latvian, Estonian, Japanese and French composers. 




The next generation 


While in Columbus, orchestra members will work individually with more than 40 high school band students representing Columbus High School, Caledonia High School, New Hope High School, West Point High School and the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. 


James Allen, associate professor of music at Mississippi University for Women, is liaison between school band directors and the AWSO. 


"It's a once-in-a-lifetime situation," he enthused. "How many local band students have an opportunity to study with highly-trained professional players, at no cost?" 


Columbus High Band Director Charles Cooper is admittedly thrilled. 


"Having these professional musicians come in even just to play for them is wonderful, but to actually have them work with the students is very exciting." 


Students will attend two instrumental symposiums aboard the vessel. A third symposium will be at Columbus High School. 




Unique mentors 


"I'm looking forward to getting a realistic experience of what it's like to perform and the different aspects of working with a professional musician focused on one instrument," said clarinetist Michael Hayden, a May graduate of Caledonia High. He'll pursue music education at the University of Southern Mississippi. 


The crowning highlight of the student/musician mentoring program will occur June 23, when the teens join the orchestra for one or two numbers during the public concert. 


"The students have been buying CDs and DVDs and watching YouTube, but when the orchestra comes they actually get some hands-on experience with a breathing body," remarked Caledonia High Band Director David Chambers. "It's not every day they get to do anything like this." 


Boudreau grew up the son of a poultry farmer in Massachusetts and went on to study at Julliard and the Paris Conservatory on scholarship, and perform with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. To the energetic 84-year-old, education and encouragement of emerging musicians is paramount. 


"I'm so concerned about education, and particularly music education," he said, noting how the committed study of music can instill discipline for all other academic and life goals. He is also a stellar example of how music can open doors to scholarships. 






As a community outreach, several small AWSO chamber ensembles will offer a mix of classical, jazz and show tunes in simultaneous mini-concerts Thursday, June 21, at noon.  


One will be at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main St., in downtown Columbus. Similar to Noon Tunes, a casual lunch by Zachary's will be available for purchase.  


In West Point, an ensemble will perform at Sally Kate Winters Memorial Park downtown. Another is in the process of being planned for Starkville. 


One ensemble will entertain at the Exchange Club meeting at the Columbus Country Club. 


On June 24, congregations at First United Methodist Church and St. James United Methodist Church will each host half of the orchestra at their morning services. 


The public is also invited to the East Bank to listen to rehearsal Friday, June 22, between 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 






"It's a massive effort to bring all this together," observed Lautzenhiser. "We've got the Corps of Engineers, police chief, fire chief, sherriff's office, donations from the public and so many organizations that are providing meals."  


He praised the volunteers and sponsors who have dedicated themselves to fund-raising and handling logistics. 


"Everyone has been so great," Zaiontz said, with a big thank you to Mississippi University for Women for housing the orchestra at the Plymouth Bluff Center. 


The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, Billups Garth Foundation and Tennessee-Tombigbee Tourism Association are also major partners in bringing the American Wind Symphony Orchestra to the Golden Triangle. 


"It's an enriching cultural experience, a very special opportunity for us," stated Lautzenhiser. "We encourage people to not only come out themselves, but to tell all their friends and neighbors." 


Co-chair Rufus Ward added, "The sight of that barge, its stage opening into a 'shell' on the river, and that wonderful music ... and it will all conclude with a great fireworks display. This is going to be just a great family event." 


For more information about the concert or sponsorships, contact Zaiontz at 662-328-8936. To learn more about the AWSO, visit

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.